Sunday, March 19, 2023

Uniting for Ukraine: Where Do We Go from Here?

Guest blogger:  Katherine Cherubin, law student, University of San Fancisco:

On February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” in which he ordered his troops into Ukraine with the goal of “demilitarizing” and “denazifying” the country. Shortly after the announcement, the first of many explosions were heard in Ukraine. Over a year later, the war is still being waged and Russian forces have committed numerous unthinkable atrocities—from the Mariupol maternity hospital attack to the horrors in Bucha, to a number of other tragedies, there seems to be no end in sight (“Russian invasion of Ukraine,” n.d). In the first months of the war, many Ukrainians fled their home country— many went to surrounding countries, especially Poland, however, there were those that ventured further. On April 21, 2022, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, announced Uniting for Ukraine, which is a part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s plan to welcome 100,00 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia’s aggression (“Uniting for Ukraine,” n.d.).

            The program provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens to come to the U.S. and stay temporarily in a two-year period of parole, when paroled they are eligible to apply for employment authorization. Ukrainians seeking to participate in Uniting for Ukraine are required to have a supporter in the United States who agrees to provide financial support for them during the duration of their stay in the U.S. (“Uniting for Ukraine,” n.d.).

            It is also important to note that there were some Ukrainians who arrived in the U.S. prior to the implementation of Uniting for Ukraine, many Ukrainians who arrived in the U.S. between February 24, 2022 to April 25, 2022 came on humanitarian parole status. Before the Uniting for Ukraine program started, the government used the humanitarian parole program to admit those fleeing Ukraine into the states—the program allows people to enter the U.S. on “an emergency basis due to an urgent humanitarian situation … usually for a finite amount of time, like a year or two years, and must be renewed for people to stay longer” (Santana, 2023). Due to the ongoing state of the war, Biden recently announced that Ukrainians who arrived between the prior dates on humanitarian parole status do not need to file any additional paperwork to extend their stays in the U.S. and will automatically get an extension after their cases are vetted (Santana, 2023).

            Those who fled Ukraine before the announcement of the Uniting for Ukraine program are having more difficulties obtaining work permits and social security cards than their counterparts who were able to utilize the program (Roth, 2023). Further, a number of those displaced due to the war were unaware of the various programs potentially available to them, making the process even more difficult for them—as some Ukrainians entered on tourist visas unaware of the Uniting for Ukraine program or the general humanitarian parole program (Roth, 2023).

            There are good intentions behind the Uniting for Ukraine program, however, sometimes intent does not fully translate to the end result. When many fled Ukraine shortly after the war broke out, they assumed it would be over soon, however, the conflict has been going on for over a year now with no end in sight. There is so much uncertainty that comes with being displaced due to a conflict. Although Ukrainians are being admitted into the United States, there is so much that is unpredictable about their stay—those being paroled are only here for a temporary amount of time, but as the war wages on, extensions are granted—how do you set down roots when you are unsure of your future and the future of your home country? As one Ukrainian national who fled to the United States put it, “[i]t’s very complicated to live here when you don’t know how many years you can live here. Can you go study? Can you buy something like a car?” (Alvarez, 2023). Besides the uncertainty that comes with fleeing Ukraine for the United States, there are some hurdles when it comes to the Uniting for Ukraine program, specifically the requirement of having a supporter already in America—that can be a major roadblock for many and does not necessarily seem fair or just in a time of crisis. Lastly, one other issue surrounding is that those fleeing Russian aggression should be able to more easily find out their options. There is, hopefully, good intent behind the Biden administration’s efforts, however, Ukraine and Ukrainian’s need far more support and stability provided to them.


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