Ukrainian Refugees in Europe and the U.S.

By Nayla Rush on April 14, 2022

Podcast: Ukrainian Refugees in Europe and the U.S.


This report offers an overview of the Ukrainian crisis and the millions of people fleeing to neighboring countries. It describes the European Union’s response to those seeking protection in various countries in the region. It also highlights the U.S. response, which is primarily aimed at helping in their own region those displaced by the recent Russian attack.

The report follows with a snapshot of Ukrainian nationals resettled in the United States throughout the years under the “Lautenberg Amendment”, a program that gives priority to Ukrainians and others from the former Soviet Union who claim to be persecuted because of their religious affiliation. The program is on automatic pilot, being renewed yearly despite the fact that the Soviet Union no longer exists. Nonetheless, it will undoubtedly be used to fast-track the resettlement of Ukrainians in the coming months.

The report concludes by looking at the 2015 migration crisis in Europe and the multitude of errors many are making as they compare it to the current one and the welcoming stands of various European countries toward Ukrainian refugees.

A number of important takeaways:

  • Over four million people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries (Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, and Slovakia) following the military offensive of February 24 by Russian armed forces.
  • Most of those fleeing Ukraine will not apply for asylum but will move across Europe to join family and friends, then likely look for employment. Ukrainians have been Europe’s main economic migrants in recent years.
  • In a “historic decision”, the European Commission decided on March 4, 2022, to give a “temporary protection” status (which entails a residence permit, access to employment, housing, social welfare, medical treatment, education, etc.) to nationals of Ukraine and other eligible parties for an initial period of one year. This avoids overwhelming the standard asylum system.
  • In an interesting twist, EU member states also decided not to apply Article 11 of Directive 2001/55/EC that gives, in a way, total authority to UNHCR when it comes to EU asylum policy.
  • The initial U.S. response was to provide people fleeing Ukraine with economic and humanitarian assistance where they are in neighboring European countries and consider for resettlement into the United States only those Ukrainians who are “unsafe” in the countries they fled to (which is, in essence, the real purpose of refugee resettlement).
  • One month into the conflict, President Biden, under pressure from refugee advocates, committed in Brussels to resettling 100,000 Ukrainians in the United States. Those with family members already living here will be given priority.
  • Low refugee admissions under Biden (only 8,758 in the first six months of FY 2022 under a 125,000 ceiling) are mostly due to the U.S. southern border crisis, which is diverting resources at the border, and the Afghan crisis and its evacuees in need of processing and assistance here. Federal resources are not unlimited and those expecting the arrival of tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees this fiscal year might soon be disappointed.
  • What is also not clear yet is whether the 100,000 Ukrainians President Biden referred to are to be resettled this fiscal year, or if they are to be spaced out over the upcoming years. If the aim is FY 2022, this leaves little room for other refugees (who supposedly are in urgent need of resettlement) to be admitted this year under a 125,000 ceiling.
  • Most Ukrainians who were resettled in the United States the past years were processed under the Lautenberg Amendment, a program started in the early 1990s to give a safe haven in the United States to religious minorities who were being persecuted in the Soviet Union.
  • Applicants under the Lautenberg Amendment are considered under a reduced evidentiary standard for establishing a well-founded fear of persecution. They are required to prove only that they are members of a protected group with a credible, but not individual, fear of persecution. By contrast, ordinarily under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), prospective refugees need to establish a well-founded fear of persecution on an individual basis.
  • The Lautenberg Amendment gives direct access (or in-country processing) to Ukrainians who can apply from Ukraine to join family members in the United States who preceded them. It produced chain migration, as first-comers file “affidavits of relationship” for relatives to join them, provided they belong to the same religious minority group said to be in need of protection under the amendment.
  • This lifeline for persecuted religious minority groups from the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, to reunite with their family members in the United States has lost its raison d’être; but, like most federal programs, it continues on automatic pilot.
  • The program is conveniently available today to allow Ukrainians fleeing a war zone (and not religious persecution) to use this safety net to join family members in the United States. That is possibly the existing channel President Biden was referring to when he said the U.S. would admit thousands of Ukrainian refugees with a focus on reuniting families.
  • U.S. humanitarian aid directed toward the Ukrainian crisis since February 2022 has totaled $293 million to date. Also included in the ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022’’ is $4 billion in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and neighboring countries that are admitting those fleeing the recent Russian invasion.
  • $1 billion in new funding was also announced during Biden’s recent trip to Europe.
  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Ukrainians already living in the United States and has allowed Ukrainians to cross the southern border to seek asylum despite Title 42.
  • Some have compared the recent Ukrainian crisis with the European migration crisis of 2015, which saw thousands of refugees enter Europe (mainly Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis), and denounced the difference in welcoming responses (or lack thereof).
  • To address this matter fairly, one would need to compare the response of the European countries neighboring Ukraine that are welcoming millions of Ukrainians fleeing the recent Russian attack to the response of countries neighboring Syria, such as Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, which opened their doors to millions of Syrians fleeing their country as early as 2011 when the Syrian conflict began.
  • The hundreds of thousands (mostly Syrians) who left the Middle East for Europe in 2015 were not fleeing war zones, they were leaving countries of asylum (Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, etc.) that were rather safe. Ukrainians, on the other hand, are fleeing a war zone.

