Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II. Over 4.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country, and the number will likely continue to rise as the conflict has no end in sight. The exodus has prompted the U.S. and European Union to create emergency temporary protection programs for Ukrainians, but those protections differ in important ways we should understand. 

On March 3, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that Ukrainians already living in the United States would be granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The action followed calls by the Niskanen Center and other advocacy groups to provide this much-needed protection. 

On March 4, for the first time since its creation 20 years ago, the EU agreed to activate its Temporary Protection Directive (TPD). The directive provides Ukrainians who fled in response to the Russian invasion immediate protection in EU member states. 

These programs both provide necessary protection for Ukrainians, but each comes with different timelines, benefits, and ease of access. The EU system provides significantly better benefits to Ukrainians and should serve as a system for the U.S. to emulate. 

According to Secretary Mayorkas’ announcement, Ukrainians in the U.S. will be granted TPS for 18 months. Following the expiration of this initial designation, the secretary must decide on whether to extend or terminate it. TPS can be extended indefinitely until the Secretary determines the conditions in the country no longer warrant protection. In the EU, temporary protection will be available for a minimum of two years, with the option of a third year at the discretion of the EU member state where the Ukrainian migrant is residing. 

In the U.S., TPS recipients are eligible for work authorization and advance parole, meaning they can travel outside the U.S. and return as long as they receive DHS permission. They are also protected from immigration enforcement measures, like deportation. However, TPS recipients are ineligible for public benefits administered by any state or governmental body. 

By contrast, TPD recipients are eligible to receive  work authorization and public assistance including welfare, housing support, and medical care. 

To receive TPS, a potential recipient must file Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status, and provide supporting evidence proving nationality, date of entry into the U.S., and continuous residence before the cutoff date. TPS is only available to nationals of the country designated for protection. 

Alternatively, TPD is available for Ukrainian nationals and non-EU nationals who legally resided in Ukraine during the invasion, like refugees or asylum seekers. The administration of the directive is left to the individual EU member states, who are encouraged to implement the TPD measures into their national laws quickly.  

TPS in the U.S. and TPD measures in the EU provide crucial protections to Ukrainians either fleeing their home country or already in the U.S. Yet, after looking at the length of protection, available benefits, and ease of access, the EU system, which has never been mobilized before this crisis, is better equipped than the U.S. one to protect vulnerable Ukrainians. 

First, TPD provides up to twice the initial guaranteed time frame of protection, at three years, compared to TPS at 18 months. This increased time of protection will provide a sense of security and certainty for Ukrainians who have just fled their country, knowing they will have up to three years to regain and remake their livelihoods.

Employment accessibility is another area where these two programs differ. In the U.S., TPS applicants must file Form 1-765, Application for Employment Authorization, if they wish to  work legally. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the wait time for work authorization can be between two and 14.5 months. This time in limbo can be highly challenging for individuals barred from receiving public benefits. 

In the EU, member states determine the process for acquiring work authorization, with some granting it automatically with the residence permit and others requiring a separate application.    

A final significant difference between TPS and TPD is the time it takes to receive the temporary protection officially. According to USCIS, TPS applications currently take three and 13.5 months to process. With the TPS application backlog now being approximately 315,000 and the recent announcement of TPS for Afghans, the wait time for Ukrainians to receive TPS will only increase, leading to more insecurity. For comparison, TPD protection is issued by each EU member state, with many taking less than 24 hours to grant protection.   

A major reason for these is how both systems were set up. TPD was designed as a quick-response mechanism for a massive refugee or displaced person crisis. The EU agreed to collectively assist as long as these individuals fled after a specific date. It was created to alleviate the unbearable pressure on member states’ asylum systems if a crisis was to occur by transferring migrants to other states further away from the conflict area. These states would then ensure that these individuals have access to all the rights and benefits  they are legally entitled to under TPD. 

On the other hand, TPS was created to provide temporary protection to individuals who fit the stated criteria as those who need assistance as long as they already resided in the U.S. Establishing a cutoff date for when Ukrainians needed to be in the U.S. limits the number that can acquire this assistance. Unfortunately, it is one of the only ways the U.S. can quickly respond to crises.    

With the reports and images of Ukrainian cities and towns being reduced to rubble, Ukrainians will experience difficulties trying to reconstruct their lives no matter where they are. In situations like these TPS, as currently constructed, is inadequate to support Ukrainians seeking protection in the U.S. Under these circumstances, TPS should be expanded to provide public benefits and an increased initial protection time to recipients from severely destroyed countries.  

The following months and years will expose the strengths and weaknesses of both programs. As currently constituted, the EU’s TPD protections will provide more substantial benefits, and likely more quickly, than those offered by the U.S. The U.S. should use the EU’s temporary protections as a model to improve its systems. And it needs to happen quickly, as unfortunately, another refugee crisis is undoubtedly coming.

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