After months of being trapped in Russian-occupied Mariupol, a Ukrainian family of four arrived safely in Connecticut on humanitarian parole—and will soon be looking for work.
The family is among dozens of refugees arriving in Connecticut under the Uniting for Ukraine program, which the federal government implemented on April 21, 2022.
The program provides Ukrainian nationals and their immediate family impacted by the Russian invasion humanitarian parole for two years.
Ukrainians can be approved for the program in less than two weeks, and apply for work authorization immediately after arriving in the U.S.
“In my 17 years as an immigration attorney, I have never seen something so simple,” Murtha Cullina LLP partner and immigration practice chair Dana Bucin said.
Bucin is helping match Ukrainian refugees in collaboration with Murtha Cullina LLP and the Honorary Consulate of Romania through a federal Uniting for Ukraine initiative.
“The world is your backyard for workforce solutions,” Bucin said.
She said the program provides an immediate measure to fill open jobs in Connecticut.
“Many visa programs are complicated and costly,” Bucin said.
The challenge, Bucin explains, is getting people to agree to sponsor refugees while they get on their feet in Connecticut.
Bucin said while it can be a large undertaking for someone, the federal government has made it increasingly easier for refugees to get benefits.
The program gives low-income Ukrainians on humanitarian parole access to Medicaid-like health coverage, cash benefits, and several other services through local refugee resettlement agencies, taking pressure off individual sponsors.
Eligible beneficiaries are Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family (of any nationality) with valid passports who resided in Ukraine prior to the February invasion and were displaced as a result.
Immediate family can be a spouse or common-law partner, or unmarried child under the age of 21.
Beneficiaries must clear public health, biographic, and biometric security checks with the Department of Homeland Security.
Bucin and her team are in contact with a number of Ukrainian refugees who meet the requirements.
Ukrainian refugees must have a U.S. sponsor to be accepted into the program.
Requirements for a sponsor are someone who:
- Agrees to provide the refugees with financial support for the duration of their two-year stay.
- Clears DHS financial, background, and security checks in order to protect against exploitation and abuse and ensure sufficient financial resources.
- Has lawful U.S. status/parolee/beneficiary of deferred action/Deferred Enforced Departure.
Multiple sponsors may join together to have the financial ability to support one or more Ukrainian beneficiaries (ex: faith communities).
However, organizations are not allowed to serve as the named supporter but evidence of their financial or services contribution may be included with the main supporter’s I-134 application and will be taken into consideration.
The Honorary Consulate of Romania to Connecticut and the Murtha Cullina LLP immigration practice formed a partnership to provide a free pre-screening form to help match sponsors and refugees.
From there, sponsors and refugees can meet on their own with their “match” to discuss compatibility, and begin the process of applying for the program through the federal government.
A sponsor takes the first step in the process in filling out USCIS form I-134 for each individual beneficiary.
A sponsor must prove financial viability as outlined in the instructions. Form I-134 requires information from both the sponsor and the beneficiary to show financial support.
There is no application fee for individuals applying for the program.
If a U.S. sponsor’s I-134 is approved following background and security checks, the Ukrainian beneficiary will receive an email from USCIS about next steps.
It can take between two days and two weeks for U.S. sponsors to receive notice of their I-134 approval. While sponsors will get notified by mail, refugees will receive an email confirmation.
A refugee will get a 90-day authorization to travel to the U.S once they are fully approved.
Ukrainians are eligible to apply for discretionary employment authorization from USCIS after they arrive in the U.S.
This process is expected to take three plus months.
The issuance of a social security number is tied to a work permit, and so is the ability to open bank accounts, obtain driver’s license, secure health coverage, etc.
However, Bucin said presenting oneself to an SSA office and requesting an SSN right away may trigger the ability to request federal benefits based solely on a pending SSN application.