The US expects to absorb up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing Russia's invasion and has pledged $1 billion in fresh humanitarian help, according to the Biden administration, after a month of bombardments triggered Europe's fastest-moving refugee crisis since WWII ended.
The declaration came as US President Joe Biden met in Brussels with European leaders to coordinate the Western reaction to the situation.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, more than 3.5 million people have left, putting a strain on the neighbouring European countries that have taken them in.
Biden has been challenged by US legislators and supporters to do more to assist individuals seeking asylum in the United States.
According to confidential US State Department data reviewed by Reuters, seven Ukrainian refugees were relocated in the United States in the first two weeks of March.
Some Ukrainians have flown to Mexico in order to claim refuge in the United States at the southwest border.
A senior Biden administration official said the administration still expects many Ukrainians to choose to stay in Europe near their home country, but that the US commitment to take in more refugees would relieve some of the pressure on European countries that are currently hosting the majority of refugees fleeing the conflict, which Russia refers to as a "special military operation."
"We know that some Ukrainians who have left may seek to come to the United States temporarily," the official said on condition of anonymity to reporters.
In a statement, the Biden administration said it would employ "the entire spectrum of legal channels" to bring Ukrainians to America, including the US refugee resettlement programme, which offers a road to citizenship.
According to a senior administration official, Ukrainians may enter through existing visa pathways and a relief programme known as "humanitarian parole," which enables people into the country on an emergency basis, as part of the endeavour. According to the Biden administration, Ukrainians with family connections in the United States will be prioritised.
Before the Ukraine issue occurred, Biden led the greatest US resettlement initiative since the Vietnam War, welcoming nearly 80,000 Afghans after US forces departed Afghanistan after 20 years of war, many of whom arrived through mass airlift.
The 100,000 Ukrainians, unlike the Afghans, would not necessarily be permitted into the US all at once or even within the current fiscal year, which runs until the end of September, according to a US official.
According to data analysed by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a Washington-based research tank, some 355,000 Ukrainian immigrants’ dwell in the United States.
Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at MPI, said the additional US promises were good, but that "there are a lot of uncertainties" about how much and how quickly they could help.
Biden, a Democrat, set a goal of resettling 125,000 refugees this fiscal year, which began in October, a significant increase above outgoing President Donald Trump, a Republican, who cut refugee numbers drastically. However, because to COVID-19 delays and other obstacles, only about 6,500 refugees from around the world have been allowed, falling short of Biden's target.
The administration will work to expedite the processing of family-based visas for permanent residency for Ukrainians with relatives in the United States.
However, putting Ukrainians through these legal channel’s risks adding to the already massive backlog of unprocessed visa applications, according to Gelatt.
The humanitarian parole programme, which the administration may use for Ukrainians, does not grant permanent residency in the United States, so those who arrive through that method risk an unclear future.