A resettlement program for certain religious minorities from countries in the former Soviet Union who already have close relatives in the United States.
What is the Lautenberg Program?
Certain religious minorities from countries in the former Soviet Union who already have close relatives in the United States may be resettled as refugees in the United States pursuant to the Lautenberg Amendment. The Lautenberg Amendment was first passed over 30 years ago to facilitate the resettlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union to the United States. The amendment expires and must be reauthorized by Congress each year. Congress most recently reauthorized the amendment in March 2022.
Who Qualifies for Refugee Resettlement Under the Lautenberg Program?
Members of minority religious groups such as Jews, Evangelical Christians (Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, and others), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Ukrainian Greek Catholics, and members of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church may be eligible for resettlement if they can prove that they have experienced persecution in their home country because of their religion. There is a caveat for Ukrainian Greek Catholics; they had to have been active in the church before 1989 in order to qualify, so a Ukrainian Greek Catholic born after 1989 is not eligible. There is a presumption that a member of these religious minorities has been persecuted, but it is not enough to just show membership in the religious group; you have to provide that you experienced some specific discrimination or persecution. However, the standard for showing persecution is less stringent than for an asylum claim. It is helpful but not strictly necessary to have documentation of the acts or incidents of persecution. Applicants are interviewed and asked about the persecution.
Applicants must have immediate family members in the United States. Parents, adult and minor children, siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren all count as immediate relatives for Lautenberg, a definition that is more expansive than for family-based immigration. However, uncles, aunts, nieces, and nephews are not qualifying family relationships for Lautenberg. The U.S. family member, known as the “U.S. tie,” must have U.S. citizenship, lawful permanent residence, or refugee or asylee status. U.S. family members in temporary statuses are not eligible to bring their relatives under the Lautenberg program.
The U.S. tie must have the requisite family relationship with at least one person in the family abroad, but then other family members who are part of the same household are also eligible. For example, if a grandmother in the United States was the U.S. tie for her granddaughter in Kyiv, the granddaughter’s husband and children can also be included, provided that they are all registered to the same residence.
What is the Application Process for Lautenberg Refugee Resettlement?
U.S. family members living in New York should call or email HIAS, a leading refugee resettlement agency that has helped thousands of people resettle through the Lautenberg program, to establish eligibility. U.S. family members living outside of New York should contact their local refugee resettlement office.
If the refugee resettlement agency (RRA) determines that the family is prima facie eligible, the U.S. tie must gather documentation to submit to the RRA, including:
- Preliminary questionnaires filled out by everyone applying except children under 14
- Proof of immigration status, birth certificate, and marriage certificate for the U.S. tie
- Color passport photos, copy of foreign passport in color, birth certificate, marriage/divorce certificates for every person abroad who is applying
- Letter from the church attesting to the family’s religious activity if they are Christian
The RRA then helps the family prepare a full affidavit of relationship where the U.S. tie provides information about their relatives. The RRA then submits the application to the Kyiv office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM Kyiv office is the IOM office that handles all Lautenberg applications from people in all countries of the former Soviet Union. It is presently operating from a location in Europe and is still processing applications for Ukrainians who fled Ukraine and are currently in other European countries.
The RRAs must submit all Lautenberg applications to IOM in late September 2022, so anyone wishing to apply for their relatives is encouraged to contact an RRA immediately and submit all documentation by mid-August 2022. IOM will then begin to process applications. The program slowed down because of the pandemic and the war may cause more delays; right now, processing is estimated to be around 2-3 years but can vary.
There are no application fees.
What About Ukrainians Who Are Already in the United States?
If a Ukrainian citizen filed a Lautenberg application that had not yet been approved and then came to the United States on humanitarian parole, they cannot be resettled in the United States as a refugee. Refugee status can only be obtained overseas.
In June 2023, we began receiving reports that Ukrainian citizens who came to the United States on humanitarian parole while their Lautenberg applications were still pending received letters stating that their pending Lautenberg applications had been closed because they arrived in the United States through a temporary humanitarian parole pathway.
A Ukrainian citizen who would be eligible for Lautenberg but has not filed an application and has already come to the United States runs into the same problem—refugee status can only be obtained overseas.
Can Dual Citizens Apply for Lautenberg Refugee Resettlement?
Dual citizens are ordinarily not eligible to apply. However, only the principal applicant is not allowed to have dual citizenship. Other family members can. For example, if a grandmother in the United States was the U.S. tie for her granddaughter in Kyiv, the granddaughter cannot have dual citizenship, but her husband and children could hold dual citizenship.