US extends humanitarian status for Ukrainians who fled war

The decision allows Ukrainians living in the US to continue accessing services and allays concerns over legal limbo.

A Ukrainian refugee waits with others near the US border with Mexico.
Ukrainian refugees wait near the US border with Mexico in April 2022 [File: Gregory Bull/AP Photo]

The administration of United States President Joe Biden will extend the one-year authorisation granted to thousands of Ukrainians living in the country, allowing them to renew their humanitarian status and stay longer, just as their paperwork was about to expire.

The news comes shortly after the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which prompted millions of refugees to flee.

The Department of Homeland Security said on Monday that about 25,000 Ukrainians who entered the US through the southern border with Mexico can lengthen their stay past the one year they were initially granted.

“For this earliest-arrived group of Ukrainians, the continued legal right to live, work and access resettlement assistance in the US is absolutely crucial to their well-being,” head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Krish O’Mara Vignarajah said in a statement.

More than 118,000 Ukrainians have come to the US through a programme known as humanitarian parole, which allows people fleeing desperate circumstances to enter the US, where they can apply to more permanent immigration pathways out of harm’s way.

Those authorisations last for two years, but about 25,000 people who entered the US through Mexico in 2022 were given only a one-year permit.

The extension will allow them to continue accessing services such as health care and food assistance, and diminish concerns about their legal status in the country.

In recent years, humanitarian parole has been deployed to bring groups of people from countries like Ukraine and Afghanistan to the US.

However, many Afghans who were paroled into the US following the collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan in August 2021 have yet to see their authorisation extended. Some are concerned that they could end up in a state of legal limbo and lose their work authorisation if a solution is not found before they pass their two-year anniversary in the US.

Advocacy groups have pushed Congress to pass a bill known as the Afghan Adjustment Act that would provide Afghan parolees with a pathway to permanent status, but the bill has not been passed.

“Thousands of Afghans who were evacuated to the United States last summer had to endure the traumatic journey of having to flee their homeland,” the US-based advocacy group Afghans For A Better Tomorrow said in a press release (PDF) last August. “They should not be forced to individually relive that trauma through burdensome legal processes.”

Some have accused the US government of a racist double standard in how it administers the humanitarian parole system.

Human rights groups have criticised the Biden administration for processing Afghan humanitarian parole applications at a slow pace and largely rejecting those it has processed.

With Russia’s war in Ukraine grinding on, a United Nations poll found that about 65 percent of Ukrainian refugees who fled the invasion plan to remain in their host countries until hostilities subside.

Doing so often means hardship, with many struggling to adjust to life in new countries after emotionally taxing journeys to safety.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, nearly 8 million Ukrainian refugees have left the country, according to the UN refugee agency. Millions more have been displaced within Ukraine itself.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies