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What can the US do to roll out the welcome mat for Ukrainian refugees?

Launching and scaling up a program for ordinary Americans to sponsor refugees must be a priority.

Zinaida Pivtsova, 75, who fled the war in Ukraine, wipes away tears inside a sports stadium of a high school in Przemysl, southeastern Poland, where refugees are taking shelter, on March 18.Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press

The pace at which Ukrainian refugees are fleeing their country due to the Russian invasion has been astonishing. In less than a month, roughly 3 million Ukrainians have left, mainly to neighboring countries in the European Union. In a heart-wrenching statistic, UNICEF estimates that a Ukrainian child has become a refugee almost every single second since the war began.

The willingness of the international community to help in the face of such humanitarian disaster has been impressive. Even European countries that have been previously hostile to refugees from Syria and African countries — looking at you, Poland — are opening up their hearts and homes to host Ukrainians who are fleeing.


Americans also want to do their part. To that end, the Biden administration should launch a private sponsorship program to allow ordinary citizens to host refugees, similar to what Britain, Ireland, and Canada already offer. There are doubtlessly many Americans ready to welcome and provide initial support to newly arrived refugees.

By most accounts, though, the US government has not done everything it can to help Ukrainians fleeing the war. As beleaguered and floundering as our immigration system currently is, there are policies that the Biden administration can institute on the margins, such as issuing humanitarian parole visas to Ukrainians that would allow them to remain here for two years.

But even when the US refugee resettlement system is working without delays and at full capacity, which is not the case now, that program is not designed to provide immediate relief in times of fast-developing emergencies. To begin with, the application and vetting process for refugees takes about two years. And in the case of Ukrainian refugees, the vast majority may not even be thinking of leaving Europe just yet unless they have family members in the United States. While the situation in Europe remains in flux, the Biden administration should continue rebuilding the resettlement infrastructure that was so badly and cruelly decimated during the Trump years, along with creating a private sponsorship program.


Some forms of community sponsorship models have been in place in the United States. For instance, there are “sponsor circles” for Afghan refugees. They are part of a resettlement effort led by a group of people who together raise money to pay for the initial resettlement cost and have to undergo training and pass background checks themselves. The sponsor circles program has helped welcome roughly 74,000 Afghans. A similar model should be used for Ukrainians.

As for private sponsorship, refugee advocates and experts expect a pilot program to be in place by the end of the year.

“The program will require certain infrastructure, both in terms of overseeing the processing of cases and what happens on the domestic side with sponsors,” said Elizabeth Foydel, private sponsorship program director at the International Refugee Assistance Project. “That takes time to design and fund.”

The program, Foydel said, will let Americans step up in times of emergencies and crises like Ukraine, while at the same time allowing the public to engage meaningfully with their new neighbors.

And then there are truly novel programs happening elsewhere that the Biden administration should pay attention to as it looks to welcome and integrate refugees. Consider Ireland’s example: The government there, which is expecting an influx of up to 100,000 Ukrainian citizens, announced that Ukrainian refugees who are teachers will be fast-tracked so they can be deployed to teach in the classroom.


Today, it is Ukrainian and Afghan refugees who are forced to flee. But there is a perennial need to provide humanitarian assistance to foreign populations caught in armed conflict. America needs the political will to meet the urgency of the moment, and restore its moral leadership when it comes to humanitarian protection.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.