Nearly two months after announcing that the US would welcome 100,000 refugees from Ukraine, President Biden on Wednesday unveiled a plan to make that happen.
“Today I’m announcing new a new program to enable Ukrainians seeking refuge to come directly from Europe to the US, ”Biden said during a speech from the Oval Office.
The program, named Uniting for Ukraine, is aimed at making it easier for Ukrainian nationals with family or friends in the US to apply for temporary resettlement. In order to be eligible, applicants must have been residents of Ukraine as of Feb. 11, 2022, and have a sponsor in the United States. They must also complete vaccination and other public health requirements and pass various security screenings.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, which will be in charge of facilitating the program, any US-based individual, including representatives of nongovernment organizations, can sponsor Ukrainians applying for humanitarian parole, as long as they provide a declaration of financial support and pass. background checks to “Prevent exploitation and abuse.”
Starting April 25, people in the US who’ve identified specific Ukrainian nationals they’d like to sponsor will be able to begin the application process by uploading an affidavit to an online portal on the DHS website. Though most applicants are expected to be sponsored by family or friends, the program allows for organizations such as churches and other nonprofits to help identify and connect potential US sponsors with Ukrainians in need.
Once both the Ukrainian applicants and their US-based sponsors have met all the vetting and public health requirements, those who are approved will receive authorization to travel to the US and will be considered for parole for up to two years, during which they will be eligible for work authorization.
A senior DHS official told reporters Wednesday that if Ukrainians and their US-based sponsors provide all the required information, the application process could take about a week to complete.
More than 5 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian military invaded the country on Feb. 24, according to the United Nations. Though the vast majority have gone to Poland and other neighboring countries in Europe, large numbers of Ukrainians have also begun traveling to Mexico in an effort to make their way to the US
On Wednesday, the senior DHS official told reporters that US immigration officials have processed close to 15,000 Ukrainian nationals over the last three months, most of whom entered the country from Mexico.
“This program will be fast, it will be streamlined and will ensure the US honors its commitment to the people of Ukraine,” Biden said Wednesday. Crucially, he added, the program will ensure that those fleeing Ukraine “need not go through our southern border.”
Though most other migrants continue to be turned away at the border under a pandemic-era public health order known as Title 42, DHS issued guidance back in March encouraging US Customs and Border Protection officers to grant exemptions to the policy for Ukrainians seeking refuge.
But the DHS official said Wednesday that earlier guidance would be effectively rescinded on April 25. “There will be no different process for Ukrainian nationals who travel to Mexico,” the official said. “We encourage all Ukrainian nationals seeking to come to the US to remain in Europe and take advantage of this program.”
The DHS official added that Ukrainians who are already in Mexico may also be able to apply for parole through the Uniting for Ukraine program, but noted that the required vaccinations may be more difficult to obtain in Mexico.
The US will not be facilitating those inoculations. “Travelers to Mexico will get no advantage under this process,” the official emphasized.
While administration officials said they expect the new parole program to serve a majority of the 100,000 Ukrainians the US has promised to admit, they noted that some of those fleeing the war there, including LGBTQ individuals, religious minorities and refugees from other countries, are in need of more permanent protections.
In addition to the Uniting for Ukraine program, the State Department announced a series of measures to expand refugee resettlement operations for members of those particularly vulnerable populations.