Humanitarian Relief and Visa Options for Ukrainian Nationals
Contributor: Van T. Doan
The war in Ukraine that began in February, 2022 following the Russian invasion continues to wear on. Because of conditions in the country, many Ukrainian nationals have evacuated to other countries, including the United States. Following the invasion, U.S. consular services in Ukraine were suspended, making it more challenging for Ukrainian nationals to get authorization to travel to the U.S.. The United States Department of State has issued guidance for Ukrainian nationals regarding visas and humanitarian assistance at this time of crisis.
Uniting for Ukraine
The Uniting for Ukraine program was established by the Biden-Harris administration to grant displaced Ukrainians parole on a case-by-case basis. Parole means that for “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit,” noncitizens may enter the United States and remain here on a temporary basis. In the case of Uniting for Ukraine, parole may be granted for up to two years, and beneficiaries may apply for employment authorization so that they can work while they are in the United States.
To be eligible for the program, an applicant must have been a resident of Ukraine as of February 11, 2022. They must also have a financial supporter in the United States. In addition to these requirements, applicants must meet all public health requirements, including required vaccines; pass all necessary security checks; and pass all biometric and biographic screening. Financial supporters for individuals seeking parole must complete Form I-134 (Declaration of Financial Support), demonstrate adequate financial resources, and pass security and background vetting. Once the Declaration of Financial Support is filed with specific information regarding the intended beneficiary, USCIS will notify the beneficiary about what they need to do next to apply for parole.
Some security checks will be conducted on applicants while they are still overseas. If an applicant passes those security checks, they will be authorized to travel to the United States. When they arrive at a port of entry, they will undergo inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as additional screening. Applicants who are found to pose a threat to public safety or national security after that vetting will be referred to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The number of Ukrainians who will be granted parole through Uniting for Ukraine depends on the available sponsorship. However, President Biden and Vice President Harris have pledged to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians into the United States through Uniting for Ukraine and other means.
U.S. Visas for Ukrainian Nationals
At this time, visa services are not available in Ukraine. U.S. Consulate General Frankfurt, in Germany, is the designated post for the processing of most Ukrainian immigrant visa applications. (Adoptions are being handled through U.S. Embassy Warsaw).
Immigrant visas are intended for foreign nationals who plan to reside in the United States on a permanent basis. Typically, immigrants must be sponsored by a family member or employer in order to be granted an immigrant visa. Individuals with an immigrant visa who have paid their immigrant visa fee can become lawful permanent residents and should receive their green cards within 90 days of entry into the United States.
For most immigrants, the first step in obtaining an immigrant visa is for a sponsor to file Form 1-130, Petition for Alien Relative. If a sponsor has filed Form 1-130 but it has not yet been approved, they may be able to request to have processing expedited. Because of the suspension of consular services in Ukraine, newly scheduled immigrant visa appointments for Ukrainian nationals will take place in Frankfurt.
Pending immigrant visa cases that were being processed in Kyiv have been transferred to Frankfurt. Applicants who want to transfer processing of an immigration case to a consulate or embassy other than Frankfurt will need to request a case transfer from the Immigrant Visa Unit of the U.S. embassy or consulate in their desired country.
As a general rule, Ukrainians seeking to reside in the United States should not try to enter the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa. Nonimmigrant visas are intended for those planning to visit the U.S. on a temporary basis and are not a “back door” to refugee status or a resettlement process. Applicants for a nonimmigrant visa must be able to demonstrate that they plan to leave the U.S. after a particular period of time. If they cannot do so, their application will be denied. In any case, wait times for these visas have been lengthy (perhaps over a year), so they are not suitable for the needs of most Ukrainians who have been forced to leave their home.
Refugee Status and Temporary Protected Status
A better option for those who are not eligible for an immigrant visa or parole under Uniting for Ukraine is to seek refugee status. Most cases for individuals in other countries seeking refugee status in the U.S. are processed by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or by local authorities.
Ukrainian nationals who were present in the United States as of March 1, 2022 may be eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Unfortunately, this option is unavailable to Ukrainians who were not yet in the U.S. at that time.
If you have a family member who is a Ukrainian national trying to come to the United States, it is best to have a qualified immigration attorney to guide you and them through the process. If you have questions about visas and humanitarian relief for Ukrainian nationals, please contact our law office to schedule a consultation.
Categories: Immigration Law