WSJ Inadvertently Reveals Big Downside of U.S. Ukrainian Resettlement

We should not draw off the human capital that will be essential to rebuilding

By Andrew R. Arthur on March 28, 2022

President Biden announced lst week that the United States would be accepting 100,000 Ukrainians who have fled the war in that country following Russia’s February 24 invasion. While such resettlement raises a lot of issues, one Wall Street Journal columnist inadvertently revealed the big downside of that plan for Ukraine and any potential rebuilding efforts in that country.

Background. Russia began signaling its intentions to invade Ukraine in spring 2021, when it started amassing troops on the two countries’ shared border. Then, on February 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin moved forces into two “contested” regions of the country, the so-called “Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics”. Three days later, Putin authorized what he termed “special military operations”, and Russian troops poured into Ukraine.

While there have been significant Russian advances into Ukraine from the north, east, and south, the Ukrainian forces and volunteers have given them a fight. Despite that, the Russians are pushing into the key southern city of Mariupol, while Kharkiv — Ukraine’s second-largest city — “remains under heavy aerial bombardment”.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the war has forced 10 million Ukrainians out of their homes, 3.6 million of whom have fled the country, and some 6.5 million others who are internally displaced.

More than 2.1 million of those who headed abroad have crossed the border into Poland, with 550,000-plus currently in Romania, 371,000 in Moldova, 324,000 in Hungary, and nearly 257,000 in Slovakia.

The 27-nation European Union (EU) has granted fleeing Ukrainians the opportunity to live and work there for three years, and is helping to provide them with housing, medical treatment, education, and social welfare benefits.

The White House is also promising more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid to “provide food, shelter, clean water, medical supplies and other forms of assistance” to those displaced, as well as “$320 million in democracy and human rights funding to Ukraine and its neighbors”.

U.S. Resettlement of Displaced Ukrainians. Which brings me to the 100,000 Ukrainians the president has vowed to bring to the United States.

As the White House explains, the United States plans to “welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia’s aggression through the full range of legal pathways, including the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program” (USRAP).

One unnamed senior administration official told CNN that “the White House will not have to ask Congress to expand the current cap on annual refugees, which is set at 125,000 for fiscal year 2022, because it is more of a ‘long-term commitment’ and there will be other avenues for many of those Ukrainians to enter the United States”.

While that unnamed official specifically asserted that the administration still has “a significant capacity within the 125,000” refugee cap, other reports indicate that the administration is also considering bringing in Ukrainians under the Cold War-era Lautenberg program (for religious minorities). Others still would arrive “via a temporary immigration program known as humanitarian parole”.

If “humanitarian parole” sounds familiar, that’s because it is the same hook the Biden administration relied on to airlift tens of thousands of Afghan nationals to the United States after the fall of Kabul.

“Parole” in this context is governed by section 212(d)(5)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. It authorizes DHS to allow otherwise inadmissible aliens into the United States, but “only on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit”.

While my sympathies are with any Ukrainians who have been forced from their homes by Russian aggression, parole was never meant to be used by this or any other administration to ignore the caps on immigration Congress established in the INA in order to move tens of thousands of foreign nationals into the United States.

Nor was parole ever intended to be a complement or exception to refugee processing or USRAP. Want proof? Section 212(d)(5)(B) of the INA — which directly follows the parole provision above — states:

[DHS] may not parole into the United States an alien who is a refugee unless the Attorney General determines that compelling reasons in the public interest with respect to that particular alien require that the alien be paroled into the United States rather than be admitted as a refugee under section 207 of [the INA]. [Emphasis added.]

I trust that many (if not most) of my fellow Americans’ sympathies also lie with those Ukrainians who are fleeing the violence in their country. Is resettling an untold number of them in the United States in the best interest of Ukraine, however? Probably not, and that leads me to James Freeman’s take in the Wall Street Journal.

“The Historic Opportunity to Recruit Talent”. On March 24, Freeman published a column captioned “People We Should Invite to America: Biden and Harris still don’t appreciate the historic opportunity to recruit talent”. He makes many points therein, but I am going to focus on his argument that resettling those Ukrainians here will benefit the American economy.

Citing CIA statistics, Freeman explains that the literacy rate in Ukraine is close to 100 percent, which leads him to the following, from the New York Times:

Ukraine is recognized for its skilled work force, with 70 percent of workers holding secondary or higher education degrees. The country boasts the largest tech engineering force in central and Eastern Europe, drawing Microsoft, Cisco, Google and other multinational companies to outsource work there.

Then getting to his point, Freeman asserts:

A smart Biden administration would recognize the chance to simultaneously rescue people in need and strengthen American economic competitiveness. Private firms in various countries are already on the hunt for talent. And the available talent eager to live in peace includes Russians as well as Ukrainians.

Keep in mind that the 100,000 people the administration proposes to bring here are not coming directly from Ukraine; they are, or will be, in the EU or Moldova. As Freeman explains, most “are women and children forced to leave husbands, fathers and brothers behind”, but as he notes, “a lot of them might decide that life in the U.S. is very pleasant, and encourage spouses to join them here after the war”.

So, those 100,000 Ukrainians brought to the United States could end up being a whole lot more when all is said and done.

Of course, once much of that “available talent” arrives, there is little likelihood it will return to a country digging itself out from the destruction that has been a daily feature in U.S. media.

The United States is the source of just less than a quarter of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP); the per capita share of GDP here is more than $58,500 annually. The per capita GDP in Ukraine? It was just over $2,344 but is likely much lower now. Some Ukrainians will go back when the war ends, but most would likely opt to keep working here and — at best — sending remittances back home (assuming they did not simply leave the “old country” behind).

Their remittances would provide some small boost to a post-war Ukraine, but “human capital” is a key component of productivity, and productivity is the main component of economic progress. Stealing Ukraine’s human capital would be worse than depriving it of its energy or agricultural wealth.

The best outcome of the war in Ukraine is a Russian withdrawal and a rebuilding of the country, its economy, and its institutions. Meaning no offense to Freeman, but his proposal would leave Ukraine a much poorer country for the foreseeable future than it was on February 20.

Speaking of Ukraine’s institutions, the various professionals Freeman references are at the core of its “civil society”, which the Brookings Institution describes as “an essential ingredient of development”. As Ukraine rebuilds from the rubble (as I fervently hope it will), who will provide the know-how to do so? The very people Freeman proposes to poach.

We should support our European allies’ efforts to aid displaced Ukrainians. But it is also appropriate to ensure that, when Ukraine is ready to rebuild, it can draw upon its own “available talent” in that effort. Robbing Ukraine of its “best and brightest” citizens may provide some small economic boost to the United States but will do nothing to help that country get back on its feet when the time comes.

Topics: Refugees