As Russian troops march through Ukraine, Ukrainians in the U.S. are anxious about their future and that of their homeland.
Roman Korol, a graduate student at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, is concerned for his family’s safety here in the U.S. when his visa expires and his extended family in Ukraine.
“They're all in Ukraine. They're all under fire. They're all civilians. But that doesn't stop me from worrying about them every day, every second of this conflict. I'm stressed. I'm checking the news all the time and trying to find ways I can help from abroad,” he told VOA.
Korol is one of about 105,000 Ukrainians in the U.S. under a noncitizen status, which includes visa holders, undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients. His nonimmigrant student visa allows him to live in the United States while studying at a U.S. institution.
"As soon as I'm done [with] my studies, as soon as I graduate, and then become a doctor of philosophy, I have to leave the U.S. within, I believe, it's two or three months. … I was thinking of coming back there after I finished my degree. But at the moment, the situation is so severe that, you know, there are no flights to Ukraine,” said Korol, who is expected to graduate this year.
Temporary Protected Status
These uncertainties, coupled with the magnitude of the conflict, have led some immigration rights groups to call for Ukraine to be given Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to ensure safety for Ukrainians in American soil.
Lisa Parisio, an immigration attorney with Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said the responsibility of designating a country with TPS lies with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
“That is a designation that the secretary of homeland security can make for an entire country — a blanket protection for nationals if there are conditions in a country that makes safe returning impossible, including armed conflict and other extraordinary and temporary conditions, which we are seeing in Ukraine right now,” Parisio told VOA.
TPS was a program started in 1990 when Congress said the attorney general had the authority to not deport immigrants in the United States who were unable to safely return to their home countries. It has been subsequently applied in countries embroiled in conflict such as Syria, South Sudan and Haiti.
If applied to Ukraine, Parisio said, the designation would provide protection from deportation for Ukrainian nationals in the United States for up to 18 months. And it also can provide work permits for people, if they choose to apply for them.
According to the U.S. Census' 2019 American Community Survey, there are about 105,000 Ukrainian noncitizens in the United States who would benefit from TPS.
Returning is possible
Andrii Umanskyi, a second-year student at American University in Washington, is in a state of disbelief over the Russian invasion.
“I'm feeling partially anxious. Even though the invasion was expected by most Ukrainians, who were receiving a lot of reports about Russian troops' movements, and the Ukrainian army was preparing for it, in spite of that, it is still quite shocking to see your own country being invaded,” he said.
Recently, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators called on President Joe Biden and Mayorkas to grant Temporary Protected Status to Ukraine, writing in a letter: "It is obviously too dangerous for Ukrainian nationals to return to Ukraine due to the ongoing armed conflict.”
When asked for comment, the Department of Homeland Security told VOA that while it was monitoring the situation in Ukraine, it could not say whether a decision had been made.
Umanskyi said that although protection would be welcome, returning to Ukraine would always be an option.
“I do intend to go back to Ukraine, no matter the outcome, but I would really prefer to go back to an independent and sovereign Ukraine with all its territories,” he said.
Umanskyi said the conflict only strengthened his determination to assist his country, however he can.
“Ukrainians need support now more than ever before,” he said.
VOA's Aline Barros contributed to this report.