The Unite for Ukraine private sponsorship refugee program cuts through bureaucratic red tape

The Biden administration’s new Uniting for Ukraine program has made it possible for Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s brutal invasion and repression to enter the United States far more quickly and easily than would have been possible through the ossified traditional system. admission of refugees. This success can be extended in the future. The Wall Street Journal has a useful summary of the program and its success (unfortunately paying; but there are different legal ways to circumvent it):

Mariia Holovan left Ukraine on a bus for Poland, waited what seemed like an eternity at the border, flew to Chicago, then connected to Charlotte, North Carolina, and met a American named Grant Jones. Together they went to his new home in the United States…..

Their improbable meeting was long in coming…..

But perhaps the most unexpected of the many forces that brought Ms. Holovan and Mr. Jones together was a US government program that worked because it barely looked like it.

It was quick. It was effective. And he bulldozed through the roadblocks of Washington’s immigration bureaucracy to clear a path for Ukrainians.

Ukrainians who qualified were granted immediate humanitarian parole to live and then work in the United States for two years as long as they had sponsors here promising to support them financially. There were many who wanted to come – and even more Americans who wanted them to be here. The numbers behind the called program Unite for Ukraine have been staggering: 171,000 sponsorship applications, 121,000 travel authorizations for Ukrainians and around 85,000 arrivals since April, a spokesperson for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services said.

By contrast, 25,465 refugees from around the world resettled in the United States with a pathway to citizenship in the government’s 2022 fiscal year, according to State Department data. The previous year it was 11,411, the fewest in the history of the US refugee program….

The war in Ukraine was a crisis that required an agile political response, but the immigration system was not the first place anyone would look to find it.

Second, the White House’s commitment to accept 100,000 Ukrainians after the invasion created an unusual mandate for the Department of Homeland Security: to make it easier for people to escape a war. The existing refugee program is meant to respond to humanitarian emergencies, said Julia Gelatt, senior analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, but it falls short of that urgent role with its slow timeline for verification and processing…..

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials have found ways to rewrite the rules for this exodus. The concept of temporary parole and the private sponsorship model has streamlined the process considerably. The accelerated program built around electronic applications has enabled Ukrainians seek refuge online and avoid the administrative formalities normally required. The government even collaborated with a non-profit organization that corresponded with Americans and Ukrainians. As a result, entering the country took weeks instead of years. This idea of ​​so many displaced people arriving so quickly in the United States was “completely unheard of,” said Matthew La Corte, an immigration policy expert at the Niskanen Center think tank.

I myself am a participating sponsor of the Uniting for Ukraine program and can thus testify firsthand to its effectiveness. Like the North Carolina family featured in the the wall street journal article, my wife and I created a profile on the Welcome Login, a free nonprofit website that connects potential U.S. sponsors with Ukrainian refugees looking for them. Within days, we got in touch with a Ukrainian family and agreed to sponsor them. I then submitted the necessary documents to the USCIS website. Unlike the normal icy pace of federal government immigration bureaucracy, we received a response granting entry clearance within ten days of submitting the forms (a process you can complete entirely online). The family – a couple and their 2.5 year old daughter – will arrive within the next two weeks – less than two months after we started the sponsorship process.

Parts of the process were still unnecessarily tedious and bureaucratic. Communication with the Ukrainian family was greatly facilitated by the fact that I am a native speaker of Russian (which most Ukrainians also know). Things would have been more difficult if we could only communicate in English, although I know that other US sponsors have managed to deal with this problem nonetheless.

Despite these caveats, Uniting for Ukraine is a significant improvement over the traditional refugee admissions policy. In one july Washington Post article, co-authored with Canadian refugee policy expert Sabine El-Chidiac, we describe how the United States can build on the program and expand it into a more general system of private refugee sponsorship for refugees fleeing war. and oppression in the world. As we explain, we can also adapt elements of Canada’s generally successful private refugee sponsorship system. Such a system would allow the United States to welcome many more refugees at little or no additional cost to taxpayers. And all expenses would be easily offset by economic contributions migrants do after settling.

The Biden administration has already created a similar program for migrants fleeing Venezuela’s brutally repressive socialist government, although unlike Uniting for Ukraine it only has a numerical cap of 24,000 participants. The Venezuelan refugee crisis has not attracted as much attention as the Ukrainian one. But it is in fact of a comparable magnitude, with some 6 million people fleeing the socialist oppression of the regime in recent years. Next year, the Administration plans to create a more general private sponsorship of refugees pilot programalthough its parameters are not yet clear.

Despite its virtues, Uniting for Ukraine still has at least two important limitations. The first is that the residence and work permits received by the participants currently only last for two years. Experience of past conflicts shows that many refugees will need permanent housing, not just temporary housing. Tenure also allows them to make a greater economic and social contribution to American society. The second is that the program currently relies heavily on executive discretion. If the political tide turns and President Biden (or a successor) decides to end it, participants will be left behind and potentially expelled. Congress should act to correct these flaws.

Finally, critics can legitimately argue that, even with the creation of a similar limited program for Venezuelans, it is unfair that this private refugee sponsorship is available to Ukrainian refugees, but not to those fleeing comparable horrors elsewhere in the world. This review has merit. But, as I said before, the solution is not to ban Ukrainians (or Venezuelans) but to “higher level” by make private refugee sponsorship accessible to others, as well. Hopefully the success of Uniting for Ukraine will help make this possible.

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