While the federal government has established a pathway to the United States for Ukrainian citizens fleeing their country following ongoing Russian attacks, those who are working with this population in Connecticut say more needs to be done to help.
Under the initiative, titled “Uniting for Ukraine,” Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members can come to the United States and stay, temporarily, for a two-year parole. Those entering the U.S. through this program must have someone in the county agree to be financially responsible for the duration of their stay.
And while this particular status helps get Ukrainians out of their war-torn country, they are still left vulnerable, unable to immediately work or get a driver’s license, and totally dependent on private financial support. Those entering under humanitarian parole also can’t get access to any 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 went to the Mexican border in California to help people from the Ukraine legally enter the United States.
While humanitarian parolees can apply for a work permit upon entering the U.S., the processing time for these applications is anywhere between 3 to 6 months, Bucin said, adding the state government should consider allocating funding to incoming Ukrainians.
Through fundraising, Bucin was able to bring three Ukrainian citizens to Connecticut when she returned from California last month. Ukrainian churches have been helping provide them, and are continuing to fundraise.
“They already have job offers, a hearing aid specialist, dental office manager, caregiver to the elderly. They come with skills from Ukraine,” Bucin said.
Connecticut could use skilled workers right now during 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 some funds to lift them up in those moments in the beginning when the federal government is taking its time to process 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 facing immigrants looking for work, including competing with native English speakers for jobs.
“They are not going to be able to get a drivers license immediately. It’s going to be a slog for them,” O’Brien said. After the two-year parole period has ended, Ukrainans will have to make a decision as to whether to apply for asylum, making their status more permanent, or heading back to Ukraine.
“The former will be expensive,” O’Brien said.
The U.S. recently went through an influx of people overseas when 70,000 Afghans were evacuated to the United States after the fall of Kabul last summer.
“The key difference with the Ukraines is if they got here they have some kind of means, and so they are not refugees in terms of immigration status,” O’Brien said. “They are refugees from a humanitarian perspective, fleeing conflict.”
With the influx of so many people who might 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 run on people that are lawyers that know immigration law was enormous before last fall, but now it’s crazy,” she said.
Those Americans who want to help through sponsorship can find out more by going here.
O’Brien said IRIS provides several services to immigrants and refugees, its SUN (Services for Undocumented Neighbors) program, which helps people without refugee immigration status with education housing, food and legal services. The agency is still, however, working its way through the caseload from the influx of people from Afghanistan.