(Updates with additional reporting throughout.)
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The U.S. is opening a new door to Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion, the Biden administration’s biggest step to date to help those seeking refuge.
The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday unveiled a streamlined process for Ukrainians with U.S. connections to come to the country under humanitarian parole. The temporary immigration status allows individuals to live and work in the U.S. for two years.
Applicants must be Ukrainian nationals who lived in Ukraine as of Feb. 11, have U.S. sponsors, get vaccinations, and undergo security vetting. Immigration officials will then consider their applications on a case-by-case basis, DHS said. The process will start April 25 through a web portal called Uniting for Ukraine.
The announcement comes after President Joe Biden last month committed to taking in up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees amid Russia’s escalating attacks. DHS has also opened up Temporary Protected Status to the roughly 60,000 Ukrainian nationals already living in the U.S. since April 11.
The U.S. expects the parole program to account for most of the 100,000 commitment, a National Security Council official said, adding that most applicants are expected to eventually return to Europe, while others may pursue long-term refugee protections.
“DHS will continue to provide relief to the Ukrainian people, while supporting our European allies who have shouldered so much as the result of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine,” Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
People and nongovernmental organizations in the U.S., including churches and nonprofits, can sponsor Ukrainians for the humanitarian parole program.
Several thousand Ukrainians have entered the U.S. via Mexico in recent months, flying there without needing a visa and then heading north. Though U.S. officials have granted parole status to many, they will now generally turn away Ukrainians at the border and direct them to the new sponsor-based application process, DHS said.
A senior agency official urged Ukrainians to stay in Europe while going through the application process, and stressed that Ukrainian nationals attempting to access the program in Mexico may have trouble getting the required vaccinations.
Separately, the State Department is expanding resettlement processing in a refugee program for religious minorities in Ukraine. Embassies and consulates in Europe will also increase visa appointments and offer expedited processing for particularly vulnerable individuals.
‘Hope of Further Reform’
DHS’s announcement earned quick praise from advocates on and off Capitol Hill. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said in a statement the program for Ukrainians provides “hope of further reform in our refugee and parole programs for all.”
The sponsorship approach, though government-run, will pave the way for future opportunities for private sponsorship of refugees and expanded U.S. resettlement capacity, said Matthew LaCorte, government affairs manager for immigration policy at the libertarian-leaning Niskanen Center. A private sponsorship model was used to bring thousands of Soviet Jews, Cubans, Vietnamese, and Iranians in the late 1980s and early 90s, according to his research.
Welcome.US, a group that formed to helped Afghan evacuees, announced a partnership Thursday with a Goldman Sachs charitable fund to encourage Americans to directly sponsor refugees or otherwise support the program.
“Experience shows that sponsorship makes a big difference in integrating families from war-torn countries into American society,” said Tom Warrick of the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan foreign affairs group.
DHS’s announcement spurred some criticism, too. Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, called the program a “glimmer of hope” for Ukrainians but said she was “disappointed to see the administration outsource its moral obligation” by relying on sponsors to take financial responsibility for Ukrainians.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) issued a statement supporting the parole program but urging the Biden administration not to use Title 42 — a pandemic-related border restriction — to expel “desperate Ukrainian families at our border.”
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors lower levels of immigration, said helping Ukrainians is a laudable goal but using humanitarian parole to do so is an abuse of the authority.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org