Europe’s peace was shattered in the early hours of Wednesday morning when Russia launched a full-scale military attack against neighboring Ukraine after months of accumulation of troops and tanksbombarding several Ukrainian towns as Russian troops and tanks swept across Ukraine’s eastern and northern borders and explosions rocked the capital Kiev.
In the weeks leading up to the invasion, the US State Department (DOS) ordered the families of US employees of the US Embassy in Kyiv to leave, followed by the orderly departure of most US employees of the Embassy on February 12, 2022, and the suspension of consular services the following day.
As tensions rose on the Ukrainian-Russian border, countries west of Ukraine began to prepare for a possible migration crisis. Humanitarian organizations have warned that Ukrainian-speaking civilians are likely to flee to European Union countries on Ukraine’s western border, such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. The governments of the Czech Republic and Moldova also said they were preparing for a wave of refugees, while Germany offered help to Poland to accommodate refugees, if they need it. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the Baltic countries northwest of Ukraine, are also preparing to receive refugees, with Latvia alone prepares 10,000 places for refugees.
From Thursday morning, hundreds of Ukrainians began to arrive in neighboring countries in central Europe, many by car, although others have been seen cross on foot in Hungary. Slovakian customs officials reported that passenger cars at Slovakia’s busiest border crossing point with Ukraine waited for up to eight hours.
For its part, the United States has sent 5,500 troops to Poland, another member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), moving them near the border with Ukraine to help treat people fleeing the Russian invasion. US government officials have estimated that between one and five million people may flee Ukraine, many of whom will go to Poland. Some experts say the US, EU and other governments will have to provide financial aid to the countries hosting most of the refugees. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, says a wave of refugees “will require major assistance from the United States.”
However, the history of Ukrainian immigration to the United States shows that the administration and its agencies should expect to see an increase in Ukrainian arrivals, not just in the days and weeks ahead, but over several years.
A Brief History of Ukrainian Immigration to the United States
Historians generally recognize four distinct waves of Ukrainian immigration to the United States, beginning in the 1870s.
During this period, the United States had a relatively unregulated immigration system, with states passing their own immigration laws. Immigration was not declared a purely federal matter until a Supreme Court decision in 1875. the Chinese Exclusion Act was adopted in May 1882, shortly followed by the first comprehensive immigration reform act in 1882which instituted what is commonly referred to as the public royalty policy.
Although there was virtually no regulation of European immigrants entering the United States during this period, the passage of these immigration exclusion laws at the federal level signaled the more restrictive and generally nationalist stance that the United States would adopt in matters of immigration over the next century.
The first wave of Ukrainian immigration took place roughly between 1870 and 1914 and was marked by migration largely for economic reasons, although forced conscription and religious persecution by the empires that divided Ukraine had also led some to leave their country. He is estimated that about 350,000 Ukrainians came to the United States during this period, attracted by reports of land and higher wages.
The second wave happened between World War I and World War II, as Ukrainians who had supported the failed 1918 independence attempt fled political and social persecution from Soviet Russia. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 fled Ukraine from 1918 to 1920, with only about 10,000 to 15,000 able to enter the United States between 1919 and 1939 due to tighter immigration restrictions in the states -United.
The large number of displaced people around the world after World War II led to the United States Displaced Persons Act 1948, which eventually allowed approximately 400,000 European refugees to be admitted to the United States. This enabled the third wave, which saw around 80,000 Ukrainians come to the United States before the Cold War led the United States to ban immigrants. affiliated with communist parties in 1952.
Finally, a recognized Fourth Wave occurred following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the United States, the Immigration Act 1990 was the first major reform of U.S. immigration laws in decades, increasing overall immigration quotas and expanding the family-based immigration system. The collapse of the USSR also led to the collapse of the Ukrainian economy, leading to the largest movement of Ukrainian population in its history: by 2017, around 7 million people had left their country of origin. The expanded pathways created by the 1990 Immigration Law allowed Ukrainian emigration to remain high in the 1990s, peaking at 18,000 people entering the United States in 2000.
Some researchers have suggested a possible fifth wave starting with Russia 2014 annexation of Crimeanoting that the number of Ukrainian immigrants to the United States jumped from 2014: 539% from 2013 to 2015 with 1,547 refugees, before peaking in 2019 at 4,264 refugees. Under the Trump administration, Ukrainians have become one of the largest groups of resettled refugees in the United States.
With few exceptions during the first wave, when many Ukrainian emigrants sought to improve their economic conditions, major periods of upheaval and conflict in Ukraine historically led to an increase in migration to the United States: the second wave between two world wars, the third wave as a result of displacement during World War II, a fourth wave after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and a possible fifth wave beginning with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Now, as Russia leads a unprovoked invasion of its neighborUkrainians are once again faced with the difficult decision to leave for their safety.
If history is any guide, the conflict that has engulfed Ukraine will likely trigger a significant movement of people, not only from Ukraine to Central Europe, but also to the United States.
With thousands already on the move, US refugee resettlers warn the current attack could lead to a mass exodus from Ukraine, and ask Biden “to prepare to welcome people fleeing to save their lives”. Immigration organizations and advocates are calling for immediate protections for Ukrainians already in the country, such as Temporary protected status (GST), Delayed forced departure (DDE), and Special help for students (SSR).
In addition to the above forms of humanitarian assistance for people already inside the United Statessome people fleeing Ukraine will have the option of applying to adjust their status through U.S. citizens or lawful permanent resident family members. In what appears to be directly related to previous waves of Ukrainian immigration to the United States, the The Shevchenko Scientific Society noted that during the period 2000-2018, approximately 32% of Ukrainian immigrants came to the United States through an immediate US citizen relative. Those who do not have a U.S. citizen or LPR family members who can sponsor them will have to rely on humanitarian parole or asylum process to enter the country, leaving them in limbo until the US government announces additional policies or guidance to help Ukrainians flee their country.
Asked about the subject, a The DHS spokesperson responded“We have no announcements to share or preview at this time. As always, we continue to closely monitor conditions in various countries.”
To learn more about how immigration lawyers work with Ukrainian refugees, or to find out how you can help, please see our article here.