Ukrainian refugees expected to hit obstacles before protection


Sydney Laput

The Refugee Center is located inside the Champaign Urbana Health Department on Kenyon Road. With the ongoing war in Ukraine, the center is prepared to help those fleeing from the country.

By Yuzhu Liu, Staff Writer

The Biden administration announced on March 24 that the United States would welcome up to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine. However, it may take years for these Ukrainians to be approved to enter the U.S.

Lisa Wilson, executive director of the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center, said that while the center is ready to help resettle Ukrainian refugees, there will be no substantive progress until the U.S. government lays out a plan to transfer these people.

“The avenues (for Ukrainian refugees) to come to the U.S. are pretty much blocked,” Wilson said.

Wilson revealed that The Refugee Center has accepted only one Ukrainian who was already in Illinois so far. According to the Department of Homeland Security, only Ukrainians already living or studying in the U.S. before March 1 are eligible for the temporary protected status.

For those fleeing Ukraine, the pathways to getting a visa are narrow. There is not a specific immigration category for a war refugee visa. Wilson added that a visitor visa is never an option for the displaced since a visitor visa holder must declare a plan to return home.

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    Wilson confirmed that the first Ukrainians coming here will be the ones who have family members with U.S. citizenship. According to the census, Illinois has been home to about 47,623 people of Ukrainian ancestry — containing one of the largest Ukrainian communities in the country.

    Wilson said these Ukrainian refugees will apply for family immigration which can take years to process. The U.S. refugee admissions program requires candidates to apply for refugee status outside of the U.S. They cannot cross the border until U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services authorize legal permission.

    According to The Pew Research Center, many refugee applicants do not go through the approval process while in their home countries. They usually stay in neighboring countries under temporary protection while waiting for resettlement and undergoing health screenings and cultural orientations.

    The Department of State reveals that these procedures take at least 18 months to complete. A Human Rights First report finds that the delays leave some refugees in harsh conditions and prolong their separation from families.

    Wilson also attributed this tedious wait to the quota system that USCIS uses to allocate visas. The system specifies that no one country can account for more than 7% of all diversity visas issued annually. Therefore, Wilson pointed out a foreseeable long period before Ukrainian refugees ultimately get permission to travel to the U.S. on family immigration.

    Wilson mentioned that refugee resettlement demands a significant infrastructure investment and processing time. She said many of the Refugee Center’s clients waited for years before they could finally enter the U.S. The Refugee Center stated that the refugees’ identities are protected.

    Unfortunately, increased burdens on the immigration system have worsened the delays. USCIS acknowledged a heavy pending caseload and prolonged processing time due to the COVID-19 standstill and the Trump administration’s decision to cut resources.

    “Right now, I don’t have any positive news about the U.S. or our area, in particular, receiving those people fleeing Ukraine,” Wilson said.


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