By Greg Siskind ([email protected])
The Biden Administration has announced the procedures for applying for humanitarian parole for Ukrainians under the new Uniting for Ukraine program. The process is very different than other humanitarian parole programs including the Afghan program. According to DHS, “Ukrainians who have a supporter in the United States may be considered for parole, on a case-by-case basis, for a period of up to two years. Once granted parole, Ukrainians are eligible to apply for employment authorization in the United States.”
The process will have roles for USCIS, CBP and ICE. The State Department appears to play no role in this process. The whole process is also being done online, something that could save considerable time.
How many people will be admitted under Uniting for Ukraine?
The program appears to be on top of the President’s promise to take 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. No specific cap was announced by DHS. In fact, they say “The number of Ukrainians potentially eligible for Uniting for Ukraine will be driven by the breadth of welcome U.S.-based supporters are willing and able to provide. Therefore, we cannot estimate a specific number of potential Ukrainian beneficiaries.” The 100,000 commitment appears to simply be a floor on how many the US will take, but there is no upper limit.
Who is eligible to be sponsored under the new process?
Ukrainians must have been residing in Ukraine as of February 11, 2022. It is not clear how residence is defined. For example, are Ukrainians who were abroad on that date (such as guest workers in Poland) ineligible? Ukrainians will want to show residence in Ukraine on the specific date and there may be a number of ways to demonstrate this including date/place stamped social media posts, photos, receipts, entry stamps to other countries, etc.
Ukrainians will also need to have complete vaccinations and pass biometric and biographic screening and security checks. That includes vaccinations not just for COVID, but also for measles and polio. If a person is not vaccinated, they must have at least a first dose of a required vaccine prior to being authorized to travel to the US. Those over two years of age will also need to be screened for tuberculosis, including an Interferon-Gamma Release Assays (IGRA) test, within two weeks of arrival in the US.
What about children?
Children cannot be sponsored separately from a parent or legal guardian. According to DHS, “under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), any child under the age of 18 who is not accompanied by their parent or legal guardian generally must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and vetted to protect against exploitation and abuse.” Because sponsors must be vetted before that child can be released and reunified, DHS has determined that children traveling on their own, or with a non-parent or non-legal guardian adult, are not currently eligible for this process. However, DHS has indicated they are still looking at other options to help vulnerable children and caregivers.
How long can people enter the US for?
Approved parolees can enter the US for up to two years. It is not yet clear whether extensions will be permitted. There will, however, be no bar on applying for another status (including non-immigrant, immigrant, or asylee status).
Can parolees work?
Yes, but they will need to apply for work authorization, something that could take several months. Applicants’ sponsors will need to be prepared for this.
How does a sponsor start the process?
The application is initially made using an online I-134 form that is submitted to USCIS. The form is submitted by a “supporter.” The press release from 4/21 indicated US-based individuals and entities could apply to sponsor. But the web site today says:
“Every Ukrainian seeking authorization to travel to the United States to seek parole must be supported by a U.S.-based individual, including representatives of non-governmental organizations. Each supporter must pass security and background vetting and demonstrate sufficient financial resources to “receive, maintain, and support” the Ukrainians they commit to support.”
Unless DHS provides more information, I-134s should be submitted by individuals either representing themselves or acting on behalf of an organization or entity. If a person is acting on behalf of an organization, and if that organization is providing financial or other services to support the Ukrainian beneficiary, evidence of that must be provided with the I-134. The person who submits the I-134 must be a US-based person in lawful status, a parolee, or a beneficiary of deferred action or Deferred Enforced Departure.
After the I-134 application is submitted, USCIS will review the sponsor to protect against “exploitation and abuse” and that the sponsor is able to financially support the person they are agreeing to support.
DHS is warning Ukrainians not to travel to Mexico to seek entry there. The announcement of 4/25 says Ukrainians “may be denied entry and referred to apply through this program.” That would likely mean applying in Europe.
Supporters will be vetted by the US government to verify their ability to support Ukrainians and to ensure they are not going to exploit or abuse the Ukrainian. That will include the sponsor passing security and background vetting and showing the supporter has sufficient financial resources to “receive, maintain and support” they Ukrainians they are sponsoring.
What type of evidence should a sponsor submit to show they can support a beneficiary?
USCIS’ I-134 instructions offer the following examples:
- A signed statement from an officer of the bank or other financial institution that states when you opened an account, the total amount deposited for the past year, and the present balance of such account
- A signed statement from your employer on business letterhead that states the date and nature of your employment, salary paid, and whether the position is temporary or permanent
- A copy of your last income federal tax return filed, or a report of commercial rating concern (if self-employed)
- A list containing the serial numbers and denominations of bonds and names of the owners (if applicable)
What happens after the I-134 is cleared by USCIS?
After USCIS clears the I-134 for the financial supporter, the Ukrainian beneficiary will receive notification from USCIS about the next steps in the process. That will include the beneficiary creating a USCIS online account, going through vetting and security checks and then providing the beneficiary with authorization to travel to the US. The authorization will be valid for a period of 90 days.
Vetting will include Ukrainians submitting biographic and biometric information to the US government for security vetting. A range of interagency intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism databases will be checked. The myUSCIS online system will transmit biographic information for Ukrainian beneficiaries directly to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and into CBP’sAutomated Targeting System (ATS) for vetting.
Once vetting is finished and authorization to travel has been approved, USCIS will notify the beneficiaries in the myUSCIS system and individuals will have 90 days to travel to the US. Airlines using CBP’s Document Validation program will be able to access this authorization and thus able to generate a boarding pass. If a carrier is not in that program, they’ll manually verify with CBP and then generate a boarding pass. Approved individuals will be responsible for arranging their own travel to the US including funding the trip.
Upon arrival in the US at a port of entry, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)will conduct additional screening and vetting, including additional biometric vetting. Persons determined to pose a risk will be referred to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
What do approved applicants need to travel to the US?
Approved applicants will need to book a commercial flight from Europe to the US and have a valid passport. Children without their own passports can enter via a parent’s passport. Entrants must adhere to CDC COVID requirements including pre-departure COVID testing.
What is the estimated time for processing?
DHS did not commit to a time frame other than to say “We anticipate that the process will be fairly quick.”
Do Ukrainians need to be in Europe to apply?
No. While DHS believes most Ukrainians will be in neighboring countries or other EU states, Ukrainians in other places may still be eligible. So, in theory, Ukrainians in Mexico who were planning on applying directly at a port of entry on the US-Mexican border could still enter from Mexico after they go through the Uniting for Ukraine application process.
Is there a fee to apply?
There does not appear to be a fee.