Experts: The government must do more to help Ukrainian citizens come to the United States
While the federal government has established a pathway to the United States for Ukrainian citizens fleeing their country in the wake of ongoing Russian attacks, those working with this population in Connecticut say more needs to be done to help.
Under the United for Ukraine initiative, Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members can come to the United States and stay there, temporarily, for two-year parole. Those entering the United States through this program must have someone in the county who agrees to be financially responsible for the duration of their stay.
And while this particular status helps Ukrainians leave their war-torn country, they remain vulnerable, unable to work immediately or obtain a driver’s license, and totally dependent on private financial support. Those entering parole on humanitarian grounds also cannot access public benefits, although children can receive Medicaid.
“It’s better than nothing, but it’s not perfect,” said Hartford immigration attorney Dana Bucin, who recently traveled to the Mexican border in California to help Ukrainians enter legally in the United States.
While humanitarian parolees can apply for a work permit upon entering the United States, the processing time for such applications is 3 to 6 months, Bucin said, adding that the state government should consider allocate funds to incoming Ukrainians.
Thanks to a fundraiser, Bucin was able to bring three Ukrainian citizens to Connecticut when he returned from California last month. Ukrainian churches helped provide them and continue to fundraise.
“They already have job offers, audioprosthetist, dental office manager, help for the elderly. They come with Ukrainian skills,” Bucin said.
Connecticut could use skilled workers right now even if there’s a labor shortage, Bucin said.
“They were useful to their own economy and now they’ve been displaced,” Bucin said. “It would be an absolute net gain to have them here. It would be great if we could allocate funds to increase them at the beginning, when the federal government takes its time processing work permits.
Ann O’Brien, director of community engagement and co-sponsorship at Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven, said there will be many challenges faced by immigrants seeking employment, including competition with Anglophones for jobs.
“They won’t be able to get a driver’s license immediately. It’s going to be hard work for them,” O’Brien said. After the two-year parole period ends, Ukrainians will have to decide whether they want to seek asylum, make their status more permanent, or return to Ukraine.
“The first will be expensive,” O’Brien said.
The United States recently saw an influx of people abroad when 70,000 Afghans were evacuated to the United States after the fall of Kabul last summer.
“The main difference with Ukrainians is that if they come here they have some kind of means, and therefore they are not refugees in terms of immigration status,” O’Brien said. “They are refugees from a humanitarian point of view, fleeing conflict.”
With the influx of so many people who may later seek asylum so they can stay in the United States, immigration attorneys will have their work cut out for them, O’Brien said.
“The backlog in asylum courts and the rush for lawyers who know immigration law was huge before last fall, but now it’s crazy,” she said.
Americans who want to help through sponsorship can learn more by going here.
O’Brien said IRIS provides several services to immigrants and refugees, its Services for Undocumented Neighbors (SUN) program, which helps people without refugee immigration status with school accommodation, food and legal services. . However, the agency is still working on the workload due to the influx of people from Afghanistan.