Millions Fleeing Ukraine to Neighboring Countries

According to the Ukraine Refugee Situation data portal set up by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), more than 4.5 million people, mostly women and children, have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries following the military offensive of February 24 by Russian armed forces.1 Most took refuge in Poland (about 2.6 million), with the rest, in descending order, going to Romania, Hungary, Moldova, Russia, Slovakia, and Belarus. These numbers are as of April 10, 2022; they are updated regularly and are expected to increase as the conflict stretches in time and space.

These numbers do not take into account people who have moved on to other countries or returned to Ukraine. Following a decree by President Zelensky, Ukraine is prohibiting men aged 18-60 from leaving the country in order to keep them available for military conscription.2 Many of those who managed to leave beforehand or who are outside that age limit are choosing to return to Ukraine to fight for their country after accompanying their families to safety. According to some reports, in the first 12 days, 167,000 Ukrainians, mostly men, returned home to fight.3

Most of those fleeing Ukraine will not apply for asylum but will move across Europe to join family and friends and then likely look for employment. Ukrainians were Europe’s main economic migrants in recent years: 1.5 million in Poland alone, with the next largest groups in Germany, Czechia, Hungary, Spain, and Italy.4 By comparison, only some 6,000 Ukrainians applied for asylum in the entire European Union in 2021.5

The European Response

Many European countries relaxed their entry and visa requirements for those fleeing the Ukrainian crisis early on.6 The UK government introduced two visa schemes (the Family visa scheme and the Sponsorship scheme)7 to make it easier for Ukrainian refugees to come to the UK, but decided, for security reasons, not to lift visa requirements altogether, stating that “some people in Calais [France] claiming to be Ukrainians have presented false documents.”8

Ukrainian nationals with valid biometric passports were able to stay without a visa in the Schengen area countries for 90 days out of every 180 days following regulation (EU) 2018/1806.9 Recent events drove the EU to take exceptional measures and change this limitation. In what the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs called a “historic decision”,10 the European Commission decided (Decision (EU) 2022/382) on March 4, 2022, to give a “temporary protection” status to nationals of Ukraine who have been displaced on or after February 24, 2022, as a result of the Russian invasion.11

EU temporary protection (which is somewhat different from Temporary Protected Status in the U.S.) is an “exceptional measure that provides immediate and temporary protection to displaced persons from non-EU countries” and avoids overwhelming the standard asylum system.12 It is based on Article 5 of the Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001 that aims at “promoting a balance of effort between Member States in receiving and bearing the consequences of receiving displaced persons”.13

The EU “Temporary Protection Directive” originated in the 1990s following the mass influx of people fleeing the former Yugoslavia.14 In 1999, the lack of a regulatory framework for a mass influx of displaced people became clear when the Kosovo crisis led to the largest flow of refugees in Europe since World War II. EU member states’ response to that crisis was uncoordinated; protection rights and benefits differed from one state to the other, which oriented refugee flows (including secondary movements) to the most “generous” one. As a result, “a harmonisation process” for granting temporary protection was put in place to provide for “solidarity and burden-sharing among EU States”.15

Decision (EU) 2022/382 of March 4, 2022, establishes the existence of a mass influx of displaced persons from Ukraine within the meaning of Article 5 of Directive 2001/55/EC, and extends temporary protection to Ukrainian nationals residing in Ukraine who have been displaced by the Russian invasion.16 The temporary status also applies to nationals of third countries who were benefiting in Ukraine from refugee status or equivalent protection before the invasion.

As for stateless persons and nationals of third countries other than Ukraine, including those who were studying or working in Ukraine on a short-term basis at the time of the events, “who can prove that they were legally residing in Ukraine before 24 February 2022 ... and who are unable to return in safe and durable conditions to their country or region of origin”, EU member states will decide whether to grant them temporary protection or some other adequate protection under their national laws.17 In any event, these persons should be admitted into the EU on humanitarian grounds without requiring a valid visa or travel documents “to ensure safe passage with a view to returning to their country or region of origin”.18

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) is helping EU member states in organizing return flights to help non-Ukrainian and non-EU citizens who fled Ukraine go back to their home countries.19

Ukrainian nationals, as visa-free travelers, can choose the EU member state in which they want to exercise the rights attached to temporary protection, allowing them to join family and friends in various EU countries. This reduces the pressure on receiving states. But once a residence permit in accordance with Directive 2001/55/EC has been received, the person granted temporary protection, while allowed travel within the EU for 90 days within a 180-day period, can take advantage of the rights derived from temporary protection only in the member state that issued the residence permit.

