With the war unfolding in Ukraine, many US immigration attorneys have been working around the clock to respond to numerous inquiries from different people about the ways they can come to the US or bring their families or support Ukrainian refugees trying to enter the United States.
Please note, those currently in the United States would need to wait until a Temporary Protective Status is expended to the Ukrainians (more about your options later). For those outside the United States at this point; unfortunately, there are not too many ways that you can enter the US. The main challenge currently is your ability to logistically get to a US border.
Once the refugees arrive at the border, there are ways to support them
1) Current Visa. if you have a valid US visa, use it to enter asap. The DOS formally announced that the Covid vaccination requirement is currently waived for Ukrainian nationals.
2) Applying for entry at a US Consulate in another country. Second option which may be theoretically available, is to apply for a visa or “boarding foil”, which is a temporary permission to enter, through a US consulate in a country of you can get to: for example in Poland, Romania, or any other consulates in EU or surrounding countries.
3) Applying for Parole at a US Border Checkpoint. The third possible option is to flee Ukraine and fly to Canada or Mexico, and then request to be paroled as refugees into the United States. Again, the challenge here is logistics of getting to Mexico or Canada. Please be aware and prepared, the process may entail some detention time at the border or in a US jail before being released into the US. Please prepare a package of documents with which to arrive at the US border checkpoint to ask for a refugee status. The documents are needed to demonstrate that a refugee has family, friends, or other support in the United States. It is also important to have thorough documentation of identities, such as passports, birth certificates, and national identity documents.
The more detailed this support package and identity information are, the more likely the arriving refugees will be faster processed and will be able to avoid lengthy detentions. This package would include affidavits or sworn statements and financial support documents, such as bank statements, tax return copies, evidence of assets and so on, from the US sponsors in the United States. Anyone in the US can be a sponsor. It does not have to be a relative or a family member; it can be a random person in the US is willing to help, support and accommodate the applicant.
4) Humanitarian Parole. Number four is filling an application for a Humanitarian Parole affirmatively in the US. This entails preparing and filing a USCIS form I-131 and providing evidence of financial support as explained above. A Humanitarian Parole process was specifically intended for such urgent humanitarian needs. It was meant to be a swift and speedy process. However, unfortunately, as many other immigration procedures, it also fell significantly behind its original purpose.
It used to take 2-3 weeks and was designed for any US person to sponsor and request urgent permission to enter for any individual outside of the US, based on urgent humanitarian reasons. This also been backlogged due to first the pandemic and then situation in Afghanistan where thousands of HP applications have been filed for Afghan nationals after the US withdrawal. We filed HP for some Afghanis, and it took 7-8 months before it was processed. The DHS simply does not have enough resources and officers to consider the HP applications as fast as it was intended to be.
5) Expediting Current Petitions and Applications. All current and pending immediate family petitions and consular processing cases can be expedited due the current situation. What this means is that if there is a US citizen or permanent resident sponsoring their spouses or children, or in case of a US citizen sponsoring their parents, the processing of those petitions and applications can be expedited.
– Expediting a USCIS Petition or Application (e.g., I-130, Petition for Alien Relative or I-131, Application for Travel Document): To do that, you would need to contact the USCIS at (800) 375-5283 and provide the receipt number of your petition and request to expedite the case. Although the situation in Ukraine is a common knowledge, don’t be offended when they ask you to provide detailed reasons. The USCIS representatives are tasked to ask those questions no matter what. The USCIS will ask for reasons and will either approve it or send you an email asking for additional documentation. Note that expediting a petition for any relatives other than immediate family members of US citizens or permanent residents is not going to help. So, if you have a petition for your sibling or child above 21, an expedite request is not going to help, because the process for those beneficiaries is not delayed due to a backlog but due to a congressionally mandated limitations on the number of immigrant visas available for non-immediate relatives, such as siblings or children older than 21.
– Expediting Consular Processing: To expedite a case which is at the consulate, you will need to send an email directly to the US consulate and provide the Consular Case Number, which is what you received from NVC, and ask the consulate to process the interview for your family member as soon as possible. Many consulates, thankfully, do accept such expedite requests right now. The same limitation for non-immediate relatives applies as described above.
Now, let me address what are the options for Ukrainian nationals who are…
Visitors, business and invertir visa holders and students, who are currently in the United States. Other than providing them with financial support and accommodations, the immigration options here are as follows:
1) Relief from Deportation. Anyone who is in the US currently facing deportation, i.e., in removal proceedings in immigration courts, can apply for Prosecutorial Discretion. This process has been available for nationals of any countries who do not have significant criminal convictions in the US. It would allow the beneficiary to remain in the US and to obtain a work permit.
2) Asylum. The current asylum procedures allow individuals, who have reasonable fear from returning to their home countries, to apply for asylum in the United States. While anyone having fear may apply for asylum, it does not mean that the asylum will be granted. To qualify for asylum the applicant must demonstrate that there is a reasonable possibility of persecution based on one of enumerated protected grounds. As discussed above, it is risky at this point so if you are in status, wait. It is becuse at the present time, Ukrainian nationals are not considered a separate class/group for asylum and hence, applying for asylum if you are already in the US for sometime and in status is risky. If you are already out of status, this action most likely wont hurt your situation any more, so applying can be a good option. Make sure you dont have any other citizenship or permanent residency in any other country (check your country of birth too). Consult with experienced immigration attorney before doing it.
3) Work Permits for Students (F-1 status holders). Students from Ukraine can apply for emergency work permits by filing a form I-765 with the USCIS and asking for emergency work permits due to unexpected financial hardships they are experiencing due to the situation in Ukraine. Such applications can be also expedited, so that you would not need to wait for many months of regular processing. You can read more on the work permits for F-1 students here: https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/special-situations.
4) Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Ukraine has not yet been formally designated as a TPS country, but we expected it to happen anytime within the next week or so. The US Department of Homeland Security is currently working on granting Temporary Protective Status to Ukrainian Nationals who are currently in the United States. A TPS will allow them to remain and work in the US.
TPS holder can also get a permission to travel in and out of the country. TPS is granted in increments of 6, 12, or 18 months and can be extended as long as the designation is renewed. As a way of example, nationals of some countries that are currently under temporary protected status include Syrians (since 2012), Haiti (since 2011), Nicaragua (1999), Venezuela (2021), Yemen (2015), Honduras (1999) Nepal (2015) and so one. You get the point. Once Ukraine is designated, their TPS status will likely be extended for many years. But, again, this has not happened yet, and the DHS is expected to announce it soon.
More information is to be coming, so check all sources more often.
Photo : © Can Stock Photo / PromesaArtStudio