Milwaukee-area Ukrainians want family to resettle here, but US not relaxing refugee process yet

NOW: Milwaukee-area Ukrainians want family to resettle here, but US not relaxing refugee process yet

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Some Ukrainian Americans in Wisconsin are trying to get family members out of harm's way and to the United States. But it may not happen for some time as the federal government waits to see how the situation unfolds.

The numbers are staggering: in the first two weeks of the war, more than 2.5 million Ukrainians fled the country, most of them to surrounding countries.

One woman in the Milwaukee area is trying to get her sister to come here, but so far the US has not relaxed the formal refugee application process.

1.5 million refugees have fled to Poland, 225 thousand to Hungary, and 176 thousand to Slovakia. But so far this year, only a few hundred Ukrainian refugees have resettled in the United States, and they likely started the process a year or two ago, well before the Russian invasion.

Theresa Cardinal Brown is the Managing Director of Immigration and Cross-Border Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. She said, "It is not a speedy thing. We have had Ukrainian refugees in our pipeline for a while. We settled about less than 700 Ukrainians this year through that formalized program."

Cardinal Brown is a former immigration official with the Department of Homeland Security. She said each year the president decides how many refugees the United States will accept from around the world.

This year it's 125 thousand total refugees, and 10 thousand from Europe, including Ukraine and Russia. Cardinal Brown said, "But we can add more if needed. The downside of that is that the refugee process is a slow process. From the time a refugee is identified to be potentially resettled to United States it can take 18 months."

The process involves interviews, security screenings, medical checks and other bureaucratic steps.

One Milwaukee-area woman we've spoken with in the past wants to get her sister out of Ukraine and to Wisconsin, but fears her options are limited. Immigrant visas for family members are available, but there are long wait times and a growing backlog, and rules are unlikely to be relaxed right now.

And while Wisconsin organizations may want to help, they have to wait. One group in Racine that helped resettle Afghan refugees last winter said they're monitoring things, but have not yet heard from the federal government.

Cardinal Brown said, "If we open up some of these other avenues that are a little less formal or temporary, it would enable Ukrainians to join family already in the United States. So if there's a large Ukrainian population in Wisconsin, that has relatives they're seeking to get here, if any of these other avenues open up, they could certainly be able to join their family at that point."

Theresa Cardinal Brown says the best way to help is to support the UNHCR, which is the UN refugee agency. More information on how to donate or offer other support can be found here.

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