Almost 2,000 lawyers from 76 firms and 38 companies are volunteering to assist undocumented Ukrainians in securing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States. More than 34,000 Ukrainians living in the U.S. are eligible to apply for TPS, which provides deportation relief and work permits to immigrants who cannot return safely to their country due to extraordinary circumstances, such as violent conflict. The Biden administration is expected to extend TPS to Ukrainians for 18 months.
Lawyer volunteer efforts have been organized by one of the largest law firms in the U.S., Kirkland and Ellis, as well as the non-profit Lawyers for Good Government. Jacqueline Haberfeld, Kirkland’s pro bono counsel and coordinator of the Ukraine effort, said that volunteer lawyers are present to help Ukrainians navigate the immigration relief process. Haberfeld explained that Ukrainian immigrants will likely have “questions about the questions” on the forms they will need to complete and that volunteer lawyers will help to advise them, according to Reuters. Each application is expected to take 5-10 hours of attorney time, according to Kirkland’s website.
Oddly, though, Ukrainians who arrived in the U.S. after March 1, 2022 will not be eligible to apply for TPS. Most undocumented Ukrainians living in the U.S. arrived after Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. The majority of Ukrainians who will be eligible to apply for TPS are those who have been in the U.S. for years and who have overstayed student, tourist, or work visas, according to Kirkland’s website. Three quarters of these Ukrainians are currently working in the U.S.
Julianne Sharp, immigration practice lead at Miller Canfield, cautioned Ukrainian refugees not to expect to come to the U.S. permanently. Sharp stated that if you plan to apply for more permanent status in the U.S., it is better to have a claim for asylum, because “U.S. immigration laws are very strict,” according to Kirkland’s website. Any Ukrainian refugee who has already made it the U.S. would likely not count as an asylum seeker.