What we know, and don’t know, about a rare government program to help Ukrainians fleeing war.
On April 21, 2022, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the Uniting for Ukraine initiative - a pathway for displaced Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members who are outside the United States to come to the United States and stay temporarily for a two-year period of parole. Parole, meaning entry to the United States, is granted either for urgent humanitarian reasons or because the entrance of an individual is determined to be a significant public benefit to the U.S.
The breadth of this parole program is very rare. In the past, parole has been granted to specific subsets of a population in emergency situations, such as Iraqi interpreters fleeing significant danger after Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007, or U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, National Immigration Forum. This Ukrainian parole, as it has been announced, is a blanket program open to all Ukrainians who were residing inside Ukraine on February 11 and who are currently outside the United States. And this parole comes with a price tag.
To qualify for the parole, Ukrainians must have a U.S. “Supporter” who is a person (not an agency), in a lawful status in the United States, demonstrate financial resources to receive, maintain, and support the individual(s) whom they commit to support for the duration of their stay. In addition, Ukrainian citizens need to have cleared background checks and have the U.S. Supporter file a Form I-134, a Declaration of Financial Support, and be vetted by the U.S. government. There is no fee for filing the Form I-134 and it can be filed online.
USCIS has not yet announced estimated processing times, however in less than three weeks since the program was announced, USCIS states that it has approved more than 6,000 applications, with another 13,000+ still pending.
There is a plethora of critical information still unknown:
- How much money is needed to support Ukrainians for Parole? The application process requires the U.S. Supporter to prove income and assets through sufficient documentation. There is no exact amount of income or assets which will be deemed sufficient; no definite list of documents to prove the income and assets.
- Can Supporters use financial resources of Ukrainians they sponsor? The U.S. Supporter may use the financial resources of the Ukrainian being sponsored for the parole, but the documentation required may be difficult to obtain from the war-torn country. It is unclear what evidence will be accepted in these circumstances.
- Can families be approved for Parole together? The current online portal requires a separate application for each family member. It is not clear whether some family members will be approved while others are denied.
- How long will it take for those approved to enter the U.S.? The program states that once the parole is granted, the Ukrainian beneficiary can travel to the U.S. to be paroled for up to 2 years. However, there has not been any formal explanation of how one with an approved parole application from USCIS can obtain a travel document in his/her passport to permit the parole entry. With the U.S. Consulate in Kyiv closed, it may be up to the U.S. consulates in neighboring countries to assist with placing a parole stamp into the passports of those yearning to come to the United States. It is not yet clear what will be needed to permit the Ukrainians to board an airplane to the U.S. and to enter the U.S. We are still waiting for more information from the government about security checks, admissibility checks, review of vaccination records and the stamping necessary from a U.S. Consular officer.
- How soon can Ukrainians on Parole work in the U.S.? The program states that Ukrainian parolees may apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), but there is no indication if these EAD applications will be expedited. Currently USCIS is taking 12 months+ to process EAD applications.
With so many questions unanswered, it remains to be seen if the Uniting for Ukraine program was announced with the intention of rapid success, or rather to appease relatives in the United States who are desperate to help bring family over. In the meantime, we are cautiously optimistic that this parole will be a life changing opportunity for those who are paroled in, and for all who benefit from the Ukrainians arriving in the U.S. Recent reports from NGOs, academia, and the U.S. government confirm that the American economy needs talented high-skill foreign workers and hard-working low-skilled immigrants from all sectors to remain competitive on a global scale. Uniting for Ukraine is a good start.
Learn More About Uniting for Ukraine and other possible visa pathways to the US for Ukrainians
Open Avenues Foundation is dedicated to building pathways for global talent to contribute to the US innovation economy and educate the future STEM workforce.
Goldman & Partners Immigration Law is a nationally recognized law firm devoted exclusively to all aspects of business-based and family-based immigration law.
This article is co-authored by Danielle Goldman and Jeff Goldman
Connect with Danielle to find out more about Uniting for Ukraine.