The duration of temporary protection is for an initial period of one year.20 This period, unless terminated, is to be extended automatically by six months for a maximum of one additional year. The European Commission will keep monitoring the situation and can either propose to the Council to end the temporary protection if it deems that the situation in Ukraine allows for the safe and durable return of those granted temporary protection or, alternatively, ask for the extension of that protection by up to one additional year.

The temporary protection that went into effect on March 4 will provide those fleeing Ukraine with the following: a residence permit for the entire duration of the protection, access to employment, access to accommodation or housing, access to social welfare or means of subsistence, access to medical treatment, access to education for minors, opportunities for families to reunite in certain circumstances, and guarantees for access to the normal asylum procedure.

In the recently adopted Decision (EU) 2022/382, EU member states will not apply Article 11 of Directive 2001/55/EC that gives, in a way, total authority to UNHCR when it comes to asylum. Here’s Article 11 as listed in Council Directive 2001/55/EC :

The mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees regarding refugees and other persons in need of international protection should be respected, and effect should be given to Declaration No 17, annexed to the Final Act to the Treaty of Amsterdam, on Article 63 of the Treaty establishing the European Community which provides that consultations are to be established with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other relevant international organisations on matters relating to asylum policy.21

Moreover, Ireland, bound by Directive 2001/55/EC, is taking part in the adoption of this decision. Denmark, on the other hand, in accordance with Articles 1 and 2 of Protocol No. 2222 on its position regarding the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, “is not taking part in the adoption of this Decision and is not bound by it or subject to its application.”23

That said, the Danish government has put in place a law that will suspend asylum rules for Ukrainians. The Special Act will provide temporary residence permits (and access to jobs, education, etc.) to Ukrainian nationals who left Ukraine following the invasion, as well as to other nationals who were living in Ukraine as refugees.24

Lastly, Sweden is planning on reintroducing border controls following the influx of Ukrainian refugees. This would be based on EU regulations that allow the introduction of internal borders to maintain law and order and safeguard national security. In a press release, the Swedish government stressed the need to reintroduce ID checks for travel to Sweden in view of Europe’s “greatest and fastest-growing refugee crisis since the Second World War” as a result of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.25 If approved, the measure will last three years and will allow ID checks for travel by bus, train, or passenger ship to Sweden from abroad. A similar act, since expired, enabled ID checks during the 2015 refugee crisis. The new law, if voted by parliament, would come into force on April 8.26

The U.S. Response

The United States’ main response toward people fleeing Ukraine following the recent Russian attack is to provide them with economic and humanitarian assistance where they are, i.e., in the neighboring countries they fled to in Europe. As U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken underlined, most who fled Ukraine want to stay close to home, hoping to be able to return as soon as possible.27 Accordingly, the State Department’s initial response was to only consider for resettlement into the United States Ukrainians who are “unsafe” in the countries they fled to.28

But isn’t that in essence what the refugee resettlement program stands for? As I've written in the past, resettlement must only be a ticket out for refugees who are genuinely at risk in the countries they've fled to.29 Prioritizing proximity help and the safe return of refugees to their home countries — the solution that most refugees prefer — should be the focus of any U.S. administration. That same refugee policy the Trump administration was criticized for is now being pushed forward by the Biden administration in response to the crisis in Ukraine.

U.S. humanitarian assistance reaches millions of displaced people worldwide, including those who will never be considered for resettlement in a third country. The United States was quick to provide humanitarian assistance to all those affected by the recent Ukrainian crisis.

On February 27, 2022, Blinken commended “the hospitality of the neighboring countries in the region hosting fleeing Ukrainians” and announced additional humanitarian assistance for the people of Ukraine: “$54 million will be provided to those affected by Russia’s further invasion.”30

On March 15, another $186 million was promised by Blinken to help refugees who fled Ukraine and Ukrainians who were internally displaced. This will, in the words of the press statement, “provide further support for humanitarian organizations responding to the crisis and complement the generosity of the neighboring countries that are welcoming and supporting refugees”.31

In a March 17 press availability, Blinken noted that the total humanitarian aid toward the Ukrainian crisis since February 2022 totaled $293 million. He underlined the importance of proximity help versus resettlement efforts:

What — and of course, there is the refugee referral process, but that takes time. But if people apply for refugee status and seek to come to the United States, of course we will take referrals ... I think what we’re seeing, at least initially, is that so many people coming out of Ukraine understandably want to stay close to home. They hope — we hope — that they’ll be able to return home as soon as possible.32

Moreover, included in a $1.5 trillion spending bill, the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022”,33 signed by President Biden on March 11 to avert a government shutdown,34 is $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine, of which $4 billion will go to humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and its neighboring countries that are welcoming those fleeing the Russian invasion. Over $2.5 billion will go to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for food and healthcare support. Another $1.4 billion is intended for “Migration and Refugee Assistance” “to assist refugees from Ukraine and for additional support for other vulnerable populations and communities.”

