Biden has a simplified plan to admit Ukrainians to the US, will it be fast enough?

The Biden administration’s new program to admit refugees from Ukraine could face the same processing difficulties that have undermined efforts to welcome Afghans and other refugees, immigration experts warned after the announcement program Thursday.

The new plan, called Uniting for Ukraine, will allow American citizens and groups to financially sponsor people fleeing Ukraine to come to the United States. The aim is to admit 100,000 of the roughly 5 million people who have fled since Russia invaded their country in February.

US officials said the program was also intended to deter Ukrainians from traveling to Mexico in an attempt to enter the United States through the southern border. About 15,000 undocumented Ukrainians have arrived in the past three months, mostly at the US-Mexico border, senior administration officials told reporters on Thursday.

The application process for the new program will be “pretty quick” — about a week for clear applications, The Washington Post reported, citing a senior administration official.

While immigration and refugee advocates have applauded the program’s goal, past efforts to expand refugee admissions to the United States suggest bringing in 100,000 Ukrainians will not be so simple.

“The administration says it expects these cases to be decided within a week — I think that’s very ambitious,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan. Policy Center. “I hope they are right, but I am currently skeptical.”

The streamlined process, which is expected to launch on April 25, will rely on a humanitarian parole program, a tool primarily used for urgent humanitarian reasons or an important public interest. It allows certain Ukrainians who have sponsors in the United States to enter and stay for two years without having to apply for a visa or go through pending refugee status procedures.

Humanitarian parole has already been used in crisis circumstances to resettle Vietnamese in 1975 and Iraqi Kurds in 1996. More recently, it has been used to displace and resettle tens of thousands of Afghans following the US withdrawal of Afghanistan in 2021 and the Taliban takeover of the country.

The resettlement of Afghan refugees was also to be accelerated, but this did not happen.

In September, the Biden administration introduced humanitarian parole as a tool to expedite the relocation of at-risk Afghans who have been left behind by the US withdrawal. However, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has struggled to keep up with an increase in applications that is 20 times greater than the total number of applications they receive in a typical year, reported. AlJazeera. The process has stalled after almost seven months.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services told Al Jazeera in February that of more than 40,000 Afghan humanitarian parole applications submitted since July 2021, it had denied 930 and conditionally approved only 160. The overwhelming majority have yet to be processed, and the agency has offered no timeline for their completion.

The refugee resettlement process as a whole has been significantly damaged by the Trump administration, which has tried to scale back US efforts to welcome people fleeing from other countries.

Biden has announced a goal to admit 125,000 refugees this fiscal year, but the United States is nowhere near that. Only 8,758 refugees admitted in first six months of current fiscal year, State Department says The figures. Prioritizing requests from Ukraine could put unprocessed cases at the bottom of the pile.

“It’s not like there’s excess capacity in the US government, sitting around doing nothing that can now be applied to deal with these new demands,” Brown said. “Everyone is fully occupied with processing existing requests. And we know we have backlogs.

The Ukrainian program has some unique aspects. Unlike Afghan evacuees who were paroled in the United States without a sponsor and resettled by resettlement agencies, the new program requires Ukrainians to have an individual or group in the United States who is willing to sponsor their arrival.

Sasha, a Ukrainian woman seeking asylum in the United States, displays her passport as she waits to cross the US-Mexico border at the San Ysidro port of entry amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine on April 5 in Tijuana, Mexico.

Mario Tama via Getty Images

The sponsorship is intended to “provide initial financial and other support that will help Ukrainians integrate and regain their footing here in the United States,” said Nazanin Ash, CEO of Welcome.US, a refugee group encouraging Americans to sponsor Ukrainian refugees.

“We have a lot more capability as a nation,” Ash said. “And we’re tapping into the goodwill of a much wider range of American institutions and Americans.”

A YouGov poll conducted for Welcome.US shows that 72% of Americans, including Republicans, Democrats and Independents, support the United States welcoming Ukrainians fleeing the war. About 90 million American adults are already involved in helping Ukrainian refugees settle in the United States, or would like to do so, according to the survey.

But the government’s ability to process applications quickly could be an issue, Ash said.

Once sponsorship is approved, Ukrainians will receive authorization to travel to the United States and will only be considered for parole after undergoing vaccinations and other public health requirements, passing rigorous biometric and biographical screening, and passing security checks.

“I fear this is a potential constraint for people fleeing Ukraine who can find safety quickly,” Ash added.

Even after arriving in the United States, Ukrainians are likely to face even more backlogs in the immigration system. Although parole permits temporary legal presence, it does not confer immigration status or provide a pathway to lawful permanent residence. Once here, however, refugees could apply for asylum.

“What will happen when this temporary status expires? Melanie Nezer, Senior Vice President of HIAS, a refugee resettlement organization, told the Washington Post. “It is feared that this will only increase the undocumented population here if Congress does not act.”

Ukrainians will be eligible for work authorization once paroled through this process, but it could take months, Brown said.

Meanwhile, refugee organizations want similar protections for other refugees around the world who have fled violence and persecution, including those who left their homes in Cameroon, Ethiopia and Mauritania, as well as dozens thousands of other Afghan allies who have been left behind.

Ash said she hopes the United States can replicate faster processing for other refugees as well.

“The US government recognized that we needed a quick mechanism for people to get to safety,” Ash said. “These are really important innovations that we now need to standardize, replicate and recognize for all refugee populations.”


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