Biden sets up new path to US but will stop waiving rules for Ukrainians at Mexican border

The U.S. is launching a new program to allow Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia to enter the U.S., but will no longer waive immigration requirements for Ukrainians seeking to enter the country at the Mexican border, officials announced Thursday.

The new program will allow Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion to apply from abroad for a two-year temporary status in the U.S.

The Uniting for Ukraine program will allow Ukrainians to apply to stay in the U.S. for up to two years through a process known as humanitarian parole, which allows government officials to temporarily waive immigration requirements. Ukrainians applying through the program must have a U.S. sponsor.

President Biden announced the new program, which is part of a broader pledge to take in 100,000 Ukrainians displaced by the crisis, during a speech Thursday morning from the White House.

“It will provide an expedient channel for secure, legal migration from Europe to the United States for Ukrainians who have a U.S. sponsor such as a family or an NGO,” Biden said, pledging that the program would be “fast” and “streamlined.”

The program comes as more than 5 million Ukrainians have fled their country, primarily reaching other countries in Eastern Europe.

U.S. residents and organizations can begin sponsoring Ukrainians for the program starting Monday, adding a fast-track option over existing humanitarian parole programs for those with no U.S. connections.

Humanitarian parole does not itself provide a pathway for long-term residence in the U.S., though it does give recipients time to look for other ways to seek status in America.

The move comes after the Biden administration had previously said it would waive Title 42 for Ukrainians, which expels migrants without giving them the chance to seek asylum. That exception will now end Monday.

The Biden team had been criticized for the incongruous policy, having used Title 42 more than a million times in 2021, largely to expel Central American migrants. 

“The United States strongly encourages Ukrainians seeking refuge in the United States who do not have and are not eligible for a visa to seek entry via Uniting for Ukraine from Europe, this will be the safest and most efficient way to pursue temporary refuge in the United States,” DHS said in a release Thursday.

“Ukrainians should not travel to Mexico to pursue entry into the United States. … Ukrainians who present at land U.S. ports of entry without a valid visa or without pre-authorization to travel to the United States through Uniting for Ukraine will be denied entry and referred to apply through this program.”

While Ukrainians could still apply for the program from Mexico, a senior administration official told reporters Thursday that it will likely be more difficult for Ukrainians to access required vaccinations there, and the U.S. will offer no on-the-ground support. 

“Traveling to Mexico will offer no advantage for Ukrainian nationals,” the official said.

The U.S. most recently established a humanitarian parole program for Afghans evacuated as part of the chaotic U.S. exit from the country. Like Afghans, Ukrainians must pass background screening checks and meet health and vaccination requirements.

But some Afghans were given as little as one year of status, leaving advocates concerned they may not be able to secure a long-term pathway to remain in the U.S. Many have since lobbied for the Afghan Adjustment Act that would allow those paroled in to seek green cards — a sign of what may also be necessary for Ukrainians who enter the U.S. through humanitarian parole.

Russia invaded Ukraine nearly two months ago on Feb. 24. In addition to spurring a refugee crisis, the war has resulted in thousands of civilian casualties and disrupted the global economy. 

Biden along with U.S. allies has announced several tranches of sanctions on Russia in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion. Biden also visited Europe last month for meetings with NATO and European leaders and on that trip met with Ukrainian refugees who had fled to Poland.

The humanitarian parole program unveiled Thursday was a sign the U.S. may not meet its goal of accepting 100,000 Ukrainians primarily through the U.S. refugee program, which does provide a pathway for long-term residence.

The U.S. has been accepting Ukrainian refugees using narrower parameters like the Lautenberg program, which is only open to religious minorities.

One official said “the majority” of refugees will likely come through the humanitarian parole process.

“We’ve heard widely from Ukrainians that they really are seeking kind of temporary refuge in the U.S. with family, with other individuals they have connections with,” the official said.

They noted that among those already fleeing, many have settled in nearby Poland and have been hesitant to travel further West and become more distanced from male relatives aged 18 to 65 who have been prohibited from leaving the country.

“They are quite keen to stay near Ukraine to return as soon as possible,” the official said. 

“I think it is a minority of the broader population, obviously, that will have U.S. ties and an interest in traveling this far to seek temporary refuge in the United States. So, I think in many ways the program will be self-selecting.”

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the financial requirements for the humanitarian parole program will also whittle down the eligibility.

“What you need to show in order to get the visa is someone, whether that’s a family member or you have some connection to an entity that will basically attest that they will financially sponsor you. And so, you know, for those who have less means, for those who are less politically connected, for those who may not have members who are able to afford financial support, they don’t have a pathway to apply,” she said. 

The U.S. has also offered Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainians already in the U.S., extending the deadline to include Ukrainians that had crossed the border as well as those already in the country when the war broke out. It’s a population DHS estimates has now reached 60,000.

—Updated at 4:29 p.m.

Tags Joe Biden refugees Russian invasion of Ukraine Ukraine Ukrainian refugees

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