On March 24, the White House announced $1 billion in new funding toward “humanitarian assistance for those affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine and its severe impacts around the world, including a marked rise in food insecurity, over the coming months. This funding will provide food, shelter, clean water, medical supplies and other forms of assistance.”35

On top of financial assistance in the region, the U.S. government will allow Ukrainians to cross the border to seek asylum in the United States despite Title 42, as well as give special protection to Ukrainians already living in the United States.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas instructed36 Customs and Border Protection agents to allow Ukrainians to enter the country to seek asylum despite Title 42 (a public health order instituted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic that allows for the return of migrants at the border without allowing them to claim asylum).37 CDC has since announced the end of Title 42, effective May 23, 2022, “to give the Department of Homeland Security time to ramp up a vaccination program for migrants crossing U.S. borders.”38 Mayorkas also told reporters that U.S. refugee officers were sent to Europe to help screen Ukrainian refugees wanting to resettle in the United States. But he noted that not many are expected to want to come here: “The vast majority of Ukrainians are displaced in the countries in that region, with the hope, understandably, of being able to return to their country.”39

Some Ukrainians who are crossing the border from Mexico are being granted “humanitarian parole” for one year to expedite entry, as asylum claims can take longer.40 Parole decisions at the border are supposed to be made on a case-by-case basis. On April 6, Mayorkas said that around 3,000 Ukrainians had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border the previous week, adding that all Ukrainian refugees entering via the southern border would be considered for “humanitarian parole”.41

As for Ukrainians who are already here, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on March 3, 2022, the designation of Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months.42 Individuals eligible for TPS under this designation must have been in the United States before March 1, 2022. They will have access to work permits and deportation protections. The U.S. administration is also implementing a pause on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportations to Russia, Ukraine, and seven additional countries: Belarus, Georgia, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.43

The American Immigration Council estimates that of the 344,000 Ukrainians living in the United States, around 34,000 are illegal immigrants (“do not have an otherwise defined immigration status”) and thus could be eligible for TPS.44

CBS News, citing DHS, reported over double the number of Ukrainians who could benefit from TPS:

The TPS designation is expected to benefit 75,100 Ukrainians in the U.S., according to a DHS estimate, including those on temporary student, tourist or business visas. ... Approximately 4,000 Ukrainians are facing U.S. deportation proceedings, including nearly 3,000 asylum-seekers, according to immigration court data compiled by researchers at Syracuse University.45

It is only when pressured by refugee advocates that President Biden committed, one month into the conflict, to resettling 100,000 Ukrainians into the United States.46 Those with family members already living here will be given priority.

President Biden made the announcement from Brussels: “Many Ukrainian refugees will wish to stay in Europe, closer to their homes. But we’ve also — will welcome 100,000 Ukrainians to the United States with a focus on reuniting families.”47

But promises and reality are two different things. Candidate Biden vowed in 2020 to set a yearly resettlement ceiling of at least 125,000.48 However, refugee admissions under President Biden turned out to be extremely low.49 With a FY 2022 ceiling of 125,000, only 8,758 refugees were resettled into the United States during the first six months (October 1, 2021, through March 31, 2022).50

President Trump was blamed for this shortfall (he allegedly damaged the U.S. refugee resettlement program51), but the reality is that refugee admissions have been low under Biden mainly because of the border crisis and the burdens it has imposed on the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). This crisis has diverted federal agency resources, including those of ORR, to the southern border to assist Central American unaccompanied minors, asylum seekers, and other border-crossers.

The refugee system has also been overwhelmed by the Afghan crisis, with its evacuees in need of processing and assistance in the United States. Most of the Afghan evacuees (around 75,000) have been paroled into the United States without a visa.52 Parolees have limited access to benefits; and, unlike refugees and Special Immigrant Visa holders (SIVs), they are not eligible for refugee resettlement assistance or other federal benefits. However, Congress voted in September 2021 to give all Afghan parolees (current and future) access to resettlement assistance, entitlement programs, and other benefits.53

Those expecting tens of thousands of resettled Ukrainian refugees this fiscal year following the president’s recent promise might soon be disappointed. Ceilings and promises can be just that, potential targets and pledges aimed at appeasing interest groups while remaining unattainable.

