Ukrainians in U.S. Granted Protected Status. Here’s What That Means for Students

The temporary designation will protect Ukrainian students in the U.S. from deportation, but advocacy groups want the Biden administration to also provide college student-specific relief.
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  • The Biden administration granted temporary protected status to Ukrainians in the U.S.
  • Higher education advocates are still waiting for student-specific guidance.
  • They're pushing for Ukrainian students in the U.S. to be granted Special Student Relief.

The Biden administration announced Thursday that Ukrainians in the U.S. will be protected from deportation.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced late Thursday that Ukrainians in the U.S. can apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The designation allows Ukrainians, including college students, who have continuously resided in the U.S. since March 1 to stay in the country for 18 months.

Immigrant advocates have been asking for the TPS designation since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began Feb. 24.

While the TPS designation does protect Ukrainian students in the U.S. from deportation, many higher education advocates are continuing to push the Biden administration to also provide Special Student Relief (SSR) to those holding F-1 student visas. The designation eases requirements placed on international students, which include minimum credit hours and work restrictions.

According to the Open Doors 2021 report, 1,739 Ukrainian students were studying in the U.S. during the 2020-21 academic year. These include 877 undergraduate students, 529 graduate students, 48 non-degree-seekers, and 285 Optional Practical Training students.

Special Student Relief Helps With Economic Hardships

International students from countries that have just entered war often encounter economic hardships, said Jill Welch, senior policy advisor at The Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. For instance, their parents may be unable to continue to pay tuition, requiring students to sustain themselves financially.

"It can be a real struggle for students and a significant stressor," Welch told BestColleges.

SSR allows international students to work off campus to support themselves and also continue their education through reduced course loads, she said. TPS does not allow such moves to reduce economic hardships.

According to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, SSR programs are currently in place for the following countries:

  • Myanmar
  • Haiti
  • Hong Kong
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan
  • Syria
  • Venezuela
  • Yemen

While all these countries also have TPS designations, not all countries with TPS designations also have SSR designations. An analysis from The Presidents' Alliance found that El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan each have TPS designations, but not SSR designations.

That report also found that an SSR designation is often delayed after a TPS designation is granted for a country. This can exacerbate hardships for students who aren't able to adjust course loads or seek additional employment under TPS designation.

The delay between TPS designation and SSR designation varies, Welch said. It's her expectation that the high-profile nature of the Ukraine crisis could lead the Biden administration to accelerate the issuance of SSR guidance.

As of Friday afternoon, however, no announcements about SSR for Ukrainian students have been made.

Additionally, Welsh said there's a possibility that the U.S. State Department may release exemptions similar to SSR for J-1 visa holders. However in some past cases, guidance for students with J-1 visas isn't issued, forcing those students to settle for TPS designation instead.

Ukrainian Students Will Have To Apply for Protections

Lora Adams of the TPS-DED Administrative Advocacy Coalition told BestColleges the coalition is seeking both TPS and SSR because the choices would offer greater flexibility for students.

Likewise, Ukrainians must apply for TPS status, Adams added. Those fees can be close to $500 per person, depending on the age of the applicant and the type of status for which they're applying. It's significantly cheaper if the applicant does not seek an Employment Authorization Document.

SSR applications also require a fee; according to the University of Minnesota's guidance for international students, applying for SSR with off-campus work permission would cost $410. International students applying for SSR may also apply for a fee waiver.

Welch advised international students to consult their campus's international student services office to understand the best option for them.