The Volokh Conspiracy

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My New Washington Post Article on the Uniting for Ukraine Private Refugee Sponsorship Program

The article explains why the progam is a major improvement over previous policies, and how it can be further improved and made a model for refugee policy generally.


Today the Washington Post published my op ed on the Uniting for Ukraine private refugee sponsorship program, in which I am a participating sponsor myself:

Nine days after my wife and I submitted the sponsorship forms, the U.S. government authorized admission to three Ukrainian refugees — Ruslan Hasanov, his wife, Maya, and their 2-year-old daughter, Melissa. Less than five weeks after that they were here. This is little short of a miracle to those of us who have long lamented the sclerotic state of the U.S. refugee system.

The next step is for Congress and the Biden administration to work together to turn that miracle, with some critical improvements, into the norm. And not just for Ukrainians.

The brutal Russian invasion has forced more than 7 million people to flee Ukraine, creating the largest European refugee crisis since World War II. In response, the Biden administration established Uniting for Ukraine, a private refugee-sponsorship program that enables Ukrainian migrants to enter the United States far more easily than is possible under the conventional refugee admission system….

The speed and ease of entry accomplished under Uniting for Ukraine are an impressive achievement, especially by the glacial standards of U.S. immigration bureaucracy, where visa and refugee applications routinely languish for many months or even years….

Since April, at least 94,000 Ukrainians have entered the United States under the program. By contrast, the conventional refugee admission system, which relies on the government-approved agencies to resettle and support refugees, only admitted 25,400 people from around the world during all of fiscal 2022….

The [Hasanov] family's experience exemplifies that of many other refugees. They fled the town of Irpin, near Kyiv, shortly before it was taken by Russian troops. They narrowly escaped a horrific occupation that included the torture and murder of hundreds of civilians. Even so, they endured bombing and shelling by Russian forces…

Having heard about United for Ukraine from friends, they decided to come to the United States, where there is more openness to migrants than in many European countries, and, as Maya put it, there are people from many backgrounds and all are "equal … regardless of nationality, skin color or religion." Her words would have warmed the heart of George Washington, who envisioned America as "an Asylum for the poor and oppressed of all nations and religions…."

Despite its virtues, Uniting for Ukraine still has two major shortcomings.

First, the residency and work permits last only two years. Experience shows that many refugees need permanent homes, not just temporary ones….

Second, the program is largely the product of executive discretion. If the political winds shift and President Biden (or a successor) decides to terminate it, participants could be subject to deportation. Congress should pass legislation to permanently fix these flaws….

Ultimately, the United States should establish a general system of private refugee sponsorship, modeled in part on Canada's successful program, that applies regardless of nationality. Doing so would not only help people escaping war and oppression, but also bolster our economy — migrants contribute disproportionately to economic growth and innovation — and enhance the U.S. image in the international "war of ideas" against dictators such as Russia's Vladimir Putin.

In the article, I also propose some smaller improvements in the program, and briefly explain how would-be sponsors can get started by setting up a profile at  Welcome Connect, a website that matches potential U.S. sponsors with Ukrainian refugees.