Opinion | My family sponsored refugees under Uniting for Ukraine. The results were astonishing.

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Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, is the author of “Freedom of movement: voting on foot, migration and political freedom.”

Nine days after my wife and I submitted the sponsorship forms, the US government authorized the admission of three Ukrainian refugees – Ruslan Hasanov, his wife, Maya, and their 2-year-old daughter, Melissa. Less than five weeks later, they were there. It’s almost a miracle for those of us who have long lamented the ossified state of the US refugee system.

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

The brutal Russian invasion forced more than 7 million people to flee Ukraine, creating the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. In response, the Biden administration created Uniting for Ukraine, a private refugee sponsorship program that allows Ukrainian migrants to enter the United States much more easily than is possible under the conventional refugee admissions system. refugees.

The speed and ease of entry accomplished through Uniting for Ukraine is an impressive achievement, especially by the icy standards of the US immigration bureaucracy, where visa and refugee applications routinely languish for many months or even years. Private sponsorship is the crucial innovation. Under Uniting for Ukraine, Ukrainians can enter the United States and live and work here for up to two years, provided a U.S. citizen or permanent resident agrees to sponsor them, help with bureaucratic issues, and provide some financial support (the amount is largely left to the sponsor and the migrants to decide) via a form submitted on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Since April, at least 94,000 Ukrainians have entered the United States under this program. By contrast, the conventional refugee admissions system, which relies on government-approved agencies to resettle and support refugees, admitted only 25,400 people from around the world in fiscal year 2022. The The refugee admissions process has long been slow and tedious, but things got even worse when President Donald Trump cut annual admission quotas, undermining the system in a way the Biden administration has never before. ‘now failed to repair. There is no real evidence that excruciatingly long wait times promote safety or have any other benefits.

My wife and I decided to become sponsors of Uniting for Ukraine, as I am an academic specializing in migration issues, an advocate for broader migration rights and a native speaker of Russian (which many Ukrainians also speak); my wife’s grandfather was himself a Ukrainian immigrant. The Hasanovs and I met through Welcome Connect, a website that connects potential American sponsors with Ukrainian refugees.

The family’s experience mirrors 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. Despite this, they endured shelling and shelling from Russian forces. Maya and Melissa were finally able to find temporary refuge in Spain; Ruslan returned to Irpin after it was recaptured by Ukrainian forces, but it was impossible for him to resume a normal life.

Marc Thiessen


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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 said, there is people from many walks of life and all are “equal…regardless of nationality, skin color or religion. His words are said to have warmed the heart of George Washington, who envisioned America as “a haven for the poor and downtrodden of all nations and religions.” We don’t always live up to these ideals, but survey data shows that Americans are more racially tolerant and open to ethnic diversity than citizens of almost any other nation.

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

First, residence and work permits only last for two years. Experience shows that many refugees need permanent accommodation, not just temporary accommodation. Tenure also allows them to make a greater economic and social contribution to our society.

Second, the program is largely the product of executive discretion. If the political tide turns and President Biden (or a successor) decides to end it, participants could be subject to expulsion. Congress should pass legislation to permanently correct these flaws.

The program could also be improved by further simplifying the paperwork, some of which I found confusing and redundant. Refugee charities should consider providing language assistance to potential sponsors who do not speak Russian or Ukrainian; they could eventually recruit volunteer interpreters from immigrant communities in the United States.

The virtues of this new approach, however, are obvious and highly scalable. In the future, Uniting for Ukraine should serve as a model for refugee policy in general.

The Biden administration has already created a similar program for migrants fleeing Venezuela’s repressive socialist government, though it has a numerical cap of just 24,000 participants. The Venezuelan refugee crisis is comparable in scale to that of Ukraine, with the flight of around 6 million Venezuelans. Later this year, the administration plans to create a more general refugee private sponsorship pilot program, though specifics remain unclear.

Ultimately, the United States should establish a comprehensive private refugee sponsorship system, modeled in part on Canada’s successful program, that applies regardless of nationality. This would not only help people escape war and oppression, but would also strengthen our economy – migrants disproportionately contribute to economic growth and innovation – and improve the image of the United States in the world. international “war of ideas” against dictators such as Russian Vladimir Putin. By building on the success of Uniting for Ukraine, we can simultaneously advance America’s interests and live up to its highest ideals.

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