A White House briefing details further how the United States intends to provide refuge to displaced Ukrainians:

While we expect many Ukrainians will choose to remain in Europe close to family and their homes in Ukraine, today, the United States is announcing 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. In particular, we are working to expand and develop new programs with a focus on welcoming Ukrainians who have family members in the United States.54 [Emphasis added.]

Those new programs and legal pathways are yet to be determined. They could mean providing long-term tourism visas for those wanting to visit family here or work visas, etc. It could also mean expanding on the Lautenberg Amendment under which most Ukrainians were resettled here the past few years.55

What is also not clear yet is whether 100,000 Ukrainians are to be resettled this fiscal year or are they to be spaced out in the upcoming ones? If the aim is FY 2022, there will be little room for other refugees (who, supposedly, are in urgent need of resettlement) to be welcomed here this year under a 125,000 ceiling.

Below are a number of allocated spots and groups of particular concern that the Biden administration prioritized for protection at the beginning of FY 2022.

FY 2022 proposed allocations spots under President Biden’s 125,000 ceiling were as follows:

  • Africa: 40,000
  • East Asia: 15,000
  • Europe and Central Asia: 10,000
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: 15,000
  • Near East and South Asia: 35,000
  • Unallocated Reserve: 10,00056

Groups of humanitarian concern outside their country of origin were highlighted in the Biden administration’s FY 2022 refugee admissions report:

  • Ethnic Minorities and Others from Burma in Camps in Thailand;
  • Ethnic Minorities from Burma in Malaysia;
  • Congolese in Rwanda;
  • Congolese in Tanzania;
  • Afghan nationals;
  • Lautenberg Program for Certain Members of Religious Minority Groups in Iran;
  • Certain Iraqis Associated with the United States;
  • Syrian Beneficiaries of Approved I-130 petitions.57

Other populations for priority consideration in FY 2022 were also underlined by the Biden administration:

  • Turkic Muslim refugees who are nationals or last habitual residents of China;
  • Refugees who are activists, journalists, and political dissidents and who are permanent residents of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region, or who last habitually resided therein;
  • Rohingya Muslim refugees who are nationals or last habitual residents of Burma;
  • Individuals persecuted on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics; and
  • Iraqi and Syrian nationals who are members of a religious or ethnic minority.58

Does one crisis override another? Ukrainians who fled to countries in Europe are probably not worse off than the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who sought refuge years ago in Lebanon or Turkey, or the Rohingyas in Bangladesh.

Resettled Ukrainian Refugees in the United States

Most Ukrainians resettled in the United States as refugees were admitted under the Priority 2 (P-2) category that covers groups of special humanitarian concern identified by U.S. officials. Under the P-2 category, a program called the Lautenberg Amendment processes former Soviet nationals (including Ukrainians) alleged to face religious persecution.59

The Lautenberg Amendment eases the burden of proof and allows for faster processing for designated religious minorities. It is named after Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the son of Jewish immigrants, who crafted the law in the late 1980s to assist Jews wishing to leave the Soviet Union. Others from the former Soviet Union and Southeast Asia were also listed, including Evangelical Christians, Ukrainian Catholics, and members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2004, amended the Lautenberg Amendment to add a new provision known as the Specter Amendment. The Specter Amendment required the designation of categories of religious minorities from Iran (Jews, Christians, Bahais, Sabaean-Mandaeans, and Zoroastrians) who would have to show less evidence to prove refugee status.

Applicants under the Lautenberg standard are required to prove that they are members of a protected group with a credible, but not individual, fear of persecution. By contrast, ordinarily under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) prospective refugees need to establish a well-founded fear of persecution on an individual basis.60

The Lautenberg and Specter Amendments produce chain migration as first comers file “affidavits of relationship” for their relatives to join them, provided they belong to the same religious minority group in need of protection under the amendment.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, ex-Soviets enjoy far more religious freedom than others but, as Miriam Jordan from the New York Times writes, “they have become a prime example of how federal law is slow to adapt to changing circumstances.”61 And while refugees suffer elsewhere after escaping Islamic fundamentalists or civil wars, the “ex-Soviets still enjoy a favored status when applying to come to the United States.”62

The Lautenberg Amendment was originally enacted as part of the 1990 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. The language has to be renewed with each year’s budget. HIAS, a leading refugee lobbying group, has tried to convince Congress to make Lautenberg’s language permanent, with no success.63 The Lautenberg Amendment was, however, renewed for the remainder of FY 2022 in the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022”.

