USCIS Unites for Ukraine

by Kathryn T. Albarelli

As the war in Ukraine enters its second year, many are asking what the United States is doing for those whose lives have suddenly changed. USCIS, a Department of Homeland Security division, has been welcoming Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members into the United States via a specialized parole program. This program was announced in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started in February of 2022. Uniting for Ukraine builds on the robust humanitarian assistance the U.S. government already provides to complement the generosity of European countries currently hosting millions of Ukrainian citizens and others displaced by conflict. Under this program, eligible Ukrainians and their family members receive a 2-year humanitarian parole – a form of temporary status in the United States. When people ask our office what they can do to offer assistance in this conflict, we point to this program. While it is always advisable to have attorney assistance to conform with the specific rules of any program if you wish to welcome Ukrainian citizens into the United States, here is one opportunity worth considering.

The eligibility of beneficiaries is determined by residence and citizenship. Beneficiaries of the program must have resided in Ukraine immediately before the Russian invasion (through Feb. 11, 2022) and be displaced due to the invasion. Additionally, beneficiaries must be Ukrainian citizens possessing a valid Ukrainian passport (a child included on a parent’s passport counts as well); or, if not a Ukrainian citizen, must be an immediate family member (usually a spouse or child) of a Ukrainian Citizen benefiting from Uniting for Ukraine. The Department of Homeland Security also confirms biographic information through biometrics and security checks.

Most critically, Ukrainians must have a supporter who files Form I-134A on their behalf, which USCIS vets and confirms as sufficient with clear biographic and biometric security checks. Supporters in this program are required to file an I-131A, Online Request to be a Supporter and a Declaration of Financial Support at the outset. Folks eligible to serve as sponsors include U.S. citizens and nationals, Lawful permanent residents, Lawful temporary residents, and Conditional permanent residents – even certain non-immigrants may apply to sponsor, so long as they have lawful status in the United States. USCIS requires Sponsors must pass background vetting and demonstrate sufficient financial resources to receive, maintain and support the Ukrainians throughout their stay in the US.

As this is a humanitarian program designed to assist displaced persons fleeing a devastating international conflict, they promise to fulfill certain responsibilities when the supporter files Form I-134A and commit to the program. The necessary types of support that form part of the sponsorship include welcoming the beneficiary immediately upon arrival in the United States and traveling with them to initial housing to ensure the beneficiary has a safe home with initial basic living necessities. The supporter must also help the beneficiary complete paperwork for things such as employment authorization, a Social Security card, and social services for which they may be eligible. This ensures the beneficiary’s health care and medical needs are met for the parole term. There is also a chance for the beneficiary to access education, learn English, enroll children in school, and find employment. While the commitment may be high, your sponsorship can change the lives of those displaced by war. Should you want to support more than one individual you may do so, by filing an I-134A for each person.

There is obviously much more to discuss, but what is clear is that this program fulfills an urgent humanitarian function while welcoming individuals into the United States who surely need our hospitality. While this hospitality may primarily take the form of various types of financial support, the program also encourages being a good neighbor, looking out for the mental and physical wellbeing of another human being, and being that friendly face and support system as folks transition into our communities and into the fabric of the United States.

The United States has long welcomed those fleeing war and persecution. It is what brought early settlers here hundreds of years ago. With the Uniting for Ukraine program, we hold fast to these ideals; to welcome newcomers to our great country and protect people who have suffered devastating hardships. Should you want to carry on the torch and join Uniting for Ukraine, speak with an immigration attorney near you.

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