USCIS recently announced a unique program to assist Ukrainians affected by the current war. Called Uniting for Ukraine, the program "provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members who are outside the United States to come to the United States and stay temporarily in a two-year period of parole." The program is unique in that the Ukrainian beneficiaries must be chosen by U.S.-based sponsors. The government will vet the sponsors "to ensure that they are able to financially support the individual whom they agree to support" and then start the process of bringing the chosen Ukrainian to the United States.

Here, we'll look at why the U.S. government created this program and how it works.

The impetus for Uniting for Ukraine is, of course, the Russian invasion, which has killed thousands of innocent people and created millions of refugees. But why are we providing this benefit for Ukraine when we have not done something similar for other war-torn nations? And why are we allowing private citizens (or anyone else lawfully present in the U.S.) to serve as sponsors and effectively determine which Ukrainians will be allowed to come to the United States?

While the situation in Ukraine is a humanitarian disaster, it is hardly unprecedented. The Syria civil war has created about five million refugees, and there are--sadly--many more examples: Afghanistan (2.6 million refugees), South Sudan (2.2 million), and Myanmar (1.1 million), to name a few. According to UNHCR, as of mid-2021, there were about 84 million displaced people worldwide, and of those, 26.6 million meet the legal definition of "refugee."

So why are we helping Ukrainians above all the others? The cynic might say that it is because Ukrainians are white, European, and Christian, and it's difficult to argue against that point. But there are other reasons as well. Our national interests are tied more closely to Europe than to most other places, and the current crisis--in the heart of Europe--represents a strategic threat to our country. Also, Russia under Vladimir Putin has been a malevolent and destabilizing force in world affairs, and the need to confront and contain his aggression only increased with this latest conflict. Finally, the large majority of Ukrainian refugees have fled to European countries, and we need to support our allies and help carry this burden. So while there are reasons to be cynical about United for Ukraine, there are also legitimate aspects of the Ukrainian crisis that are unique when compared with other refugee emergencies.

One novel feature of UFU is that it allows people in the United States to directly select which Ukrainians will be brought to the U.S. (assuming the beneficiary clears the various security checks). On the positive side, this allows individuals to directly help people in need and to meaningfully participate in the refugee process. It also allows people in the U.S. to re-unite with their Ukrainian family members and friends, and ensures that those Ukrainians coming here will have a person to help get them settled. On the negative side, it seems a strange way to decide who needs help and--as usual--the most needy and least visible will be the least likely to benefit from the program. In addition, I can see a vast potential for fraud. Will Ukrainians overseas be paying sponsors in the U.S. to help them come here? Will UFU create an industry of middlemen to match Ukrainians with sponsors for a fee? Perhaps a thorough vetting process (of sponsors and beneficiaries) can mitigate these problems, but vetting takes resources--where will these come from, and will other U.S. government services be cut back in order to implement UFU? For all these questions, only time will tell.

Let's say you want to sponsor someone from Ukraine. How do you go about it?

First, it seems to me that most people will not need a lawyer to assist with this process. It appears to be fairly simple and is well explained on the USCIS website.

In short, the sponsor must be in the United States. They can be a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident or other person with lawful status. The sponsor files one form I-134 (Declaration of Financial Support) for each beneficiary. After the form is filed, USCIS will review it and the evidence (proof of lawful status in the U.S., employment, financial resources, taxes, etc.) to be sure that the sponsor has the financial means to support the beneficiary. If the sponsor meets the required criteria, USCIS will contact the beneficiary by email to start the second part of the process.

Beneficiaries must be Ukrainian citizens who resided in Ukraine prior to the start of hostilities. If the Ukrainian beneficiary has immediate family members who are not Ukrainian, they may be included as well. Ukrainians who are already in the U.S. are not eligible for UFU, though most would be eligible for Temporary Protected Status. In additional, unaccompanied children are not eligible for UFU, though if they arrive in the U.S., there is a process for them to remain here lawfully.

After USCIS contacts the beneficiaries, they will need to confirm their biographic details, family relationships, and vaccination status. They will then be subject to a security background check, and assuming there are no issues, beneficiaries will receive authorization to travel to the U.S. How long this process will take, we do not know. According to DHS, "the process will be fairly quick, but DHS cannot say definitively how long the process will take."

The sponsor is supposed to meet the beneficiary at the airport and help them get settled in the United States (though I do not see any enforcement mechanism for sponsors who fail to fulfill their responsibilities). Once they arrive in the U.S., beneficiaries can apply for work authorization, and hopefully those applications will be processed quickly. Beneficiaries will be permitted to remain in the U.S. for two years, but presumably this time frame could be extended depending on conditions in Ukraine. Also, if the new arrivals have some way to remain here permanently (family or employer petition, DV lottery, etc.), they could pursue that option. They could also apply for asylum, though as I have written before, most Ukrainians would likely have a difficult time satisfying the legal requirements for that form of protection (asylum eligibility can be tricky, so talk to a lawyer if this is a consideration).

While I am skeptical of anything the U.S. government tries these days, it will be interesting to see how UFU plays out. At it's best, it is a unique way to assist people in need and to involve ordinary Americans in the process. Perhaps this new model of humanitarian protection will prove effective at helping Ukrainians and furthering our own national interests. Here's hoping.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: