U.S. Visas and Path to Green Card for Ukrainian and Russian Citizens

Posted by Lola Zakharova

Several weeks into the Russian attack on Ukraine, the situation is still dire. Individuals in the United States with family in the Ukraine and Russia have been frantically searching for options for US visas for Ukrainians and Russians and a path to green card.

If you have family in Russia or Ukraine, we understand your desire to bring them to safety. As immigration lawyers, we represent individuals and business clients before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Board of Immigration Appeals, and in Immigration Courts and the federal circuit courts on a range of issues regarding immigration, visas, green cards, and more.

US Visa options for Ukrainians and Russians

TPS status for Ukrainians

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is granted by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to eligible foreign-born individuals who cannot safely return home due to conditions or circumstances in their home country. DHS uses one or more of the three statutory bases for designation:

1.      Ongoing armed conflict

2.      Environmental disasters

3.      Extraordinary and temporary conditions

Based on these statutory bases, the USCIS will grant TPS to Ukrainian nationals who were in the U.S. prior to April 11, 2022. TPS will be valid for 18 months (unless it is renewed) and will protect against deportation and provide work authorization during this window. In addition, the Biden administration announced that up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees would be admitted to the U.S.

On April 18, 2022 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) posted a Federal Register notice on Temporary Protected Status for Ukraine. This notice provides information about how to register for TPS and how to apply for Employment Authorization Document (EAD) so individuals may seek legal employment. In order to qualify, those applying for TPS must meet all eligibility requirements and undergo security and background checks.

TPS does not come with a path to lawful permanent residence or citizenship. However, a TPS recipient who is otherwise eligible for permanent residence (and a green card) may apply for that status.

Family Reunification

Ukrainian and Russian citizens with family members in the United States may qualify for an immigrant visa to join their relatives in the United States.

The following are the categories of relatives who may be eligible for an immigrant visa based on a family relationship with a U.S. citizen:

  • Spouse of a U.S. citizen
  • Unmarried child under 21 years of age of a U.S. citizen
  • Parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old
  • Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen
  • Orphan to be adopted in the U.S. by a U.S. citizen
  • Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (older than 21 Years of Age)
  • Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
  • Sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens

The following are the categories of relatives who may be eligible for an immigrant visa based on a family relationship with a U.S. green card holder (permanent resident):

  • Spouses and children of permanent residents;
  • Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of permanent residents: 

Certain relatives may be eligible for adjustment status while in the United States while relatives outside the U.S. will have to go through consular processing, which entails applying for and securing an immigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy overseas. 

Refugee status for Ukrainians and Russians

Ukrainians arriving in the U.S. after April 11, 2022, will not be eligible for TPS. Anyone who is still overseas may qualify as a refugee. Under U.S. law, a “refugee” is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to their home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on their race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin. Refugee status will not grant immediate entry to the U.S. It is commonly a two to five-year process for refugees to come to the U.S.

However, if the individual is already in the United States on a temporary visa or Humanitarian Parole, they may be eligible to apply for asylum. Those granted asylum will be allowed to stay in the United States indefinitely. Asylees are eligible for permission to work and are allowed to apply for a green card within one year of being approved for asylum. To qualify for asylum, an applicant must show that: 

  • You are unable or unwilling to return to your home country because you have been persecuted there in the past or have a well-founded fear that you will be persecuted if you go back.
  • The reason you have been (or will be) persecuted is connected to one of five things: your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or your political opinion.

Asylum is a long and difficult process and most individuals would need to work with an experienced immigration attorney to apply for asylum. 

B-1/B-2 visas

A foreign national traveling to the United States requires a business visa (B-1) or a visitor visa (B-2) unless they qualify for entry under the Visa Waiver Program. To apply for a B-1/B-2 visa, an individual must do so at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate closest to where they are currently living. 

U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) retains the right to deny entry at the border and the visitor must be properly vaccinated per CDC requirements. CBP may ask for proof that the stay is temporary and that the visitor has sufficient money to live on while they are visiting; if the visitor is unable to provide satisfactory answers, they may be denied entry.

Some other visa options that may apply:

Visas and Permanent Residence through employment  

Russian and Ukrainian professionals may also be eligible for employment-based nonimmigrant visa options such as H-1B, L-1, O-1, or P-1. Most work visa petitions require an employer, who will sponsor the professional for a visa.

Russian and Ukrainian professionals may also be eligible for an employment-based, second preference (EB-2) or employment-based third (EB-3) permanent worker visa if they are a member of a profession and have an employer willing to sponsor them for permanent residence.

F-1 student visa

To qualify for an F-1 student visa, a person must be enrolled as a full-time student and must either be proficient in English or enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency. In addition, the individual must have proof of financial resources to support their study in the United States.

The MHB Immigration Group

Our Seattle immigration attorneys guide our clients through the immigration process, ensuring that each case progresses as smoothly as possible. We take the time to understand our clients’ needs - from support on a specific issue to comprehensive assistance preparing and filing a case – and then develop creative solutions to address all concerns.

At MacDonald Hoague and Bayless, our attorneys care deeply about immigration and the needs of our clients. We stay on top of all immigration laws and are active in the community, including speaking at local and national immigration law forums, writing articles on pressing legal issues, and teaching immigration law at local academic institutions. We provide assistance and ensure that our clients are given regular updates about their case.

MHB Attorney Lola Zakharova also speaks Russian. 

To speak with an attorney as soon as possible, call us at 206-622-1604 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Pacific Time, Monday through Friday or send an email to info@mhb.com.

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