On April 21, 2022, President Biden announced the launch of a new program called “Uniting for Ukraine” to offer Ukrainian nationals (and their non-Ukrainian immediate family members) who fled their country following the recent Russian invasion a chance to come to the United States via what has been portrayed as private sponsorship.1 This comes after Biden’s commitment made in Brussels to welcome 100,000 Ukrainians with a focus on reuniting families.2
This report focuses on the Uniting for Ukraine program and the benefits associated with it under the new Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022 (H.R. 7691).
A number of important takeaways:
- Uniting for Ukraine allows for admission to the United States under “humanitarian parole” for an initial period of two years, and is renewable.
- Ukrainian parolees will be eligible for employment authorization and Social Security numbers, as well as refugee resettlement benefits.
- This process must be initiated by “U.S.-based supporters” (sponsors) who agree to provide them with financial support during their stay here; Ukrainians abroad cannot directly apply for parole under this program.
- A U.S.-based supporter does not have to be a U.S. national or citizen, or even a green card holder. Asylees, refugees, parolees, TPS holders, and beneficiaries of deferred action (including DACA) or Deferred Enforced Departure can also act as supporters under this program.
- Even though a separate Form I-134 must be filed for each beneficiary, multiple supporters can agree to support one beneficiary. An organization or any other entity (such as a refugee resettlement agency) can offer to provide financial or other services to the beneficiary to facilitate support. This added support will be taken into account when determining the signatory’s ability to support the beneficiary.
- Uniting for Ukraine is being presented as a private sponsorship arrangement, but is not necessarily “private”. Federal funds (i.e., taxpayer dollars) that go to resettlement agencies can in turn be used as added support in the Declaration of Financial Support form submitted to admit a Ukrainian beneficiary into the United States.
- Furthermore, upon arrival (as per H.R. 7691), Ukrainian parolees will receive refugee resettlement benefits, including cash and medical assistance (which were recently extended from eight to 12 months).
- Ukrainian parolees, receiving federal assistance and resettlement benefits, can use those funds to sponsor additional Ukrainian parolees, who in turn will receive the same federal assistance upon arrival. And in case these funds are not sufficient, resettlement agencies will be able to chip in additional funds to get the process rolling, potentially creating a taxpayer-funded cycle.
- Meanwhile, actual refugee admissions under the U.S. refugee resettlement program remain low. Only 12,641 refugees were resettled so far in FY 2022 under a 125,000 ceiling. Only 886 were Ukrainians.
The “new streamlined process” under Uniting for Ukraine, which began on April 25, allows Ukrainians to come to the United States straight from Europe for an initial period of two years under humanitarian parole.3 Ukrainians need to be “privately” sponsored by “U.S.-based supporters” who commit to provide them with financial support for the duration of their stay. U.S.-based supporters can be U.S. citizens and nationals or green card holders; but they can also be individuals who hold other lawful status in the United States, such as asylees, refugees, parolees, people on temporary (nonimmigrant) visas, TPS holders, or those benefiting from deferred action (including DACA) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).
Ukrainians who want to travel to the United States are encouraged to complete the Uniting for Ukraine process from Europe and not show up at U.S. land ports of entry without a valid visa or pre-authorization to travel here. Those who do so anyway could be denied entry and referred to apply through this process.
So far, over 45,000 applications have been submitted under Uniting for Ukraine; 6,500 have arrived already and another 27,000 have been approved for travel.4
Uniting for Ukraine is one of the numerous measures by the U.S. government (both in Europe and in the U.S.) to respond to the Ukrainian crisis.5 Among those other measures is a new law, the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022 (H.R. 7691), that was signed by President Biden on May 21, 2022, and provides some $40 billion in additional aid to deal with the recent Russian attack on Ukraine.6 Included in the bill are numerous benefits offered to Ukrainian parolees and their family members (whether they had access to humanitarian parole through a sponsor under the Uniting for Ukraine program or applied on their own).7
“Immigration parole” is different from parole in the criminal justice system and is defined by the Congressional Research Service as “official permission to enter and remain temporarily in the United States. It does not constitute formal admission under the U.S. immigration system.”8 Parolees have limited access to benefits; unlike refugees and Special Immigrant Visa holders (SIVs)9, they are not typically eligible for refugee resettlement assistance or other federal benefits. However, H.R. 7691 gives Ukrainian parolees (current and future) access to resettlement assistance, entitlement programs, and other benefits. The bill also provides $900 million for additional ‘‘Refugee and Entrant Assistance’’, to be used for grants or contracts with qualified organizations, including nonprofit entities. These nonprofits could very well include the nine refugee resettlement agencies the U.S. Department of State collaborates with and funds.
