Biden unveils new program to bring Ukrainian refugees to U.S.

·4 min read

Nearly two months after announcing that the U.S. would welcome 100,000 refugees from Ukraine, President Biden on Wednesday unveiled a plan to make that happen.

Today I’m announcing … a new program to enable Ukrainians seeking refuge to come directly from Europe to the U.S.,” Biden said during a speech from the Oval Office.

The program, named Uniting for Ukraine, is aimed at making it easier for Ukrainian nationals with family or friends in the U.S. to apply for temporary resettlement. In order to be eligible, applicants must have been residents of Ukraine as of Feb. 11, 2022, and have a sponsor in the United States. They must also complete vaccination and other public health requirements and pass various security screenings.

Volunteers with signs in Russian and Ukrainian welcome Ukrainian refugees at the airport in Tijuana, Mexico.
Volunteers welcome Ukrainian refugees at the airport in Tijuana, Mexico, on April 8 to help them on their journey to the United States. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

According to the Department of Homeland Security, which will be in charge of facilitating the program, any U.S.-based individual, including representatives of nongovernment organizations, can sponsor Ukrainians applying for humanitarian parole, as long as they provide a declaration of financial support and pass background checks to “prevent exploitation and abuse.”

Starting April 25, people in the U.S. who’ve identified specific Ukrainian nationals they’d like to sponsor will be able to begin the application process by uploading an affidavit to an online portal on the DHS website. Though most applicants are expected to be sponsored by family or friends, the program allows for organizations such as churches and other nonprofits to help identify and connect potential U.S. sponsors with Ukrainians in need.

Once both the Ukrainian applicants and their U.S.-based sponsors have met all the vetting and public health requirements, those who are approved will receive authorization to travel to the U.S. and will be considered for parole for up to two years, during which they will be eligible for work authorization.

A senior DHS official told reporters Wednesday that if Ukrainians and their U.S.-based sponsors provide all the required information, the application process could take about a week to complete.

Sasha, a Ukrainian seeking asylum in the U.S., holds up her Ukrainian passport.
Sasha, a Ukrainian seeking asylum in the U.S., displays her passport as she waits to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana on April 5. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

More than 5 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian military invaded the country on Feb. 24, according to the United Nations. Though the vast majority have gone to Poland and other neighboring countries in Europe, large numbers of Ukrainians have also begun traveling to Mexico in an effort to make their way to the U.S.

On Wednesday, the senior DHS official told reporters that U.S. immigration officials have processed close to 15,000 Ukrainian nationals over the last three months, most of whom entered the country from Mexico.

“This program will be fast, it will be streamlined and will ensure the U.S. honors its commitment to the people of Ukraine,” Biden said Wednesday. Crucially, he added, the program will ensure that those fleeing Ukraine “need not go through our southern border.”

A Ukrainian man pulls a child on luggage as other people wait in line.
A Ukrainian seeking asylum pulls a child on luggage as people wait to cross the border in Tijuana on April 6. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Though most other migrants continue to be turned away at the border under a pandemic-era public health order known as Title 42, DHS issued guidance back in March encouraging U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers to grant exemptions to the policy for Ukrainians seeking refuge.

But the DHS official said Wednesday that that earlier guidance will effectively be rescinded on April 25. “There will be no different process for Ukrainian nationals who travel to Mexico,” the official said. “We encourage all Ukrainian nationals seeking to come to the U.S. to remain in Europe and take advantage of this program.”

The DHS official added that Ukrainians who are already in Mexico may also be able to apply for parole through the Uniting for Ukraine program, but noted that the required vaccinations may be more difficult to obtain in Mexico.

The U.S. will not be facilitating those inoculations. “Travelers to Mexico will get no advantage under this process,” the official emphasized.

Ukrainian asylum seekers wait in a long, labyrinthine line.
Ukrainians at the El Chaparral port of entry in Tijuana on their way to enter the United States on April 6. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

While administration officials said they expect the new parole program to serve a majority of the 100,000 Ukrainians the U.S. has promised to admit, they noted that some of those fleeing the war there, including LGBTQ individuals, religious minorities and refugees from other countries, are in need of more permanent protections.

In addition to the Uniting for Ukraine program, the State Department announced a series of measures to expand refugee resettlement operations for members of those particularly vulnerable populations.

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