Over the past four weeks, I’ve had many discussions with people looking for visa options for Ukrainian friends and family members. Unfortunately, there are no easy or quick solutions.
On March 24, the Biden administration unveiled plans to expedite the refugee program that would enable 100,000 Ukrainian nationals into the United States. So far, only a brief overview has been released, and it suggests vulnerable groups will be given priority. The administration stated that the full range of immigration programs will be used, and new programs will be developed. I applaud the creative use of existing laws and this fast action by the administration.
However, many people who want to seek safety in the U.S. may not meet the requirements that will be set. So, here are some possibilities for those Ukrainians still trying to find paths into this country, especially those with college degrees and in high-skilled professions.
Ukrainians working for American companies might consider a B-1 business visa to visit the United States. There are a few caveats, of course. This visa is typically used for business meetings, training events, conference attendance, etc., and a person cannot work or be paid if they entered the U.S. on it. Many Ukrainians have been applying for tourist visas (B-2), which has an unflinching requirement that the applicant has a home and a job to return to. But obviously many Ukrainians can’t prove that now. And unless the Biden administration makes some significant adjustments to this visa it’s not a viable option for many. But while many may not have a home to return to, they may still have jobs. It’s worth looking to see if there is an opportunity and a desire from the U.S. employer to help.
Employer-Sponsored Work Visas
There are several work visas such as the H-1B, O-1, J-1, and H-3 that could be considered by U.S. employers seeking to hire Ukrainian nationals — both because there is a labor shortage in the U.S. and many businesses in the U.S. want to help Ukrainian nationals in distress.
The H-1B requires that the job requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and the employee has the corresponding degree for that job. There are timelines to consider as for-profit companies can only apply once a year — that window just closed on March 18. But universities and related nonprofit entities, nonprofit research organizations, and government research organizations can apply any time in the year under the ‘cap-exempt’ H-1B visa program.
Then there’s the O-1 visa, available to those who have reached the highest echelon of their professions and can show they have extraordinary ability.
The J-1 and H-3 visas are training visas. People in the early stages of their careers or those who have not quite finished their college degrees can use these visas to come to the U.S. and learn skills they don’t have. Employers can create training programs depending on what their businesses do.
The best thing about most of these visas is that the employers can expedite the visa application process by paying $2,500 and getting a speedier response. An approval can be as fast as two weeks upon filing. The slowdown will come at the time of seeking a visa appointment at the U.S. embassy. But Ukrainians have been declared stateless which means they can go to any consulate they want; it does not have to be in Europe.
Startup Founders And Employees
1. The International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP)
As someone who frequently works with startup founders and was part of the discussions when the IEP program was created, I think it might be worth considering it as an option. I previously wrote about the IEP here. It’s available to foreign nationals who can prove that their presence in the U.S. will bring significant public benefit. This option is worth considering if the Ukrainian national owns at least 10% equity of the U.S. business and the U.S. business has received at least $264,147 funding from U.S investors. While this particular option may take possibly 10 to 12 months (which is a guestimate since no clear processing times are available), it is still an option worth considering if there is nothing else.
2. The E-2 Treaty Investor Visa
The E-2 visa is a Treaty Investor visa. This is for nationals of countries with which the U.S. has a commercial treaty. Ukraine happens to be one of them. Therefore, Ukrainian nationals can take advantage of this where feasible. In order to qualify, a person must own majority shares of a U.S. business, must invest a substantial amount of funds, typically $100,000, although those funds can be part of a gift or a loan. Though obtaining a visa from an embassy for an E-2 has been incredibly difficult during the COVID-19 era, it is worth considering as an option.
While none of the above visas are generally easy or quick, they are still options that people should know about. U.S. businesses may consider creating a coalition and a specific recruitment effort to see what they can achieve by being creative. Novel problems need novel solutions and not all of them can come from the government.
Tahmina Watson is the founding attorney of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle, where she practices US immigration law focusing on business immigration. She has been blogging about immigration law since 2008 and has written numerous articles in many publications. She is the author of Legal Heroes in the Trump Era: Be Inspired. Expand Your Impact. Change the World and The Startup Visa: Key to Job Growth and Economic Prosperity in America. She is also the founder of The Washington Immigrant Defense Network (WIDEN), which funds and facilitates legal representation in the immigration courtroom, and co-founder of Airport Lawyers, which provided critical services during the early travel bans. Tahmina is regularly quoted in the media and is the host of the podcast Tahmina Talks Immigration. She is a Puget Sound Business Journal 2020 Women of Influence honoree. Business Insider recently named her as one of the top immigration attorneys in the U.S. that help tech startups. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter at @tahminawatson.
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