The recently unveiled U.S. Uniting for Ukraine program is now in full swing. The program provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members who are outside the United States to come to the U.S. and stay temporarily for a two-year period of parole. Ukrainians overseas must have a sponsor in the United States who agrees to provide them with financial support for the duration of their stay in the United States.
Brief Summary Of The Process
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) focuses on the sponsor, by reviewing the I-134 affidavit of support filed by the sponsor to begin the process to determine their ability to provide financial support. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) then determines whether to authorize the beneficiary’s eligibility and conducts their security screening before making the final decision as to whether or not to parole them in. So far, the USCIS has received some 30,000 I-134 applications that have been filed by sponsors and have issued almost 25,000 approval notices. As a result, so far, around 15,000 travel authorizations have been posted to the accounts of Ukrainian beneficiaries.
Sponsors Are The Starting Point
Since getting approvals for sponsors are the key to the program, it may be worthwhile to review what is required in a little more detail.
To qualify as a sponsor an individual must hold a lawful status when they file the I-134. The sponsor needs to be in some type of legal status, though not necessarily permanent. In addition to citizenship or permanent residence, it can be asylum, a nonimmigrant visa, or another temporary status. But it can’t be a pending status such as asylum seeker.
Groups of supporters are encouraged to come together to support beneficiaries, as this can provide good security and resources. If this is the structure, one of the supporters should file an I-134. As part of the supplemental evidence, they should include information on what the other supporters can provide, including their identity and financial resources. If an organization is providing support, such as housing and benefits, one person still has to sign the I-134. As part of the evidence submitted, they should show the organization’s resources. For example, they can submit a statement on the organization’s letterhead stating how much money will be contributed, and how much money is sitting in a bank account.
The security and background check for the sponsor looks for major public safety and national security threats, including criminal records and history of human trafficking or sexual exploitation. In addition to standard security vetting and background checks through the government’s typical vetting system, the government has put some other indicator-flagging systems in place and is partnering with human trafficking experts to find additional red flags that could be used. Also, for privacy reasons, sponsors will not be able to see the beneficiary’s travel authorization in their account. They will need to ask the beneficiary for their travel details.
The USCIS is not looking for a set amount of money to be considered for support. They’re looking at all the evidence and resources to determine whether there are enough resources available to the supporter under the totality of the circumstances. The federal poverty guidelines are used as a very general guide, as measured against the number of beneficiaries a supporter is looking to bring. They are looking at 100% of the 2022 federal guidelines.
What Else Is Involved
Sponsors need to “maintain and support” immigrants which might require different things depending on the beneficiary’s need. Most likely this would include providing: safe and appropriate housing, immediate health care needs, transportation, help with applications for employment authorizations, applications for various identifications and services (eg. a social security card), access to education, learning English, and helping children enroll in school. However, beyond the initial parole period of up to 2 years, there is no obligation on the part of the supporter.
One group that has committed to helping Ukrainian immigrants to come to the USA is Welcome US. Working with the Department of State they have agreed to help sponsors and provide resources, including training and other information. Their goal is to raise $ 10 million in this regard.
Processing of Cases
Most of the cases are moving through the system fairly quickly. But some people may need further vetting if a flag comes up. Those who do not receive a quick response should not reapply, as some supporter or beneficiary applications may take longer to review than others. But if a non-confirmation has been issued, they may reapply.
USCIS is keenly aware that adjudication of I-765 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) applications can take months. USCIS is working on ways to speed this up. For now, people need to apply through the traditional method, that is to say, once they have arrived in the USA.
Ukrainians paroled into the U.S. should be eligible to apply to adjust their status and apply for benefits accessible by their parolee status. For example, they could try to apply for asylum, employment-based sponsorships, immediate family reunion, the Diversity Green Card lottery, as well as other immigrant benefits available to those here on humanitarian parole. USCIS cannot provide details or legal advice on this but indicated there is nothing unique to this Ukrainian humanitarian parole status that would prevent them from accessing benefits they would normally access through other humanitarian parole applications.
In large measure, what happens to Ukrainians entering the U.S. under this program will depend on them. They will need to stay informed about immigrant options and explore what is best for them. They should read immigration newsletters and news about programs that are current. They should keep in touch with other immigrants and search for ways to apply for permanent residence along the line of what has been suggested above.
For more insight on this matter, consider viewing a recent presentation I made to the Chicago Bar Association Legal Talk podcast outlining the history of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and explaining why the conflict has created such a big humanitarian problem.