The U.S. refugee resettlement program involves a number of processes, some overseas and others on the domestic front.10 Inside the United States, nine non-governmental organizations work with, and are funded by, the Department of State to resettle refugees.11 These religious or community-based organizations, referred to as “resettlement agencies”, help resettled refugees but also Afghan parolees, unaccompanied children, and now, as a result of H.R. 7691, Ukrainian parolees with the following: cash and medical assistance, housing, food, and clothing; English lessons, enrollment in various benefits and welfare programs; employment services, etc.
Under Uniting for Ukraine, only one U.S.-based supporter can complete and file online Form I-134 (Declaration of Financial Support) on behalf of one beneficiary. That said, multiple supporters can agree to support one beneficiary. An organization can offer to provide financial or other services to the beneficiary to facilitate support and approval. So, despite having only one U.S.-based individual as the signatory of the I-134 Form, financial support can come from organizations such as refugee resettlement agencies that are, in turn, mostly funded by U.S. government grants.
Thus, despite the fact that Uniting for Ukraine is presented as a private sponsorship program, it is not necessarily “private” since taxpayer money can be used. Here’s how: Federal funds go to resettlement agencies that in turn can use this money as added support in the “Declaration of Financial Support” form submitted to admit a Ukrainian beneficiary into the United States. Furthermore, upon arrival, as per H.R. 7691, Ukrainian parolees will receive federal assistance and refugee resettlement benefits (recently extended from eight to 12 months).12 But it doesn’t end there. Parolees receiving federal assistance and resettlement benefits can use those funds to sponsor additional Ukrainian parolees, who in turn will receive the same federal assistance upon arrival. And, just in case these funds are not sufficient, resettlement agencies will be able to chip in additional funds (given to them by the American taxpayer) to get the process in order, potentially creating a cycle of migration.
This “private” sponsorship seems more linked to federal money than to individual wealth. But it flies under the radar when it comes to accountability and numerical ceilings, unlike the official refugee resettlement program, which has a ceiling set each year. Endless numbers of Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian beneficiaries can use this “private”, streamlined pathway to come to the United States. Meanwhile, FY 2022 refugee resettlement admissions remain low. Only a total of 12,641 refugees were admitted so far (October 1, 2021, through May 31, 2022) under a 125,000 ceiling; and, of the 12,641, only 886 were Ukrainians.13
U.S. Response to the Ukrainian Crisis
Uniting for Ukraine was introduced by the Biden administration in addition to the $6 billion in humanitarian aid put forward to Ukraine and its neighbors that are welcoming millions who are fleeing the Russian invasion. Increased refugee resettlement processing under the Lautenberg Amendment and broadened access to visa processing at consular posts overseas have also been announced.14
Before the recent war, most Ukrainians who were resettled as refugees in the United States were processed under the Lautenberg Amendment, a program started in the early 1990s to give safe haven to religious minorities who were being persecuted in the Soviet Union.15 It produced chain migration, as first-comers filed “affidavits of relationship” for relatives to join them. This lifeline for persecuted religious minority groups from the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, to reunite with their family members in the United States long ago lost its raison d’être; but, like most federal programs, it continues on automatic pilot. It is conveniently used today to resettle Ukrainians fleeing a war zone (and not religious persecution).
So far in FY 2022, 886 Ukrainian refugees have been resettled in the United States through the formal refugee resettlement program (October 1, 2021, to May 31, 2022):
- October 2021: 82
- November 2021: 73
- December 2021: 23
- January 2022: 87
- February 2022: 427
- March 2022: 12
- April 2022: 105
- May 2022: 77
- Total: 886 Ukrainians (out of a total of 12,641 refugees admitted in FY 2022 through May 31, 2022, under a 125,000 ceiling).16
Other measures undertaken by the U.S. government relating to the Ukrainian crisis were Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Ukrainians already living in the United States and allowing (for a limited period of time only) Ukrainians to enter the country to seek asylum despite Title 42 (a public health order instituted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic that allows for the expulsion of migrants at the border without providing them the chance to seek asylum).
