ST. LOUIS — As Ukrainian families continue to escape the Russian invasion of their homeland, those displaced by the conflict need help to resettle elsewhere.
The United States is among the countries that are welcoming Ukrainian refugees, and Americans can help by becoming refugee sponsors. There has been an increase in demand for sponsors since the Uniting for Ukraine program was launched in April.
North America for Ukraine is a non-government organization that seeks to help Ukrainians seeking refuge in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
The Uniting for Ukraine program is unique, according to Tamithy McCoon, an administrator with North American for Ukraine said.
"It is the first and only time that the U.S. government has required private sponsorship from individuals rather than letting Refugee Resettlement Groups handle the placement," McCoon said. "Without a sponsor, there is no pathway for Ukrainians to get to the U.S. under the Uniting for Ukraine program."
North America for Ukraine runs background checks on and verifies the identities of sponsors to protect refugees from trafficking, McCoon said. The group also uses volunteer coordinators to match each sponsor with a Ukrainian family.
"We currently have a little over 1,000 Ukrainian families waiting on sponsors; families, not individuals," McCoon said. "The list grows longer every single day."
The organization put together a guide for Americans who are willing to help. You can find that guide here.
There has been a high demand for American sponsors, the organization said.
Americans willing to be a sponsor can fill out a North America for Ukraine form here.
The form asks for basic contact information and a Facebook profile link to connect you with refugees. It also asks how many refugees you can accommodate and for how long.
After filling out the form here's what you can expect:
- You will identify one or more persons to sponsor with assistance from North America for Ukraine. They will start by describing the family’s needs to you and sending photos.
- North America for Ukraine completes background checks on the sponsors and provides the support through the matching process.
- Upon your approval of an initial meeting, they will connect you to start text communication via messaging. A few topics we recommend discussing include:
- Available room and board
- Available social services (healthcare, refugee support, child care)
- Transportation to the US — when can you travel?
- Transportation within the host city — what is needed and what is available.
- Anticipated length of stay
- Employment opportunities
- Cultural and social opportunities
- Availability to help with completing appropriate forms
- Family histories
- Likes and dislikes, such as habits and hobbies
- Shared household expectations
- We encourage a dialogue about what sponsors expect from Ukrainians as house guests, and what Ukrainians expect to establish their own independence and lifestyle. It is important to be open and honest to help avoid conflicts later.
- A video call with a home tour will then be scheduled, and North America for Ukraine has a translator available for these.
- Once both you and your sponsoring family agree on the match, complete the I-134 form and submit it to USCIS. You will be asked to provide financial information, bank statements, and tax returns. You will be asked how you can provide housing and groceries for the newly arriving family because they will not receive work authorization for up to six months. (It is always a good idea to work with a group to create a plan for housing, grocery gift cards, and one-on-one support to fill out the required paperwork when they arrive.)
- Await government approval. Getting approved with the sponsor side 2-5 days. You have to login to see if your application has been approved. You will not receive an email notification.
- Beneficiary (the Ukrainian family you are sponsoring) completes their part of the paperwork online.
- Await travel authorization.
- Make travel arrangements with your sponsored family (no funds available and this is an agreement between the sponsor and the refugee family. If you do purchase plane tickets, it is advised to never send money and book the travel arrangements yourself).
- Pick up your sponsored family from the airport on their arrival date.
The process described above can take anywhere from 15-60 days. Yes, that is correct!