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Backlog at USCIS means refugees are waiting months before being able to work, attorney says

A Ukrainian woman who fled to Belmont now may have to wait up to 10 months before she can legally work in America.

BELMONT, N.C. — Ukrainians fleeing to America for safety are running into another roadblock when they get here. Their efforts to build a new life are thwarted by backlogs at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, causing work authorization cards to be delayed by months.

Among them is Karyna Kamyshan, who escaped war-torn Ukraine for Belmont in June. She is now reunited with a Belmont family she met as a child living in a Ukrainian orphanage.

“Of course, I feel like I’m at home with family," Kamyshan said through a translator. "The family really loves me and accepted me well."

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Rebecca Adams couldn’t adopt Kamyshan when she met her as a child but stayed in touch. Even though they’re not officially a family, Kamyshan came to live with Adams under a U.S. humanitarian parole program called Uniting for Ukraine.

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“We hadn’t seen each other in eight years," Adams said. "When I saw her in the airport walking down, I cried. It was happy tears. It was so good to see her and know that she is safe and that she’s sleeping without being woken up every single night by sirens.”

Kamyshan's journey to a new life is not over yet.  

A backlog at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services means it could take up to 10 months for Kamyshan to receive a work authorization card. Immigration attorney Mercey Cauley said this is not uncommon. 

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“With COVID going on and also there was a hiring freeze within Homeland security," Cauley said. "With those two things happening at the same time, USCIS just became very backed up."

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“She's eager and excited to work," Adams said. "She’s hoping to make money to be able to send to her boyfriend, who’s still in Ukraine, and for her future. She doesn’t want to be a charity case. She truly wants to work and she’s used to working.” 

UCSIS statement to WCNC Charlotte

"USCIS has extended immigration help to those affected by the invasion of Ukraine by expediting the adjudication of petitions or applications, including employment authorization applications, when appropriate. USCIS has received approximately 10,000 EAD applications since March 24 from Ukrainians who have been paroled into the United States. Agency adjudicators evaluate every petition and application fairly, humanely, and efficiently on a case-by-case basis before issuing a determination, and the agency remains committed to upholding America’s promise as a nation of welcome and possibility with fairness, integrity, and respect for all we serve.

USCIS is committed to increasing access to eligible immigration benefits and reducing unnecessary burdens in the immigration system. We’re currently working to streamline the application and processing of employment authorization (EADs) for noncitizens paroled into the United States on humanitarian grounds, including Afghan and Ukrainian nationals.

This is consistent with USCIS’ efforts to deliver on President Biden’s Executive Order on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans. USCIS has set new agency-wide backlog reduction goals, which includes a strong focus on EAD processing. The agency has temporarily suspended biometrics requirements for extensions of stay for certain nonimmigrant dependents – allowing them quicker access to employment authorization; increased the validity period of several EAD categories from one to two years (including for asylees and refugees); expanded automatic EAD extensions to various nonimmigrant classifications; announced an update to consider certain nonimmigrant dependent spouses employment authorized without having to apply for an EAD; created efficiencies by introducing online filing for OPT-related employment authorization; and implemented free expedited processing for healthcare and childcare workers who have a pending EAD application for renewal with employment authorization that is expired or near expiration.

Successes in reducing processing times more generally include: Cutting the naturalization queue by 14% from January to September 2021; reducing the number of pending biometrics appointments from 1.4 million in January 2021 to 7,000 as of May 2022; and fully eliminating the “front-log” of cases awaiting intake processing (which was more than one million receipts in January 2021 and was eliminated by July 2021)."

Contact Indira Eskieva at ieskieva@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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