That last exemption ended with the launch of Uniting for Ukraine. The State Department warned that, starting April 25, 2022, Ukrainians would no longer be exempted from Title 42 and allowed to seek asylum at the southern border:
Ukrainians should not travel to Mexico to pursue entry into the United States. Following the launch of Uniting for Ukraine, 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.17
Uniting for Ukraine
The program is a new “streamlined process” that provides a pathway to Ukrainians and their immediate family members to come to the United States under parole (for an initial period of two years, renewable) and apply for employment authorization, provided U.S.-based supporters (sponsors) agree to provide them with financial support during their stay here. This process must be initiated by the U.S.-based supporter; Ukrainian beneficiaries cannot directly apply for parole under this program.
The supporter must complete and file online Form I-134 (Declaration of Financial Support) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of the beneficiary and include information about them and contact details, such as email address.18 There is no fee to apply. Supporters will be vetted by the U.S. government to protect against exploitation and abuse and ensure that they are able to financially support the Ukrainians they are agreeing to sponsor. There is no fee to file a Form I-134.
U.S.-Based Supporter. A “U.S.-based supporter” for a beneficiary under Uniting for Ukraine need not be a U.S. national, citizen, or lawful permanent resident (green card holder); other individuals lawfully present in the United States can also sponsor Ukrainians under the program. Examples of individuals who meet the supporter requirement include:
- U.S. citizens and nationals;
- Lawful permanent residents, lawful temporary residents, and conditional permanent residents;
- Nonimmigrants in lawful status (that is, who maintain the nonimmigrant status and have not violated any of the terms or conditions of the nonimmigrant status);
- Asylees, refugees, and parolees;
- TPS holders; and
- Beneficiaries of deferred action (including DACA) or Deferred Enforced Departure.19
The supporter commits to providing financial assistance for the beneficiary, but other forms of assistance as well, including:
- Receiving the beneficiary upon arrival in the United States and transporting them to initial housing;
- Ensuring that the beneficiary has safe and appropriate housing for the duration of their parole and initial basic necessities;
- As appropriate, helping the beneficiary complete necessary paperwork such as for employment authorization, for a Social Security card, and for services for which they may be eligible;
- Ensuring that the beneficiary’s health care and medical needs are met for the duration of the parole; and
- As appropriate, assisting the beneficiary with accessing education, learning English, securing employment, and enrolling children in school.20
Supporters must include the name of the beneficiary on Form I-134. A supporter may agree to support more than one beneficiary (such as different member of a same family unit); he will still need to file a separate Form I-134 for each beneficiary.
Multiple Supporters for One Beneficiary. Even though one separate Form I-134 must be filed for each beneficiary, multiple supporters can agree to support one beneficiary. In that case, one supporter must file a Form I-134 and include the identity of, and resources made available by, the additional supporters with a statement explaining the details of this shared responsibility. The supporters’ ability to support one beneficiary will be assessed collectively.
Form I-134 requires one individual to sign the form; so organizations cannot serve as the named supporter on a Form I-134. That said, if an organization or any other entity is willing to provide financial or other services to the beneficiary to facilitate support, then this information is added as part of the evidence submitted with the Form I-134. This added support will be taken into account in determining the signatory’s ability to support the beneficiary.
Evidence of financial support could come from the beneficiaries’ own assets in Ukraine (such as documents showing that the beneficiary owns a home there).21
Beneficiaries. Ukrainian citizens, as well as their non-Ukrainian immediate family members, who are outside the United States may be considered for parole under this program. Beneficiaries are eligible for this process if they:
- Resided in Ukraine immediately before the Russian invasion (through February 11, 2022) and were displaced as a result of the invasion;
- Are a Ukrainian citizen and possess a valid Ukrainian passport (or are a child included on a parent’s passport);
- If not a Ukrainian citizen, they must be an immediate family member of a Ukrainian citizen beneficiary of Uniting for Ukraine with a valid passport;
- Have a supporter who filed a Form I-134 on their behalf that USCIS has vetted and confirmed as sufficient; and
- Clear biographic and biometric security checks.22
Immediate family members in this process include “the spouse or common-law partner of a Ukrainian citizen; and their unmarried children under the age of 21.” Children under 18 must travel with a parent or legal guardian.23
Medical Attestations and Vaccine Requirements. Under the program, beneficiaries need to present a pre-travel medical attestation showing they have completed vaccine requirements for measles, polio, and the first dose Covid-19 vaccine or that they are eligible for an exception to those vaccine requirements.24 Within 14 days following their arrival to the United States, beneficiaries need to attest to receiving a medical screening for tuberculosis.
