According to the United Nations, more than 11 million Ukrainians have been displaced since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022. Russia’s unprovoked attack forced more than 4.4 million Ukrainians to cross its border into neighboring countries. Not since the end of the Second World War has Europe seen so many displaced persons. Poland, in particular, bore the heaviest burden, with more than 2.5 million Displaced Ukrainians entering the country. It just can’t last forever.
While in Europe, President Biden announcement that the United States would accept up to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine. But the US administration is still trying to work out exactly how it will admit these displaced migrants into the country. Until then, it may be helpful to consider what US programs are currently open to Ukrainian refugees and what could be added.
Contrary to what seems intuitively possible, a Ukrainian asylum application will not succeed. Indeed, despite the existence of the war, proving the fear of being persecuted by his own government – a key feature of asylum claims – is not true as long as the Ukrainian government remains in power in Ukraine. However, unless a special refugee designation is implemented, few Ukrainians will manage to come to the United States in this way.
A visitor visa is a temporary means for people who wish to come to the United States for a business or tourist visit. It is generally granted for a maximum period of six months. Applicants must demonstrate that their trip is for a authentic To this end, they will stay for a limited time, they will be able to cover their expenses, and they will have a place outside the United States and other binding ties that will ensure their eventual return home.
The main problem with Ukrainians is proof that the applicant will return home given the war. However, an applicant can argue that the visit will only take place until things calm down at home, and given that the husband is fighting in Ukraine, there is every reason for the family to return. . Depending on the applicant’s situation and the officer reviewing the file, some Ukrainian refugees have been successful in these applications. These visitor visas can also be extended inside the United States.
The US immigration program that seems to take the lead in dealing with Ukrainian migrants is humanitarian parole. It allows those who are unable to obtain a visitor visa to apply to enter the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or because of an important public interest. Applicants may apply at U.S. consulates abroad or at U.S. Ports of Entry. However, it is not so easy to qualify. Success often depends on family ties with US citizens willing to support migrants upon arrival or other sponsors willing to do so with financial means.
Although the parole program offers some Ukrainians a legal way to enter the United States for a limited period, it do not involve progression to permanent residence. Applicants do not have access to government benefits or work permits, although later, if they are able to demonstrate deserving circumstances, they may be able to obtain US employment authorization . However, those who cannot justify their acceptance into the program upon arrival may be placed in deportation proceedings, or may simply be detained for weeks until their immigration issue is otherwise resolved. For these reasons, humanitarian parole is really a tool of last resort. This may not always be the case for Ukrainian applicants.
The Mexican bet
Perceiving a possible opening at the Mexico-US border, in recent weeks thousands of Ukrainians have travel via Mexico City to Tijuana, as no visa is required to enter Mexico. They then try to cross to the United States to apply for humanitarian parole. Such a journey is expensive, arduous and can be dangerous. Consider that most of those fleeing are women and children, or are vulnerable due to age or infirmity. Tijuana isn’t exactly the safest place for these people. There is no suitable accommodation for Ukrainian applicants. Without help and a safe environment, these migrants may be targets of unscrupulous thieves who have been known to prey on vulnerable people by demanding bribes or extorting money or sex from them. For these reasons, the Mexican route is not the best. The upcoming lifting of the Title 42 pandemic control bar in early May should significantly reduce the risks for Ukrainians when other migrants also flood the Mexican border again.
A double request
There is no reason why a visitor visa application cannot include an application for humanitarian parole as a complementary or alternative option. Success isn’t always certain, but it may be worth a try.
Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
For those already in the country, the United States also announced that the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program will be expanded to include applicants from Ukraine. Ukrainians who were in the United States on or before March 1, 2022 will be allowed to stay for 18 months. They will also be able to benefit from employment authorization, but not other rights. Rules for invoking the program have yet to be released. Applicants should wait until then.
There are no other options for Ukrainians.
As for what is open, why should Ukrainians submit to the challenge of visitor visa application procedures or humanitarian parole requirements, especially via Mexico, to gain legal status in America? These existing options are time-consuming, arduous and inadequate programs. There is an easier way.
Failure of the US isolationist immigration policy
What is missing in this context is a mature understanding of what this isolationist immigration policy is doing to American leadership in the world. America’s failure to urgently shoulder some of the burden of this refugee resettlement will seriously strain its relations with other NATO nations and erode the cohesion of the alliance.
Consider how the European Union (EU) treats Ukrainians. Even before the war, the European Union authorized Ukrainians travel visa-free to EU member countries. More recently, the EU issued a directive granting Ukrainians the right to work, as well as access to public education, housing and health care for one year. Canada has adopted a similar approach. Why can’t the United States do something similar?
Visa-free travel with GST adjustments
If the EU was able to grant Ukrainians visa-free travel, there’s little reason the US couldn’t do the same. The United States has an additional layer of protection in its Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program used to screen air travelers to America for security and health threats. After all, there is little to fear from Ukrainian mothers with children, the elderly and the infirm. Moreover, few people will be able to come without the help of American citizens and without financial support, so there is a natural obstacle to mass entries. Following the example of the EU, the TPS program may be adjusted from time to time to help these Ukrainians stay until things are sorted out abroad. More importantly, this approach would urgently help ease what is becoming an unbearable burden now for Poland and other border states in Europe and thus strengthen NATO.