WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is making it easier for refugees fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine to come to the United States from Europe while trying to shut down an informal route through northern Mexico that has emerged in recent weeks.
The program, announced Thursday, will streamline refugee applications from Ukrainians fleeing fighting. However, it will not routinely grant entry to anyone who shows up at the U.S. border seeking asylum as thousands did since the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion began nearly two months ago.
According to the U.S. government, they expect to receive up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine. Around 15,000 of those who have fled to America since the February 24th invasion, mostly via Mexico, are now in the United States. Officials stated that the only exception to this rule is in extreme cases.
It’s an effort for the U.S. to uphold its commitment to help Eastern European nations contend with the 5 million refugees who have fled Ukraine while trying to reduce the number of migrants seeking to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, which has become a political challenge for President Joe Biden and his administration.
“We are proud to deliver on President Biden’s commitment to welcome 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russian aggression to the United States,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement announcing the effort. “The Ukrainian people continue to suffer immense tragedy and loss as a result of Putin’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on their country.”
U.S. officials claim that most of the Ukrainian refugees are keen to remain in Eastern Europe, as they have relatives fighting in wars and the possibility to return home.
Advocates argue that the U.S. should accept more refugees than 100,000 and do more to speed up the process.
For the U.S. to be admitted under the expedited program, also known as Uniting for Ukraine (officially), applicants must have been in Ukraine by February 11, have a sponsor in the United States, have completed vaccinations, and have passed background checks.
Typically, they would start the application process in their home country, but that’s no longer possible because the U.S. pulled its diplomats from Ukraine. As part of the new program, State Department will expand resettlement operations across Eastern Europe.
Most will receive two years of residence and authorization to work in the United States under what’s known as humanitarian parole. Permanent legal residency will be granted to those who arrive in the U.S. as part of the formal refugee process. This includes thousands of people who are members or associates with religious minorities.