Editor’s note: This sponsored article was contributed by attorney Charles Kuck as part of Kuck Baxter Immigration’s annual partnership with Global Atlanta.
Any win feels like a triumph in an immigration case – even if only on paper. A few months ago, Kuck Baxter Immigration Partners LLC was part of a legal team that won a case for all the Ukrainian refugees seeking to work in the United States. But the fight continues.
After Congress passed the Uniting for Ukraine Act in 2022, private U.S. citizens were able to sponsor refugees for the first time in history. The wildly successful program allowed Ukrainian refugees fleeing war in their country to receive all the benefits that other refugees to the U.S. receive, short of a green card. This included permission to work in the U.S.
Thinking they needed official work permission, however, thousands of Ukrainians and their employers applied for work permits through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and were charged $410 each.
Ironically, by U.S. law, refugees are not required to get work permits. But, if they or their employers do want to get a permit, it is granted free of charge.
We contacted USCIS in May 2022 to request a change in the USCIS policy under the Uniting for Ukraine Act that would make work permits free for Ukrainian refugees. We tried to bring pressure both through the press and social media for several months to get them to change the policy, but to no avail.
So, in September 2022, we sued them on behalf of at least 220,000 Ukrainians who had paid a total of some $90 million to the USCIS for unnecessary work permits. Essentially, these refugees and their U.S. citizen sponsors had been ripped off by the U.S. government.
Our lawsuit required USCIS to respond by Nov. 23, 2022. Just in time, on Nov. 21, 2022, USCIS issued a new policy, declaring work permits free of charge for Ukrainian refugees.
A huge win, right? Well, almost…
We filed a suit and it worked; the government acquiesced. It was a victory for Ukrainian refugees who had been sponsored by churches and friends and were waiting – many not working – for their permits.
Immigration services had knowingly misinterpreted the law, and it took a lawsuit to force them to do the right thing and change the policy to make work permits free of charge.
What about those 220,000 Ukrainians who had paid $410 each for their work permits? Would they get their money back?
Unfortunately, no. USCIS has declared that it believes it gets to keep that money.
So, now, we have filed another suit to require USCIS to reimburse the $90 million that the government took from those refugees.
We believe we will be able to recover this money from the USCIS. But either way, we do know that stealing from refugees is not a good look for the Biden administration.