The United States is shielding Ukrainian citizens already in the country from deportation, as the Russian invasion continues to drive hundreds of thousands of people out of Ukraine.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Thursday that it was extending temporary protected status (TPS) to Ukrainians for 18 months because of the “ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions” in the country.
The decision comes after immigration advocates and US legislators called on President Joe Biden to protect Ukrainians who are in the US on a temporary basis, such as students and visitors.
“Russia’s premeditated and unprovoked attack on Ukraine has resulted in an ongoing war, senseless violence, and Ukrainians forced to seek refuge in other countries,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement announcing the decision.
“In these extraordinary times, we will continue to offer our support and protection to Ukrainian nationals in the United States.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer welcomed the announcement, saying he had been pushing for the TPS designation. “The United States stands with the people of Ukraine,” the senator wrote on Twitter.
Earlier this week, more than 40 members of the US House of Representatives also signed a letter urging Biden to designate Ukraine for TPS.
Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin, one of the letter’s signatories, lauded the TPS designation on Thursday. “It is a privilege to support Ukrainians here as they defend democracy against fascist aggression,” he tweeted.
Russia launched an all-out invasion on Ukraine last week, which DHS described on Thursday as “the largest conventional military action in Europe since World War II”.
The department said Ukrainians who have been in the US as recently as March 1 will be eligible for protection. The designation also allows Ukrainians to apply for work permits.
As the war entered its eighth day on Thursday, Russian forces captured the strategic southern port city of Kherson and encircled Mariupol to the east as they pushed to capture urban centres across the country, including the capital Kyiv.
The fighting has pushed one million Ukrainians to flee the country in search of safety so far, according to the United Nations.
The conflict has spurred the US and its allies to issue significant sanctions against Russian banks and industries.
Earlier on Thursday, the Biden administration announced new sanctions targeting wealthy elites in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, as well as Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov.
“In the State of the Union address, I announced that the Department of Justice is going after the crimes of Russian oligarchs … who line their pockets with Russian peoples’ money while [the Ukrainian people] are hiding in the subway from Russian missiles that are being fired indiscriminately,” Biden said ahead of a cabinet meeting.