This benefit for religious minority groups in the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, has lost its raison d’être, but like most federal programs, it is on automatic pilot and someone has yet to take hold of the controls. That said, the program is conveniently available today to allow Ukrainians fleeing a war zone (and not religious persecution) to use this safety net to come join family members in the United States. That may be the channel President Biden was referring to when he said thousands of Ukrainians would be admitted, with a focus on reuniting families.

As mentioned above, Ukrainian refugees processed under the Lautenberg Amendment fall under the P-2 category. There are three processing priorities within the U.S. refugee resettlement program.64

Under Priority 1, cases are referred for resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a U.S. embassy, or an NGO.

Priority 2, also known as "direct access" or “group referrals”, refers to specific groups of special humanitarian concern that can be defined by nationality, clan, ethnicity, religion, etc. P-2s can apply on their own, without the need for a referral by the UN or another third party. This allows for quicker processing and adjudication. Resettlement support centers (RSCs) are responsible for handling open-access P-2 applications and making a preliminary determination as to whether individual applicants qualify for access.

Priority 3 covers family reunification cases. Affidavits of relationship (AOR) are filed by eligible relatives in the United States. P-3s, like P-2s, are able to access the U.S. refugee resettlement program without a UNHCR, embassy, or NGO referral.

P-2 designations for certain former Soviet nationals who fall under the Lautenberg Amendment and Specter Amendment can be processed for applicants in their country of origin.65

One of the in-country processing programs (direct access for P-2s that allows individuals to access the program directly, on the basis of certain criteria) applies, as mentioned, to certain Ukrainians who do not need to prove they are being persecuted because of their religion and can apply from Ukraine to come join family members in the United States who preceded them.

Ukrainian refugees resettled in the United States (FY 2012-FY 2022 – through January 2022):66

  • FY 2012: 372
  • FY 2013: 227
  • FY 2014: 490
  • FY 2015: 1,451
  • FY 2016: 2,543
  • FY 2017: 4,264
  • FY 2018: 2,635
  • FY 2019: 4,451
  • FY 2020: 1,927
  • FY 2021: 803
  • Total: 19,163

Religion of the 19,163:

  • Pentecostal Christian: 11,223 (59 percent)
  • Baptist: 5,026 (26 percent)

FY 2022 (October 1, 2021- March 31, 2022):

  • October 2021: 82
  • November 2021: 73
  • December 2021: 23
  • January 2022: 87
  • February 2022: 427
  • March 2022: 12
  • Total: 704 Ukrainians (out of a total of 8,758 refugees admitted in FY 2022 through March 31, 2022)

We no longer have access to the religion of refugees, a type of information that used to be publicly available on the Refugee Processing Center (RPC) website, operated by the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM); hence, we do not know the religion of the 704 Ukrainians admitted in the first six months of FY 2022, but we can assume they belong to the religious minority set that falls under the Lautenberg Amendment.

Specific data on resettled refugees, including religion, gender, education, etc., used to be publicly available through the “interactive reporting” tool on the RPC. It no longer is. The Biden administration could be more concerned about refugee “data protection” and “refugee privacy” than it is about transparency.67 Those privacy concerns and themes are also central to the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) mission.68

Ukrainians in 2022 Compared to Syrians in 2015

Some commentators denounced as racist the different responses in Europe to this year's Ukrainian crisis compared to the migration crisis of 2015 that saw the arrival of thousands of refugees, mainly Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis.69 The critique is that Ukrainians have been met with open doors while those same doors were slammed in the face of Syrians, Iraqis, et al.

To address this matter fairly, one would need to compare the response of Ukraine's neighbors that are welcoming millions of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion to the response of Syria's own neighbors, such as Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, that opened their doors to millions of Syrians fleeing their country as early as 2011 when the conflict there began.

Most refugees flee to neighboring countries when wars erupt, and most of these countries welcome them. Refugees flee to neighboring countries because of the obvious urgency and opportunity. They take comfort not just in the geographical closeness — most refugees want to go back home as soon as they can — but in shared language and culture, and often family and friend ties. Hence, most Syrian refugees fled to Lebanon and Turkey, Somalis to Kenya and Ethiopia, and Rohingyas to Bangladesh.

There is another major difference between both refugee flows. The hundreds of thousands (mostly Syrians) who left the Middle East for Europe in 2015 were not fleeing war zones, they were leaving countries of asylum (Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, etc.) that were rather safe. Many if not most were certainly struggling in their host countries, but they were not in danger nor were they persecuted. Ukrainians, on the other hand, are fleeing directly to Europe from a war zone, not passing through other safe countries.

But what prompted the 2015 migration crisis? Since the beginning of the war in 2011, millions of Syrians fled their country and took shelter in neighboring ones. It is only in 2015, when Russia launched an air campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, that an increasing number of refugees lost hope of an imminent return home. Russian military airstrikes that were only supposed to target ISIS terrorists did also aim at rebels, mainstream opposition groups, and civilians. That shifted the ongoing war in the favor of the Assad government and led Syrians in neighboring countries to look to Europe as the next step of their exile.

