According to recent reports, more than 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine so far due to the Russian invasion. The United Nations has called these developments the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War Two. Currently, there are limited options for people who wish to quickly bring Ukrainian relatives, friends, and refugees to the United States. The biggest hurdle that these individuals face is actually making it to a U.S. border. There are ways to support these refugees, but only after they arrive at a U.S. border. Below we will give further details regarding the limited options for Ukrainian refugees who want to enter the U.S.
- Apply at a U.S. Consulate.
The first option that may be available, is to apply for a visa or “boarding foil”. This would grant refugees temporary permission to enter via a U.S. consulate in the country of their location. The U.S. has consulates located throughout the European Union countries. Unfortunately, this process is backlogged. This backlog was initially due to the pandemic, but it is almost certain to become backlogged even further because of the Russian invasion.
- Current Visa.
Another potential option, is if a Ukrainian refugee currently possesses a valid U.S. visa. If so, they can use it to enter the country. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is not likely to scrutinize the purpose of their visit or their immigrant intent. The Department of State (DOS) has announced that, for the time being, the Covid vaccination requirement is waived for Ukrainians.
- Apply for Parole at a U.S. Border Checkpoint.
A third option, is to travel to either Mexico or Canada and request to be paroled as refugees. If Ukrainians choose to go this route, the process may include some detention time prior to being granted permission to enter the U.S. If a refugee chooses this option, we would recommend that they put together a package of documents and bring the package with them when they make it to a U.S. border checkpoint. The documents are needed to show that they have some kind of support in the United States. Refugees should also possess documentation of their identities – e.g., passports, birth certificates, and national identity documents. The more thorough this support package and identity information is, the more probable the arriving refugees will be quickly processed and will be able to avoid prolonged detentions. This package would include affidavits/sworn statements and financial support documents (bank statements, tax returns, W-2s, evidence of assets, etc.), from the sponsors in the United States. Anyone can be a sponsor; they do not have to be a relative or a family member. The sponsor can be anyone in the U.S. who is willing to support the refugee.
- Humanitarian Parole.
A fourth option, is to file a Humanitarian Parole application in the U.S. This would require that the applicant file a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-131 (Application for Travel Document) with evidence of financial support as mentioned previously. Humanitarian Parole was created to address urgent humanitarian needs. It was intended to be an express process; however, this process is also currently backlogged due to the pandemic and the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.
- Expediting Current Applications and Petitions.
Any current and pending immediate family petitions and consular processing cases can be expedited due the ongoing situation in Ukraine. Thus, if there is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident sponsoring their spouses or children, or in case of a U.S. citizen sponsoring their parents, the processing of those applications or petitions can be expedited.
- How to Expedite a USCIS Application or Petition:
Call the USCIS at (800) 375-5283. Give them the receipt number of your petition and request to expedite the case. The USCIS will ask why the expedite request is being made. Then, they will either approve it or email you and ask for additional documentation. Be advised that expediting a petition for any relatives other than immediate family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents will be inconsequential. Therefore, if you have a petition for your sibling or child above 21, an expedite request will not help. This is because the process for those beneficiaries is not delayed due to a backlog, but due to congressional limitations on the amount of immigrant visas available for non-immediate relatives.
- Expediting Consular Processing:
If you want to expedite a case that is currently at a U.S. consulate, send an email directly to the U.S. consulate and include the Consular Case Number you received from the National Visa Center (NVC). Request the consulate to process the interview for your family member as soon as possible. Fortunately, a lot of consulates accept expedite requests. The same limitation for non-immediate relatives applies as discussed above.
- Expediting an Asylum Interview or Decision:
Email your asylum office directly. You can view the asylum offices’ email addresses at this link: https://egov.uscis.gov/office-locator/#/asy. In your email, be sure to include the A#, date of birth, full name of the applicant, and current address. Attach any documents you might have to support the urgency of your situation. Also, write an explanation for your request in the email.
What about individuals who are already in the U.S.? What immigration options do these Ukrainian nationals have?
- Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
As of March 3, 2022, Ukraine is a TPS country for 18 months. All Ukrainian citizens can apply for TPS. This will permit Ukrainian citizens to stay and work in the United States. A TPS holder can also get a permission to travel in and out of the U.S. TPS may be extended so long as the designation is renewed.
- Relief from Deportation.
If a person is currently in the U.S. and is facing deportation, they can apply for Prosecutorial Discretion. This process has been available for nationals of any countries, as long as they do not have significant criminal convictions in the U.S. and can provide evidence of favorable factors. Prosecutorial Discretion would allow the beneficiary to stay in the U.S. and to acquire a work permit.
Asylum allows individuals, who have reasonable fear from returning to their home countries, to apply for asylum in the U.S. Anyone with such fear may apply for asylum; however, it does not mean that the asylum will be granted. To qualify for asylum, an applicant must demonstrate that there is a reasonable possibility of persecution based on one of the enumerated protected grounds (race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion).
- Work Permits for F-1 Students.
Ukrainian students can apply for emergency work permits by filing a Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) with the USCIS and ask for emergency work permits due to unanticipated financial hardships they are experiencing due to the crisis in Ukraine. As stated above, it is possible to have these applications expedited.
If either you or a friend or family member, have any questions about any of the immigration options for Ukrainian refugees that have been discussed in this blog, please contact The Gillispie Law Firm.