The Department of Homeland Security has approved nearly 6,000 visas for Ukrainians which allow them to fly into U.S. airports then stay with a U.S. sponsor family, the agency said.
The visas are approved after Ukrainians fleeing the war file an application through an online portal known as Uniting for Ukraine, launched April 25 as part of President Biden’s promise to allow 100,000 Ukrainians resettle in the U.S.
But the launch of the online portal comes with the closing of the Tijuana port of entry for Ukrainians. Many had been taking the dangerous and unlawful route of first traveling to Mexico on tourist visas, then camping out and waiting for Border Patrol to transport them from Tijuana to California. But on April 25 border agents began turning away Ukrainians who tried to enter this way, after allowing about 20,000 in at the southern border previously.
Uniting for Ukraine is now the only way for refugees fleeing Russian aggression to apply for humanitarian parole, though some have criticized the program due to its lengthy paperwork and the fact that it requires reliable internet access to complete.
Ukrainian refugees participating in the program began arriving on Friday, DHS said in a statement.
U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services has had more than 19,000 requests from Americans who say they are willing to open their homes to refugees as their sponsors.
About 5.9 million of Ukraine’s 44 million population has fled since Vladimir Putin’s invasion, according to the United Nations, with the majority making their way to eastern European nations like Poland and Romania.
Thousands of Ukrainians made a mad dash for the border in Tijuana just ahead of the April 25 deadline, before the official process was put in place. That day the Biden administration reintroduced the Title 42 health order for Ukrainian refugees, halting entries to the US without prior application.
The Biden administration had tried to end Title 42 beginning May 23, but that move has been stalled by a federal court amid lawsuits from states who say ending the pandemic-era immigration restriction will exacerbate the onslaught of migrants at the southern border.
A record 2.4 million migrants have come in contact with agents at the southern border since President Biden took office in late January 2021. In March 221,000 migrants were apprehended, nearly a 20-year high.