US and Canada Expand Admission of Ukrainian Refugees

Ukrainian refugees Przemsyl, Poland.


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have created the largest refugee crisis since World War II. The country has seen more than 3.5million Ukrainians flee the country and this number will only continue to grow. Today, the Biden administration announced that 100,000 Ukrainian refugees will be accepted.

According to the Biden administration, it will be welcoming 100,000 Ukrainian refugees as well as other victims of the Russian war in Ukraine. This announcement was made Thursday.

Some will not be accepted through the refugee programme or in this fiscal year. The full spectrum of options will be available to applicants, which include humanitarian parole as well as immigrant (or nonimmigrant) visas.

As was the earlier administration announcement that it would grant “Temporary Protected Status (TPS),” to Ukrainians in the United States as of March 1, this is an important step. Both morally and pragmatically, there is strong support for the admission of Ukrainian refugees. It was outlined in detail in my March 8, 2009, article. New York TimesArticle on this subject.

However, these policies often leave the details to be the most difficult part. It is unclear at this time how the government will admit 100,000 Ukrainians. However, it’s not good news that the majority of them will be granted entry through the regular refugee system. The US has a record low of 11,145 refugee entrants in 2021, even though Biden increased the refugee limit for the year from 15,000 to 62,500. Biden should allow asylum-seeking Ukrainians parole, which will make it easier for them to come to the US. Additionally, the 100,000 cap should be removed.

The White House stated that they would use the full spectrum of legal options, which includes the U.S. “Refugee Admissions Program.” However, it is not yet clear what that actually means.

The Canadian government is now offering a generous program to Ukrainians who fled the conflict. It allows them to stay for as long as 3 years, which can be extended, and also offers work permits. This is similar to policies  adopted earlier by the European Union. One significant shortcoming of such policies is  their temporary nature. This hinders refugees’ assimilation, makes it more difficult for them to find work and reduces their contribution to the economies of destination countries.

Another limitation to the Canadian policy is its requirement that foreign applicants submit fingerprints and “biometrics”. Although this may not sound like much, it is important. It is possible for refugees to find a fingerprinting location that has been certified while they flee a conflict zone. If Canadian authorities truly believe fingerprints to be essential, they should collect them once refugees have arrived in Canada.

It is likely that most Ukrainian refugees will remain in European countries nearer to Ukraine. The US and Canada, however, have large Ukrainian diasporas. They also offer more flexible labor markets than many European countries. These two countries might be more able to accept refugees. As I explain in my NY TimesArticle: If we allow Russian and Ukrainian immigrants to work in our economy, they could be a major contributor to it.

Although they are limited, both the US and Canadian new policies move in the right directions. However, there is much more to do. We must also be open to Russians fleeing Putin’s increasingly oppressive regime. As with the Ukrainian refugees, it is strongly possible to accept Russian migrants from a variety of economic, strategic, and moral grounds.

How about the argument that we shouldn’t open our doors for Russians or Ukrainians but not refugees fleeing persecution and war elsewhere? This is a valid point. This is how I addressed the issue:

Critics might worry about the unfairness of opening doors for Russians and Ukrainians, but not those fleeing oppressive regimes. Several of the European nations now welcoming Ukrainians have been far more hostile to refugees from Africa and the Middle East. I have long advocated welcoming all fleeing oppression, regardless of their race, ethnicity or country of origin, including Syrian refugees and those fleeing China’s cruel regime.

However, the best way to attain equity in this area is not by banning Russians or Ukrainians. But by expanding immigration rights for other people. The best shouldn’t be considered the enemy of good. It is important to seize the opportunity to aid many people suffering from war or oppression as well as secure economic and strategic advantages.