WASHINGTON (AP) - The Biden administration is allowing thousands of Ukrainians who fled their homeland when Russia invaded a year ago to stay in the United States longer, the administration said Monday. The decision provides relief to Ukrainians whose one-year authorization to remain in the U.S. was set to expire soon.
The Homeland Security Department said the extension is for certain Ukrainian nationals and their immediate family members who were let into the U.S. before the Uniting for Ukraine program started.
Ukrainians who came in under the Uniting for Ukraine program generally got two years of humanitarian "parole" in the U.S. whereas those who arrived before them generally got permission to stay only for one year. Resettlement agencies have estimated that there are about 20,000 Ukrainians in the one-year group.
Thousands of Ukrainians came to America last year fleeing the war.
The U.S. government used a program called humanitarian parole to admit them into the country. That program is a way to allow people from other countries to enter the United States on an emergency basis due to an urgent humanitarian situation. But it is usually for a finite amount of time, like a year or two years, and must be renewed for people to stay longer.
In recent years, humanitarian parole has been employed as a quick fix to deal with the fallout from the many world crises that have occurred as the U.S. refugee system that was dismantled by the previous administration was being built back up.
Now numerous groups are seeing their permission to remain in the United States expiring in coming months, including tens of thousands of Afghans.
That has led to intense anxiety for thousands of people who fled war in their homeland and don’t know whether they’ll be kicked out of the U.S. when their humanitarian parole status expires. The uncertainty can also be difficult for the businesses that employ them and need to make sure their employees are properly authorized to remain in the country.
Ukraine and immigration have both been hot button topics among Republican politicians who aren’t enthusiastic about continuing aid to the war and have accused the Biden administration of not doing enough to control migration at the southern border. But even in that toxic political environment, there’s been little movement to force Ukrainians to return home, reflecting widespread acceptance that it’s still too dangerous for them there.
The Homeland Security Department said the announcement specifically refers to Ukrainians who came into the U.S. on humanitarian parole status from February 24, 2022 through April 25, 2022. They do not need to file any paperwork with the government to get the extension. The department will review cases of Ukrainians that fall in this category over the next four weeks to vet them for the extension, starting with those who came to the U.S. the earliest.
Many groups that work with people who come to the U.S. after being forcibly displaced from their countries had been advocating for the extension. In a statement the head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah said the extension would provide relief to thousands of anxious Ukrainians.
"For this earliest-arrived group of Ukrainians, the continued legal right to live, work, and access resettlement assistance in the U.S. is absolutely crucial to their well-being," she said. The organization also called on the administration in the future to not wait until so close to the deadline to extend "critical humanitarian protections," and noted that many of the thousands of Afghans who came into the country on humanitarian parole will start seeing their protections expire this summer.