Q&A with Ivonne Smith-Tapia, Director of Refugee & Immigrant Services on local answers to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
We saw the news of people fleeing Ukraine—have Ukrainians actually come to Pittsburgh?
Yes! Pittsburgh is one of the many places Ukrainians are coming to escape the ongoing war.
Although many Ukrainians chose to stay in Europe, some are coming to places like Pittsburgh that have larger populations of Ukrainians, where they often have family or friends that can help them.
How are Ukranians able to come to the US—are they refugees?
Ukrainians are not arriving as refugees. Ukrainians are primarily applying for humanitarian parole status to be in the United States temporarily for two years. This status allows them to live and work in the US while the situation at home is uncertain.
Unlike refugees who fear being persecuted if returned to their home country, the expectation (and hope) from the US government is that in the next two years, Ukrainains will be able to safely return home.
What is humanitarian parole and how does someone apply?
A humanitarian parole has permission to enter and remain in the US for a certain period of time. In this case, Ukrainians have been given up to two years as part of the Uniting for Ukraine Program to live and work in the US. To apply for humanitarian parole status, click here.
There are a few qualifications to apply:
- Must have been a resident in Ukraine as of February 11, 2022 and been displaced due to the invasion
- Must be a Ukrainian citizen with a Ukrainian passport or an immediate of a Ukrainian citizen who is part of the Uniting for Ukraine program (spouse or unmarried child under 21)
- Must have a sponsor in the United States
- Must complete vaccinations and other public health requirements
- Must pass biometric and biographic screening and vetting security checks
Humanitarian parolees are provided legal status to live in the US but do not have any immigration status. This means that they are not on any pathway to citizenship and are not “entitled” to a green card or any other form of immigration status.
What if the war continues beyond two years or what if a family wants to stay in the US?
Currently, the humanitarian parole period is set for up to two years. We do not know if and what the plan would be if the crisis continues.
If a family or individual would like to remain in the US, they need to apply for citizenship through traditional legal pathways.
It is highly recommended they speak with an immigration attorney as early as possible to explore options. Our attorneys at JFCS Immigration Legal Services are available to answer questions, provide advice and referrals for immigration legal services. Contact our team at email@example.com or fill out our online referral form.
Can any US citizens sponsor a Ukrainian family?
Yes and no. Anyone can apply to be a sponsor but not everyone is eligible to actually become a sponsor – you have to prove you have sufficient resources/finances to support the new arrival from Ukraine.
Complete information on the sponsorship process can be found at uscis.gov/ukraine.
It is important to be aware that as the sponsor, you are making a few critical commitments:
(1) Provide safe and appropriate housing for the duration of their stay and initial basic necessities.
(2) Help complete necessary paperwork for employment authorization, a Social Security card, and for services for which they may be eligible.
(3) Ensure that the beneficiary’s health care and medical needs are met for the duration of the parole.
(4) Help the beneficiary access education, learn English, secure employment and enroll children in school.
While JFCS is available to help sponsors navigate the system, it is the sponsor’s legal responsibility to support the arrival.
Families are coming with nothing—do they qualify for any special resettlement benefits or services when they arrive?
Humanitarian parolees do qualify for benefits like other legal US residents.
Practically, through the Uniting for Ukraine program, Ukrainians with humanitarian parole status are eligible for work authorization in the US for two years and if they qualify, they can collect government benefits like food stamps, cash assistance, and medical assistance.
As part of the application process to become a sponsor, the sponsor is committing to provide core assistance to support a successful transition to life in the US.
How is JFCS helping Ukrainians?
In addition to immigration legal assistance, our dedicated team of Russian- and Ukrainian- speaking staff are focused on working with and meeting the needs of Ukrainians.
Case management is available for all humanitarian parolees – with more intensive case management available for individuals and families with unique needs.
Case managers are available to work with both sponsors and arrivals to provide guidance, advise, referrals and answer questions about resources or benefits. Contact Rita Budik at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-463-3055 for information about case management.
- Case Management: Ukrainians who receive humanitarian parole can receive 90 days of case management to help with benefits paperwork, legal referrals, social security applications, ESL referrals, and other important services that their US sponsors may not be familiar with.
- Intensive Case Management: For more vulnerable families, like single mothers, those with disabilities, and those with more serious health concerns, they can be referred to a longer case management program to help understand the resources and services available, as well as how to navigate their unique circumstances while they adjust to life here.
Additionally, the JFCS Immigration Legal Services team is also available with questions regarding legal status in the US and helping parolees get work authorization.
What other services and support are available for people?
There are several Ukrainian cultural and religious organizations that people can get involved in to find community in Pittsburgh. Some of these offer resources to help families and individuals. Others are membership organizations that require a fee to join.
Ukrainian Community of Western Pennsylvania
Ukrainian SelfReliance of Western PA Federal Credit Union
Ukrainian Technological Society of Pittsburgh
Ridna Shkola – School of Ukrainian Studies
St John the Baptist – South Side
St George – North Side
Holy Trinity – Carnegie
St John the Baptist – McKees Rocks
St John the Baptist – McKeesport
Sts Peter and Paul – Carnegie
St Mary – McKees Rocks
St Vladimir – South Side
How can I help Ukrainians coming to Pittsburgh?
We are looking for volunteers!
Apply to join our team of pro bono attorneys in JFCS Immigration Legal Services or support our case management team in JFCS Refugee & Immigrant Services.
If you are interested in learning more about sponsoring a family through the Uniting for Ukraine program, please take a look at uscis.gov/ukraine and reach out to JFCS Immigration Legal Services with any specific questions at email@example.com.