Flows across the Mediterranean increased, encouraged by stories of those who made it into Europe. Sadly, many died during their journeys. Images of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy made headlines and shocked public opinion and politicians worldwide.70 German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to open the door of her country to Syrian refugees. In August 2015, Germany suspended the Dublin Procedure for Syrians, meaning that Syrian refugees no longer needed to apply for asylum in the first EU country they entered.71 Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees followed, but also migrants from other countries posing as Syrians, as well as several terrorists who seized that opportunity to enter Europe.72 Migration flows do not happen in a void; push and pull factors are always at play.

The 2015 migration crisis did not send people out of a war zone into Europe. The Ukraine crisis is doing just that.


End Notes

1 ”Operational Data Portal: Ukraine Refugee Situation”, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

2 Asha C. Gilbert, “Reports: Ukraine bans all male citizens ages 18 to 60 from leaving the country”, USA Today, February 25, 2022.

3 ”Timeline: day 13 of Ukraine's defense against Russian aggression”, Rubryka, March 8, 2022.

4 “Europe’s Ukrainian refugee crisis: What we know so far”, International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), February 28, 2022.

5 “Latest Asylum Trends – Annual Overview Review 2021”, European Union Agency for Asylum, February 22, 2022.

6 “Which countries have relaxed entry and visa requirements for Ukrainian nationals?”, Euronews Travel, Updated 02/03/2022.

7 “UK visa support for Ukrainian nationals”, GOV.UK, Updated March 22, 2022.

8 “How do the UK's schemes for Ukrainian refugees work?”, BBC News, March 24, 2022.

9 “Regulation (EU) 2018/1806 of the European Parliament and of the Council”, EUR-Lex November 14, 2018.

10 Ylva Johansson (@YlvaJohansson) “Historic decision in #JHA right now; the EU will give temporary protection to those fleeing the war in 🇺🇦. The EU stands united to save lives! @GDarmanin”, March 3, 2022.

11 ”Council Implementing Decision (EU) 2022/382” , Official Journal of the European Union, March 4, 2022.

12 “Temporary protection”, European Commission Website, undated.

13 “Council Directive 2001/55/EC”, EUR-Lex, July 20, 2001.

14 Hanne Beirens, Sheila Maas, Salvatore Petronella, and Maurice van der Velden, “Study on the Temporary Protection Directive”, European Commission, January 2016.

15 Ibid.

16 ”Council Implementing Decision (EU) 2022/382”, Official Journal of the European Union, March 4, 2022.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 “Frontex Helps 400 Third-Country Nationals to Return Home Amid War in Ukraine”, Schengen Visa Info News, March 12, 2022.

20 ”Council Implementing Decision (EU) 2022/382”, Official Journal of the European Union, March 4, 2022.

21 “Council Directive 2001/55/EC”, EUR-Lex website, July 20, 2001.

22 “Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union PROTOCOLS: Protocol (No 22) on the position of Denmark”, EUR-Lex website, October 26, 2012.

23 ”Council Implementing Decision (EU) 2022/382”, Official Journal of the European Union, March 4, 2022.

24 “Information to persons from Ukraine”, The Danish Immigration Service.

25 “Government proposes possibility of reintroducing ID checks on buses, trains and passenger ships”, Government Offices of Sweden, Ministry of Infrastructure press release, 15 March 2022.

26 “Sweden to reintroduce ID checks at border”, Newcastle Herald, March 15, 2022.

27 “Secretary Blinken's Press Availability”, U.S. Department of State press release, March 4, 2022.

28 “Ukrainian-American woman travels to Poland in unsuccessful bid to get family to U.S.: ‘They just turned us away’”, CBS News, March 9, 2022.

29 See, for instance, Nayla Rush, “Syrian Refugees Resettled in the U.S.: Why Them and Not Others?”, Center for Immigration Studies blog, March 1,2017; and Nayla Rush, “The Real Moral Dilemma of Refugee Resettlement: If not only the most vulnerable, then whom do we pick?”, Center for Immigration Studies blog, March 23, 2018.

30 “The United States Announces Additional Humanitarian Assistance for the People of Ukraine”, U.S. Department of State press statement, February 27, 2022.

31 “Additional Humanitarian Assistance for the People of Ukraine”, press statement, Anthony J. Blinken, Secretary of State, March 15, 2022.

32 “Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Press Availability”, U.S. Department of State briefings, March 17, 2022.

33 “H.R.2471 - Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022”, U.S. Government Publishing Office, March 15, 2022.