Authorization to Travel to the United States. Once the biographic information has been confirmed by the beneficiary, and upon the completion of all other requirements, the case is processed. The beneficiary will receive an email instructing him to check his myUSCIS account for the status of his authorization to travel. If the individual’s case is accepted and he has been authorized to travel to the United States to seek parole under the program, he will have to arrange and fund his own travel. This travel authorization is valid for 90 days.
Benefits of Applying Through This Program. Uniting for Ukraine allows for shorter processing times for those beneficiaries who want to receive temporary safe haven in the United States. USCIS processing times for Form I-131 humanitarian parole (filed directly by the individual seeking parole) are significantly longer than usual due to a surge of requests.25 Anyone can file an application for humanitarian parole and many have been doing just that lately (including Afghan and Ukrainian nationals), which is overwhelming the system. From April 25 onwards, Ukrainians were encouraged to go through the Uniting for Ukraine process and let someone else sponsor them, rather than seek parole individually.
Refugee Benefits for Ukrainian Parolees
The Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022 (H.R. 7691), signed into law26 by President Biden on May 21, 2022, “provides supplemental emergency appropriations for fiscal year 2022 to Federal agencies to respond to the situation in, and for assistance to, Ukraine”.27 The bill provides $40.1 billion in FY 2022 emergency supplemental appropriations for activities (including economic assistance, humanitarian aid, diplomatic programs, military programs etc.) to respond to the recent Ukrainian crisis.
Included in that funding is $900 million to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families (which includes the Office of Refugee Resettlement):
to remain available until September 30, 2023, for carrying out refugee and entrant assistance activities in support of citizens or nationals of Ukraine, or a person who last habitually resided in Ukraine, for whom such refugee and entrant assistance activities are authorized: Provided, That amounts made available under this heading in this Act may be used for grants or contracts with qualified organizations, including nonprofit entities, to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services, including wraparound services, housing assistance, medical assistance, legal assistance, and case management assistance.28 [Emphasis added.]
Furthermore, this bill makes all Ukrainians (or individuals who resided in Ukraine) who were paroled into the United States between February 24, 2022, and September 30, 2023 (as well as their family members or caregivers after that date), eligible for refugee resettlement benefits, including "resettlement assistance, entitlement programs, and other benefits available to refugees admitted under section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1157) to the same extent as such refugees".
1 “President Biden to Announce Uniting for Ukraine, a New Streamlined Process to Welcome Ukrainians Fleeing Russia's Invasion of Ukraine”, U.S. Department of Homeland Security press release, April 21, 2022.
3 “President Biden to Announce Uniting for Ukraine, a New Streamlined Process to Welcome Ukrainians Fleeing Russia's Invasion of Ukraine”, U.S. Department of Homeland Security press release, April 21, 2022.
4 Camilo Montoya-Galvez, “More than 45,000 Americans have applied to sponsor Ukrainian refugees in the U.S.”, CBS News, June 3, 2022.
6 “H.R.7691 - Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022”, Congress.Gov, May 19, 2022.
9 “Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Programs”, Congressional Research Service, updated June 21, 2021.
10 “The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program – an Overview”, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, October 4, 2021.
14 “President Biden to Announce Uniting for Ukraine, a New Streamlined Process to Welcome Ukrainians Fleeing Russia's Invasion of Ukraine”, U.S. Department of Homeland Security press release, April 21, 2022.
15 “U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Access Categories”, U.S. Department of State, 2017-2021 Archived Content.
17 “President Biden to Announce Uniting for Ukraine, a New Streamlined Process to Welcome Ukrainians Fleeing Russia's Invasion of Ukraine”, U.S. Department of Homeland Security press release, April 21, 2022.
21 Julia Ainsley, “Ukrainians fleeing war face onerous process to enter U.S.”, NBC News, May 5, 2022.
27 “H.R.7691 - Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022”, Congress.gov, May 19, 2022.