Biden introduces US visa bypass policy for Ukrainians

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The Biden administration will launch a program enabling US citizens and groups to financially sponsor Ukrainians forced to flee their homeland following the Russian invasion. Ukrainians selected for entry to the US will be granted ‘humanitarian parole’, which will enable them to bypass US visa and refugee programs that can take years to complete.


While the program will not provide permanent status for Ukrainians eligible for sponsorship, they will be able to remain in the US to live and work for two years. The sponsorship program, named ‘Uniting for Ukraine’ launches today, and is the first firm policy aimed at fulfilling Biden’s pledge of welcoming 100,000 of the 5 million Ukrainians who have fled their homes.

President Biden said: “This new humanitarian parole program will complement the existing legal pathways available to Ukrainians, including immigrant visas and refugee processing. It will provide an expedient channel for secure, legal migration from Europe to the United States for Ukrainians who have a US sponsor, such as a family or a [nongovernmental organization].”


Discourage travel to Mexico

Meanwhile, Biden administration officials said that the US visa bypass policy will discourage Ukrainians from traveling to the US southern border with Mexico, where US customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers processed a record 3,274 Ukrainians in March alone, representing a 1,100% rise compared with February.

US immigration officials have reportedly processed nearly 15,000 undocumented Ukrainians in the past three months, most of whom have arrived at the southern border.

In March, US officials at border checkpoints were instructed to consider granting US entry to Ukrainians under humanitarian exemptions to the Title 42 pandemic restrictions. However, Biden officials have said that border agents will no longer process Ukrainians who lack the necessary travel documents from April 25.

A senior DHS official said: “From April 25 we will apply Title 42 equally to all nationalities at the border.” However, the Title 42 policy is set to expire on May 23.

The DHS official added: “Ukrainian nationals who present and do not have a US visa or have not gone through the ‘Uniting for Ukraine’ program will no longer be paroled, unless they have some other factor that would lead a border official, a CBP officer, to make a case-by-case determination that do they merit a humanitarian exception for Title 42.”


Honoring commitment to Ukraine

President Biden said that the ‘Uniting for Ukraine’ scheme will ‘ensure that the US honors its commitment to welcome Ukrainian people, without the need for them to go to the southern border.”

Once the sponsorship program officially opens for applications, US citizens or organizations looking to sponsor Ukrainian nationals must file affidavits of financial support and will be subject to background checks. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will then decide if they are eligible to sponsor Ukrainians.

For permission to enter the US, Ukrainians will first need to be identified by their prospective sponsors because they will be unable to apply for the program directly, Biden officials said. It’s understood that Ukrainians will be eligible for sponsorship if they lived in Ukraine as of February 11.


Sponsorship approval

If sponsorship is approved, the Ukrainians identified by US sponsors will be subject to security screenings overseas to ensure that they do not pose a security or public safety risk to the United States. They must also be vaccinated against communicable diseases.

The sponsorship program is set to benefit thousands of Ukrainians displaced by the invasion of their homeland having had limited options to come to the US directly.

A Biden official said: “We expect the majority of Ukrainians welcomed by the US to arrive through the new program.”

DHS Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, said: “We are proud to deliver on President Biden's commitment to welcome 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russian aggression to the United States.”


Lengthy wait for US visas

US visa applicants are currently subject to lengthy waiting times amid massive backlogs that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and many Ukrainians may not qualify for US visas.

Meanwhile, the US refugee process, which was crippled by COVID-19, currently takes between 12 – 18 months to complete for the select few who are allowed to enter the pipeline.

However, Biden officials said that US embassies and consulates are working to increase the number of appointments available to Ukrainians looking to secure temporary US visas and expedite cases of Ukrainians with urgent humanitarian, medical or otherwise ‘extraordinary’ needs. 

US State Department figures show that, while the US aimed to settle up to 125,000 refugees from around the world in fiscal year 2022, fewer than 9,000 refugees have been admitted so far. In March, only a dozen Ukrainians arrived in the US as refugees.

Immigration policy analyst at the libertarian-leaning Niskanen Center, Matthew La Corte, said that the sponsorship program could help the Biden administration achieve its goal of allowing Americans to sponsor refugees from different countries.

In late 2021, the US did announce a smaller program for groups of US citizens hoping to sponsor refugees arriving from Afghanistan.

Mr La Corte told CBS News: “This urgency around Ukraine can ultimately speed up the launch of full private sponsorship, which has the opportunity to help the administration expand the resettlement system. They’ve really struggled, 15 months into the administration, to resettle large numbers of refugees.” can help with US employment-based visas

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