It also takes many years for family members sponsored by green card holders or American citizens to be approved.
But with the devastation being wrought on Ukraine under the Russian bombardment, it is unlikely that many of those seeking refuge in the United States would be able to return home anytime soon.
Some Ukrainians may be offered humanitarian parole, like the Afghan evacuees. But that does not open a direct path to legal residency, since it is intended for temporary stays. In order to stay permanently, those refugees would have to apply for asylum, which involves navigating a system that is badly overstretched already.
“We welcome the administration’s announcement, but we hope the United States commits to admitting Ukrainians in a permanent legal status so that they regain some control over their lives,” said Melanie Nezer, a senior vice president at HIAS, another resettlement agency.
“By definition, we are talking about many people with family and support networks here,” she said.
The United States is home to about a million people of Ukrainian descent, with substantial communities in New York, Pennsylvania, California and Washington State. Thousands are evangelical Christians who began arriving in the 1990s, after Congress passed a law allowing persecuted religious minorities to come to the United States as refugees. The early arrivals have continued to sponsor relatives to join them, and about 7,000 were in the pipeline before the Russian invasion.
The administration has faced intensifying pressure to help those fleeing Ukraine, including from European allies assisting most of the refugees.
In Europe, Poland, Moldova and Romania have opened makeshift shelters to accommodate displaced Ukrainians. The European Union earlier this month enacted the Temporary Protection Directive, a collective protection for Ukrainian refugees that allows them to remain in the region for a year, with the possibility of extension.