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Ukrainian and Russian Refugees: Pathways to the U.S.

pexels-kostiantyn-stupak-190340-300x200On February 24, 2022, President Vladimir Putin instructed the Russian army to invade Ukraine. The President’s goal in implementing this abrupt and sudden invasion was to prevent Ukraine from joining the Western defensive alliance with NATO. Unfortunately, President Vladimir Putin’s crusade has now displaced more than five million refugees who have been forced to flee the bloodshed and violence by Russian forces.[i] This tragic act of war has caused not only Ukrainians, but a number of Russians as well, to leave their homelands and seek refuge in the United States.

There are various immigration pathways to the U.S. that these displaced refugees might employ in order to achieve legal immigration status:

  • Apply for specific visas with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS)
  • Apply for Temporary Protective Status (TPS)
  • Apply for asylum
  • Apply for refugee status overseas
  • Apply for a B-1/B-2 Visitor Visa

What is Temporary Protected Status (TPS)?

One option for Ukrainian refugees looking to flee their home country is to apply for Temporary Protective Status (TPS). This specific status is dependent on the Secretary of Homeland Security. They have the power to designate a foreign county with temporary protective status “due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.”[ii] The Secretary will choose a country for TPS if the following temporary conditions are present: ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster or an epidemic, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions.[iii] Temporary Protected Status allows Ukrainian citizens that have been physically present in the United States of America the opportunity to continue to stay in the United States for the duration of eighteen (18) months. They may also apply for work authorization due to temporary protected status and travel authorization.

Who is eligible for Asylum?

Additional options for both Ukrainian and Russian refuges looking to flee their home countries is to apply for asylum, refugee status overseas, or a B-1/B-2 Visitor Visa. In order to be eligible to apply for asylum, an individual must be present in the United States and seeking protection due to the fact that they have personally suffered persecution, or have a credible fear of being persecuted, based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, and political opinion.[iv] In order to obtain approval for an application for asylum, one must provide ample amounts of evidence of the suffered persecution or credible fear of it. The application for asylum must be submitted within one year of the applicant’s last entry into the United States, absent a qualified exception. One may even include their spouse and children in their application for asylum.

What is Refugee Status?

If a Ukrainian or Russian citizen looking to feel their home countries is still currently located in their home countries, then they are forced to apply to be recognized as a refugee. In order to be recognized a s a refugee, one must obtain “a referral to the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP)”.[v] Under the law of the United States, a “refugee” is defined as “a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin.”[vi] This is very similar to the requirements for an application for asylum. One can also include their spouse and children in their refugee application.

How do I apply for legal status?

While the current state of Russia and the Ukraine is treacherous and hazardous, one should find comfort in knowing there are ways to leave the uncertainty and find safety in the United States. The immigration laws of the United States are complex and intricate. The assistance of an experienced immigration attorney is crucial to one’s success in applying for legal status. If you, or any family members or friends, are looking for assistance in obtaining legal status and live in the State of Tennessee, call Cole Law Group at 615-490-6020 in Brentwood, TN to schedule a consultation with one of our immigration attorneys.

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[i]U.S. plans to receive 100,000 Ukrainians displaced by Russian invasion, CBS News (March 24, 2022), available at  https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ukraine-refugees-us-100000-russia-invasion/.

[ii] Temporary Protected Status, USCIS (March 16, 2022), available at https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/temporary-protected-status.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Asylum, USCIS (March 3, 2022), available at https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-and-asylum/asylum.

[v] Refugees, USCIS (March 2, 2022), available at https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-and-asylum/refugees#:~:text=Under%20United%20States%20law%2C%20a,in%20a%20particular%20social%20group.

[vi] U.S. Visas for Ukrainians and Russians: Navigating the Maze, The National Law Review (March 11, 2022), available at https://www.natlawreview.com/article/us-visas-ukrainians-and-russians-navigating-maze.

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