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International Law News

International Law News, Winter 2023

Global Immigration Responses to the Ukrainian Refugee Crisis

Catherine Elizabeth Van Kampen and Elizabeth M Zechenter


  • Russia's invasion of a sovereign country is unprecedented in post-WWII Europe. Moreover, it has caused millions of people to flee from Ukraine.
  • The global response to the subsequent Ukrainian refugee crisis varied. The majority of Ukraine's neighboring countries enacted immigration laws and support schemes.
  • This article provides a brief review of the immigration response models for countries that have accepted the vast majority of Ukrainian refugees.
Global Immigration Responses to the Ukrainian Refugee Crisis
Artem Hvozdkov via Getty Images

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February 2023 marks the first anniversary of Russia's full-scale attack on Ukraine, representing a grave and violent escalation of military conflict that has been ongoing since 2014 with Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and its support of separatists in Ukraine's Donbas region. Russia's invasion of a sovereign country is unprecedented in post-WWII Europe. Moreover, it has caused millions of people to flee from Ukraine.

The global response to the subsequent Ukrainian refugee crisis varied. The majority of Ukraine's neighboring counties enacted immigration laws and support schemes. Poland, which took the most significant number of Ukrainian refugees, and other European Union (EU) member states immediately granted Ukrainian refugees the right to live, work, obtain access to education and receive benefits comparable to those their citizens are entitled to. More geographically removed from the war, other countries used different models and immigration quotas. The ongoing refugee crisis is not only vast - over 10 million Ukrainians have already fled, and many are still internally displaced or forcefully removed to Russia – but it is also unique in that refugees are mostly women with children, as Ukrainian men are required to stay in fight. Some forty thousand Ukrainian women have also stayed to serve in Ukraine’s military.

This article provides a brief review of the immigration response models for countries that have accepted the vast majority of Ukrainian refugees.


The case of Poland is unique in that Poland took the highest number of refugees than any other country. In addition, no other society has such massive involvement of citizens in providing help to Ukrainian women and children, most of it out of their pocket. Although the data keeps changing as people cross the border back and forth, recent data suggest that over eight million Ukrainian citizens have arrived in Poland so far, Poland has thirty-eight million people and is the size of half of Texas. Over 10% of Poland’s population now consists of refugees.

Ukrainian refugees can make up almost a third or more of the population in some Polish cities. While many refugees have returned to Ukraine during the last six months, about 2 million Ukrainians remain in Poland. In only the first three months of the war, the Polish Economic Institute estimates that private citizens of Poland spent over $2 billion of their own money to help Ukrainian refugees while the Polish government spent or allocated approximately $3.5 billion. Surveys showed that by March 2022, already 70% of Polish citizens were involved in helping Ukrainians, and an additional 11% were planning to do so. That number has been revised in recent months and it is estimated that approximately 80% of Poles were involved in providing some form of aid to fleeing Ukrainians. As Helena Krajewska, a spokesperson for the NGO Polish Humanitarian Action, said, "everybody was doing something, either providing a room or a house or looking for transport, going to the border and back, fundraising with friends, organizing a concert, or something. It was overwhelming how many people wanted to help."

Poland provides an interesting case study of the Ukraine refugee crisis on how a state, civil society, and its citizens can and should respond by creating an immigration policy and compassionate social response that minimizes risks of exploitation to refugees. Poland may be seen as a test case for what works well in the context of a massive and fast-developing refugee crisis. Poland should also be considered an exceptional case because, as the Eastern European historian, Professor Snyder of Yale, aptly observed one " cannot recall a case where so many refugees have been admitted so quickly by any one country."

The Polish government enacted a legally progressive law within a month of the start of the Russian aggression as well. Given that Poland is less affluent than many other EU countries, that most Poles, after many months of helping, seem to have exhausted their funds, and that the Polish government appears to lack the funds to sustain that generous welcome, this model, while unique, humane, commendable, and incredibly effective in the short-run, would need to be properly funded to be sustained and repeated.

On March 12, the Polish parliament promulgated the Act on Assistance for Ukrainian Nationals (AAUN). Under AAUN, all Ukrainian nationals fleeing Russian aggression became entitled to legal rights and most, if not all, social benefits available to Polish citizens. Under AAUN, Ukrainian citizens fleeing the war have the right to residence and work in Poland. Ukrainian citizens are allowed to undertake and conduct business activities in the territory of Poland on the same terms as Polish citizens. Under AAUN, Ukrainian refugees are assigned a Polish Social Security Number (PESEL), which allows them, like Poles, to access free public healthcare, schooling, university education, subsidized housing, transportation, and other benefits. The AAUN also provides access to funding to reduce the fees paid by parents for child daycare and similar services.

European Union

On March 4, 2022, the EU rolled out a "temporary protection” status for those who have been displaced, which eliminated the need to apply for asylum and created a temporary migration status good for one year but that may be extended to three years depending on how the situation evolves. The right to apply for Temporary Protection in the EU includes the right to establish residency, the right to housing and work, the right to receive social welfare and medical care, and the right for children and teenagers to attend schools, as well as the right to access banking and open an account with basic features.

United Kingdom

On March 14, 2022, the UK launched "Homes for Ukraine," which provides different Ukraine Schemes to support those who wish to either come to or remain in the UK. The Ukraine Family Scheme allows applications by a Ukrainian national who has a family already settled in the UK. Homes for Ukraine admits a Ukrainian national who is sponsored by a UK household for six months. The Ukraine Extension Scheme permits application by a Ukrainian national who had permission to be in the UK at any time on or between March 18, 2022, and May 16, 2023, or had permission to be in the UK, and that permission expired on or after January 1, 2022.months. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that from June 2020 to June 2021, there were on average, around 35,000 people living in the UK who were born in Ukraine, with the true value likely to be between 25,000 and 45,000 people.


Canada's immigration policies are much closer to the European model than their UK and U.S. counterparts. The Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) is one of the many special measures the Government of Canada has introduced to support the people of Ukraine. This immigration program is a generous immigration scheme that does not require sponsorship. The program offers Ukrainians and their family members free, extended temporary status and allows them to work, study, and stay in Canada until it is safe for them to return home. Ukrainian nationals and the family members of Ukrainian nationals of any nationality can apply. Ukrainians and their family members coming to Canada from overseas can apply for a free visitor visa and may be allowed to stay in Canada for up to 3 years, as opposed to the standard 6-month authorized stay for regular visitors. They have the option to apply, free of charge, for an open work permit with their visa application, enabling them to find work as quickly as possible.

United States

In the U.S., President Joe Biden announced on March 24 that the U.S. would 'welcome 100,000 Ukrainians to the United States with a focus on reuniting families.' Admission was to be "through the full range of legal pathways," while the U.S. was "working to expand and develop new programs" focusing on Ukrainians who already have family in the U.S. On April 21, 2022, the U.S. announced the "Uniting for Ukraine" (U4U) program, which provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members who are outside the U.S. to come to the U.S. temporarily for a two-year period of parole. Ukrainians participating in Uniting for Ukraine must have a supporter or private sponsor in the U.S. who agrees to provide them with financial support for the duration of their stay in the U.S. As of June 3, 2022, 48,000 people had applied for the parole initiative, 30,000 Ukrainians had received authorization to travel, and about 7,000 people had arrived. President Biden also renewed the Lautenberg Amendment, which allows members of persecuted religious groups to reunite with family members living legally in the U.S., and the Department of Homeland Security gave Ukrainians Temporary Protected Status (TPS) if they can prove continuous residence in the U.S. from a date certain.