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Washington State News

Ukrainians Refugees in Washington Scramble for Work Authorization

The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Hundreds of Ukrainians have recently found refuge in Washington state but are still facing the challenge of being able to work to provide for themselves here.

Oleg Pynda, founder and executive director of the Ukrainian Community Center of Washington (UCCWA), says that Ukrainians now coming into the U.S. are facing the challenge of being able to procure work authorizations that allow them provide for themselves and their families.

Prior to the  Russian invasion of the Ukraine, the time length to obtain refugee status and be admitted into the country was sometimes more than two years, according to Pynda. Admission is faster now, though they are being let in under a different status

“Since a little bit has changed, [Ukrainians] are allowed to be admitted to the U.S. as humanitarian parolees,” Pynda said. “There is a huge difference between being admitted as a ‘refugee,’ which gives you work authorization and the ability to adjust status for a green card versus a ‘humanitarian parolee’ who is here for one year.”

Humanitarian parolees are eligible to apply for work authorization, but it is not a free process. The application fee is $410 and another $85 for fingerprints. On top of that, the time for the application to be processed and work authorization granted takes at least six months, according to Pynda.

The UCCWA has been helping the incoming Ukrainians with the application for work authorizations for free. The organization has also been trying to help Ukrainians by connecting them to shelter and host-families.

Pynda says that the UCCWA has received “tremendous help from the mayor and the Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs (OIRA),” as well as aid from Seattle and its neighboring cities. 

Hamdi Mohamed, the Acting Director of OIRA, presented the priorities of the office for the 2022 year to the Neighborhoods, Education, Civil Rights and Culture Committee on April 8. OIRA was granted an annual budget of $5.7 million from general funds and grants to help aid refugees coming to Seattle.

According to Mohamed, Seattle is home to one of the largest populations of immigrants and refugees. As for Ukrainians coming to Seattle, Mohamed said that OIRA “has been committed to taking action to protect and address the needs of our Ukrainian community.”

OIRA recently held a webinar on immigration legal options for those impacted by the crisis in Ukraine with over 150 participants.

“Our goal for us was to provide accurate information out to our legal service providers, advocates and members of the Ukrainian community and the discussion was centered around temporary protected status [for the refugees],” Mohamed said in a presentation.

OIRA started a “New Citizenship Campaign” that UCCWA is a member of. The goal is to make it easier for eligible residents to obtain citizenship.

“There are currently more than 100,000 immigrants and refugees in King County that are eligible to become citizens…this program is ensuring that we provide free services to low income immigrant and refugee communities living in the Seattle area,” Mohamed said.

As the process for Ukrainians to receive work authorization continues to drag, Pynda says that Ukrainians do not want to rely solely on greater community support, but want to support themselves.

“Ukrainians are not here to rely on public assistance,” Pynda pleaded. “They are hard working people who love to work and are looking for job opportunities so give them their chance.”