The Biden administration will grant temporary protection from deportation to tens of thousands of Ukrainians who are already living in the U.S.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday that it has designated Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. That will allow an estimated 30,000 Ukrainians who are temporarily living or studying in the U.S. to stay and work legally for 18 months.
“Russia’s premeditated and unprovoked attack on Ukraine has resulted in an ongoing war, senseless violence, and Ukrainians forced to seek refuge in other countries,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a statement. “In these extraordinary times, we will continue to offer our support and protection to Ukrainian nationals in the United States.”
The White House had been under growing pressure from immigrant advocates and lawmakers not to deport Ukranians back to a war-torn country. Earlier this week, dozens of senators signed a letter urging the Biden administration to designate Ukraine for TPS — and asking the administration not to force Ukranians to “return to a war zone.”
Senator Robert Menendez,D-N.J., the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised the move.
“Ensuring approximately 30,000 Ukrainians in the United States can receive the protection they deserve, and have the opportunity to work and live in the United States without fear of returning to a country under siege, is absolutely the right and moral thing to do,” Menendez said in a statement.
TPS will only be granted to Ukrainians who were already present in the U.S. on March 1, according to DHS. That means it will not apply to more than a million Ukrainians who’ve left to seek refugee in neighboring European countries since the Russian invasion began.
TPS is intended to protect citizens from countries where armed conflict or natural disasters make it unsafe. It does not provide a pathway to permanent residency.
But critics say the program has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to stay in the U.S. indefinitely while TPS is extended — and warned that this time would be no different.
Immigrant advocates hailed the move — while also calling on the U.S. to do more for Ukrainian refugees.
“Protecting Ukrainian families from deportation is the least we can do amid a Russian onslaught that has targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, in a statement.
The decision to grant TPS to Ukrainians is “an important move that speaks to our history as a safe haven for those facing oppression,” said Ali Noorani, the head of the National Immigration Forum, in a statement. But at the same time, Noorani urged the administration to “prioritize rebuilding our refugee resettlement infrastructure and capacity, to continue our legacy as a welcoming beacon of democracy.”