Ukrainians who fled the war wait to hear how long they can stay

Ukrainians who fled the war wait to hear how long they can stay in the U.S.
Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 7:28 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - This February will mark the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but that’s not the timeline many of the Ukrainians who fled to this country are keeping a close eye on.

One big deadline will happen at the end of the week.

If Congress doesn’t renew funding for the program called Uniting for Ukraine, people who arrive after Sept. 30 will no longer receive the benefits that earlier Ukrainians received to help them resettle.

State Refugee Coordinator Issa Spatrisano, who works with Catholic Social Services, said the benefits include things like case management, help with housing and employment as well as Medicaid and food stamps.

“There is a lot of concern about what will happen in the next few days for any new arrivals that may be coming in October,” Spatrisano said. “They can still arrive through the Uniting for Ukraine program, but they’re going to do so without any extra benefits or any extra supports. It would simply be on the backs of their sponsors to care for them, so it would be very different from the way the system has been operating for the last two years.”

A bigger concern for Ukrainians who are already in the country is how long they’ll be able to stay.

Spatrisano said right now the Uniting for Ukraine program limits stays to just two years. In Alaska, she said, some Ukrainians who arrived early in the war would need to leave in March.

The situation is causing stress for people who don’t know what the future will bring as well as employers who would like Ukrainian workers to stay.

“The war doesn’t seem to be ending and that timeline is coming up,” said Spatrisano. “So there is a lot of concern... ‘Am I going to have to go home? Am I going to be able to stay? What will it look like if I get to stay? What immigration process will I have to use? And we are waiting for that kind of information — we don’t have it yet.”

Spatrisano said she doesn’t believe the Biden administration would force Ukrainians to return to their country while it is still at war and has confidence that things will eventually be worked out. She hopes that will happen sooner rather than later to help ease the stress many Ukrainians are feeling with an uncertain future ahead.