34 Kathryn Watson, “Biden signs spending bill that includes $13.6 billion in Ukraine aid”, CBS News, March 16, 2022.

35 ”FACT SHEET: The Biden Administration Announces New Humanitarian, Development, and Democracy Assistance to Ukraine and the Surrounding Region”, The White House, March 24, 2022.

36 “US officers head to Europe to screen possible Ukraine refugees”, KSBW news, March 17, 2022.

37 Andrew R. Arthur, “DHS Girds for Post-Title 42 Migrant Deluge at the Border”, Center for Immigration Studies blog, March 21, 2022.

38 Spencer Kimball, “CDC will end sweeping order used to expel migrants at U.S. borders during Covid pandemic”, CNBC news, Updated April 2, 2022.

39 “Live updates: US officers to help screen refugees in Europe”, Associated Press, March 17, 2022.

40 Daina Beth Solomon and Dasha Afanasieva, “U.S. lets Ukrainians fleeing war into United States from Mexico”, Reuters, March 17, 2022.

41 Zachary Snowdon Smith, “Nearly 3,000 Ukrainians Crossed U.S.-Mexico Border Last Week, DHS Chief Says”, Forbes, April 6, 2022.

42 “Secretary Mayorkas Designates Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status for 18 Months”, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, March 3, 2022.

43 Camilo Montoya-Galvez, “U.S. suspends deportations to Ukraine, Russia and 7 other European countries, citing 'humanitarian crisis'”, CBS News, March 3, 2022.

44 “Ukrainians in the United States Who May Qualify for Temporary Protected Status: An Overview”, American Immigration Council Fact Sheet, March 3, 2022.

45 Camilo Montoya-Galvez, “U.S. offers temporary legal status to Ukrainians, citing Russian attack”, CBS News, March 3, 2022.

46 See, for instance, Mark Hetfield, “Opinion: The right way to bring Ukrainian refugees to the U.S.”, The Washington Post, March 20, 2022. Hetfield is president and CEO of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, one of the nine resettlement agencies paid by the Department of State to resettle refugees inside the United States.

47 “Remarks by President Biden in Press Conference”, The White House website, March 24, 2022.

48 Joe Biden, "My Statement on World Refugee Day", Medium website, June 20, 2020.

49 Nayla Rush, “FY 2021 Refugee Resettlement Roundup One missing category: The religion of refugees”, Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder, November 18, 2021.

50 “Admissions and Arrivals”, Refugee Processing Center (RPC), accessed April 11, 2022.

51 “Statement by President Joe Biden on Refugee Admissions”, the White House, May 3, 2021.

52 Nayla Rush, “Operation Allies Refuge: Who Exactly Was on Those Planes?” , Center for Immigration Studies blog, September 14, 2021.

53 “H.R.5305 - Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act”, Congress.Gov website, September 30, 2021.

54 “FACT SHEET: The Biden Administration Announces New Humanitarian, Development, and Democracy Assistance to Ukraine and the Surrounding Region”, The White House, March 24, 2022.

55 “Refugee Admissions and Resettlement Policy”, Congressional Research Service report, Updated December 18, 2018.

56 “Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2022”, U.S. Department of State, September 20, 2021.

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid.

59 “U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Access Categories”, U.S. Department of State, 2017-2021 Archived Content.

60 “Refugee Admissions and Resettlement Policy”, Congressional Research Service report, Updated December 18, 2018.

61 Miriam Jordan, “Soviet-Era Program Gives Even Unoppressed Immigrants an Edge”, The New York Times, August 26, 2017.

62 Ibid.

63 “Senate passes immigration bill with provisions for camp counselors, religious refugees”, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, June 27, 2013.

64 “The United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) Consultation and Worldwide Processing Priorities”, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, Updated 08/06/2021.

65 “Refugee Admissions and Resettlement Policy”, Congressional Research Service report, Updated December 18, 2018.

66 “Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System” (WRAPS), Refugee Processing Center.

67 Nayla Rush, “FY 2021 Refugee Resettlement Roundup: One missing category: The religion of refugees”, Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder, November 18, 2021.

68 Nayla Rush, “Restricted Access to Refugee Statistics: Data Protection or Data Concealment?”, Center for Immigration Studies blog, December 3, 2021.

69 Laurel Wamsley, “Race, culture and politics underpin how — or if — refugees are welcomed in Europe”, NPR news, March 3, 2022.

70 Emina Osmandzikovic, “The drowning of Aylan Kurdi”, Arab News, Updated May 30, 2020.

71 “Two years since Germany opened its borders to refugees: A chronology”, DW Akademie, April 9, 2017.

72 See Todd Bensman, ”Data: Terrorist Migration Over European Borders (2014-2018); What it Can Teach Us About American Border Security”, Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder, November 2019.

Topics: Refugees