After a month of war and devastation from the Russian invasion, more than 3.6 million (and counting) Ukrainians have escaped their country and are seeking safety abroad. While the vast majority of refugees are now in Poland – some 2 million displaced people are being housed and cared for by Ukraine’s neighbor -- thousands of people are seeking refuge in the United States.  The U.S. is home to about a million people of Ukrainian descent.

Legally, Ukrainians who seek to enter the United States can do so on immigrant visas, most commonly through I-130 immediate relative petitions filed on their behalf, on visitor or other nonimmigrant visa, on humanitarian parole, or through the U.S. refugee program.  In response to the crisis, on March 24, the Biden Administration announced that the U.S. will accept up to 100,000 people who will be admitted into the U.S. through a variety of legal pathways, including the conventional refugee program as well as through humanitarian parole.

Humanitarian parole permits a person to be paroled into the United States for humanitarian purposes. Such applicants, however, normally must apply for a travel document (Form I-131), which must be issued in order for the person to board a commercial flight and then enter the United States.  Meanwhile, hundreds of Ukrainians have travelled to Mexico to be “port” paroled without applying first for humanitarian parole. While humanitarian parole is quicker than the refugee process and provides individuals with work authorization, it does not provide a pathway to citizenship or other benefits. Those paroled in could, however, apply for asylum, but that process involves navigating a complicated, overburdened system that takes years. (See article on TPS for Ukrainians, below)

Expediting family reunification through I-130 immigrant visa processing is another avenue that would allow Ukrainian Americans to bring over their relatives.  But most applicants have to apply for their immigrant visas at U.S. consulates abroad, which are already inundated due to the backlog from the pandemic.  Visitor visas also must be obtained at U.S. consulates, and securing such visas now has become extremely difficult because applicants must demonstrate that they have a residence abroad that they do not intend to abandon and that they do not intend to stay in the U.S.

The displacement of so many people so quickly is tremendously tragic and unfathomable; the solutions offered by the United States so far have been lackluster.