Ukrainians Sue USCIS For Immediate Work Access

Law360 (August 18, 2022, 4:39 PM EDT) — Ukrainians who came to the U.S. after Russia invaded their homeland accused U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of forcing them to apply for work permits in an alleged violation of legislation that offers immediate work eligibility.

More than 170 Ukrainians told an Illinois federal court that the U.S. Congress had given them the same benefits available to refugees when lawmakers passed a $20 billion military aid package in May, which included the ability to work in the U.S. immediately after arrival without paying a fee.

Despite lawmakers’ “plain” command, USCIS Director Ur Jaddou has required them to undergo a months-long process of applying for employment authorization and pay the accompanying $410 application fee, the Ukrainians said in a Wednesday complaint obtained by Law360.

The Ukrainians’ attorney, Jesse Bless, told Law360 on Thursday that his clients were “simply” asking USCIS to apply the law, known as the Additional Ukraine Supplement Appropriations Act, or the Ukraine Refugee Act, as it was intended.

“Imagine going to a totally new country after war destroyed your homeland … and you can’t work,” Bless said. “Congress recognized that issue and took care of it.”

The complaint is not publicly available on the court’s docket, as is typical for many immigration cases filed in federal courts.

The Ukrainians argued that Congress had clearly provided them with free, immediate access to work permits when it said they “shall be eligible” for refugee benefits in the Ukrainian supplemental.

If Congress hadn’t intended on giving them work permits, it would have said so, the Ukrainians said, pointing out that lawmakers had included a “clarification” section in the supplemental that cut them off from certain refugee benefits, such as the ability to apply for a green card after one year in the U.S. The “clarifications” don’t list work permits, the Ukrainians said.

“Congress … was so careful because they wanted to give Ukrainians all the benefits of refugees, except green cards … It shows you they took benefits off the table and employment isn’t one of them,” Bless said.

The U.S. has accepted over 100,000 Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion and continues to parole more into the country. The plaintiffs seek to represent a proposed class of parolees who came or will come to the country between Feb. 24 and Sept. 30, 2023, but have yet to receive their work permit.

To protect the interests of that group, the Ukrainians called on the court to certify their complaint as a class action, declare that USCIS violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to provide them with immediate work permit access and to order the agency to stop charging them the $410 filing fee.

USCIS didn’t respond to a Thursday request for comment.

The Ukrainians are represented by Jesse Bless of Wasden Bless & Forney LLC.

Counsel information for USCIS wasn’t available Thursday.

The case is Shumilina et al. v. Ur Jaddou, case number 1:22-cv-04376, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

–Editing by Alyssa Miller.

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