The Biden administration has said it will extend US immigration relief to Ukrainians currently in the US. The news comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine intensifies with key buildings and cities targeted and civilian evacuation plans failing. The US Department of Homeland Security announced that Ukrainians can remain in America under Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
TPS is a US immigration status granted to immigrants in the US who would otherwise face extreme hardship if forced to return to their homelands – including armed conflict and natural disasters. However, the protections are limited to those already in the US.
Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, said his department has ‘discretion to designate a country for TPS’. In an official statement, Mayorkas said: “Russia’s premeditated and unprovoked attack on Ukraine has resulted in an ongoing war, senseless violence, and Ukrainians forced to seek refuge in other countries.”
Support and protect Ukraine
“In these extraordinary times, we will continue to offer our support and protection to Ukrainian nationals in the United States,” Mr Mayorkas added.
According to a Homeland Security spokesperson, approximately 75,100 people are eligible to file for TPS under the designation of Ukraine, which is understood to be more than double previous estimates.
To be eligible for the US immigration relief, individuals must have continuously resided in the US since March 1 and will be granted TPS for 18 months initially.
The Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, had forecast that some 30,000 Ukrainians on US visas could benefit from TPS. Visas are only issued on a temporary basis, and extending TPS to Ukrainians would ensure they are not subject to deportation when their visas expire.
Biden administration under pressure
The Biden administration had been put under pressure to extend TPS to Ukrainian nationals by Democratic and Republican lawmakers, plus several US immigration advocacy groups.
In a letter sent to Biden recently, a bipartisan group of senators called on the administration to extend TPS to Ukrainians, writing: “Forcing Ukrainian nationals to return to Ukraine in the midst of a war would be inconsistent with America’s values and our national security interests.”
The Ukraine joins a growing list of countries which have now been designated TPS, including South Sudan and Venezuela. It’s understood that nationals of 12 countries now have access to TPS.
Meanwhile, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it had suspended all deportation flights to Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion.
An ICE spokesperson said: “Amid the ongoing humanitarian crisis occurring in Ukraine, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has paused repatriation flights to Ukraine. ICE will continue to monitor the ongoing situation and make operational changes as necessary.”
Alejandro Mayorkas confirmed that ICE’s actions are standard protocol when a country is embroiled in armed conflict or hit by a natural disaster.
Frustration among Americans
Meanwhile, Americans are said to be growing increasingly frustrated with the US immigration system because it’s either ‘leaving them displaced in a foreign country with their Ukrainian loved ones’ or ‘leaving them to worry about family members stranded miles away’.
One American, David Korpiewski - a Massachusetts resident – told Newsweek that he was struggling to get his 10-year-old daughter, Mary – a dual American and Ukrainian citizen - into Poland from Dnipro, a central Ukrainian city.
Mr Korpiewski said: “What frustrates me is that President Joe Biden’s spokesperson said Ukrainian refugees are welcome in the United States. It’s not true.”
However, Senator Ed Markey, supported the White House’s decision to extend TPS to Ukrainians.
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “Most Ukrainians would prefer to go to countries in Europe, so part of America’s commitment to the humanitarian effort is providing support to Europe, and so far, there’s not been a clear plan for resettling Ukrainian refugees in the US.”
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