Jewish Family Services has assisted fewer than a dozen Ukrainian Jewish families who have fled to Wisconsin since the outbreak of war, because only that small amount have sought assistance so far.
JFS is available to assist more families and if you’re aware of newcomers, you’re invited to connect them with JFS.
“If you’re Ukrainian and you’re coming to the United States, typically you’re going to want to go somewhere with a family tie, so we haven’t worked with anybody yet who did not have some sort of family,” said Director of Social Services Kevin Boland.
That hasn’t added up to a lot of families, but JFS has been there for those in need, Boland said. One group, for example, was a friend of a friend, caught vacationing in Mexico at the onset of the war. Another family came to the Milwaukee area in stages, to stay in a small apartment, and has been assisted by JFS.
Families are assisted by JFS’s Jewish community case manager, with support from the nonprofit’s Social Services for Russian Speaking group. For Ukrainians, speaking Russian is typically a good alternative, because there are similarities in the languages and Ukrainians have been exposed to Russian media and culture.
Assistance has included food, gift cards, financial assistance and connections with other resources. With financial assistance from Milwaukee Jewish Federation, JFS is helping one family with a bid for asylum; the attorney fees are costly.
Ukrainians fleeing war who seek to stay in America for any length of time must work with a difficult American immigration system, according to John A. Yopps, president and chief executive officer of JFS.
“We wish there was one transparent process that was well defined and well described and understood by everyone,” Yopps said.
Here are key options for Ukrainians who seek to stay in America for a period of time:
- Some Ukrainians have come on temporary visas, like as tourists, students or for business. They can seek “asylum” but doing so can take a great deal of time and money.
- Some, but not all, Ukrainians may seek Temporary Protected Status, which allows them to stay in the United States for 6–18 months, which can be extended.
- President Biden’s Uniting for Ukraine program allows people in America to sponsor Ukrainians. The Ukrainians are then granted a “humanitarian parole” status that allows them to stay temporarily.
Among the issues is that it’s often not easy or even possible to switch from one immigration path to another. JFS works with families to advise and refer on immigration issues.
If you’re aware of a family in need, connect Beth Mumper, the Jewish community case manager, at 414-225-1347 or EMumper@JfsMilw.org.