In late April, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the launch of a new private sponsorship program through which American citizens could support Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion. According to DHS data shared with CBS News last week, over 45,000 Americans have applied to help resettle Ukrainians in the United States since the Uniting for Ukraine program began.
United Nations data indicate that more than 14 million Ukrainians have left their homes since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. Nearly 7 million of them fled to neighboring countries. Though millions of displaced people have already returned to safer regions in Ukraine, much of the nation remains under siege—and many Ukrainians are seeking family reunification and more stable homes elsewhere in the world.
Roughly 6,500 Ukrainians had arrived in the U.S. through the sponsorship program as of June 1, while another 27,000 have been authorized to travel here to join their American sponsors. Those coming here aren't refugees in the technical sense of the word. Rather, they're parolees, which means they can only live and work in the country for two years. The relief is designed to be temporary, which will deprive many Ukrainians of a lasting haven. But the program is nonetheless an important component of the global response to the exodus in Eastern Europe.
It arose at least partially in response to deep deficiencies in the U.S. immigration system. The American refugee resettlement program slowed severely thanks to the Trump administration and pandemic-era restrictions on cross-border movement. Just 11,411 refugees were resettled in the U.S. in FY 2021, short of an annual cap of 62,500. Other visa pathways have severe application backlogs, meaning that few existing immigration options were well-suited to handle the massive flight of Ukrainians. The fact that 22,000 Ukrainians were admitted after crossing the southern border only solidifies the necessity of laying out a predictable, direct pathway.
This private sponsorship initiative cuts the refugee program and its agency-based resettlement process out of the mix entirely. Instead, private citizens must connect with displaced Ukrainians (via Facebook, for example) and agree to financially support them before they may come to the United States. This ensures that Ukrainians arrive with a built-in safety net. The program's breadth is directly linked to citizen-level generosity and welcome—important factors for sustainable refugee resettlement. The resettlement structure also helps funnel Ukrainians into the communities best-equipped to receive them. About 15 percent of American sponsors live in the New York metro area, and all other top sponsorship regions are major cities—many of them with large Ukrainian populations.
Uniting for Ukraine isn't a perfect answer for every displaced Ukrainian, but it allows private citizens to get involved in immigration relief in a novel way. A far-off emergency scenario can leave many benevolent people wishing they had a practical way to help. This program is a meaningful start. The fact that 45,000 people have already volunteered to participate bodes well for the future of private sponsorship.
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