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President Biden says Ukrainian refugees are welcome, but resettlement community waits for path forward

President Joe Biden tweeted “We will welcome Ukrainian refugees with open arms," but stopped short of raising the U.S. refugee admittance for now.

MINNEAPOLIS — More than three million Ukrainians have been forced to flee from their homeland because of Russia’s unprovoked attacks. Now they’re refugees asking 'where to next?' Many have family here in the states, including in Minnesota. Could some of them end up here?

The short answer is, it's not clear yet.

Jane Graupman is the executive director of the International Institute of Minnesota, or IIMN. The organization helps support new Americans in their new lives.

"I start looking at the refugee admission numbers and is there a place for Ukrainians to come?" Graupman said. "As we saw in the Afghan program, the U.S. moved pretty quickly in resettlement and we'll resettle probably close to 70,000 Afghans this year, so we know that the United States could do it."

Last October, President Joe Biden raised the number of refugees admissions for the federal fiscal year to 125,000. The admissions numbers are allocated among refugees of humanitarian concern in accordance regional areas.

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Africa is allocated 40,000, East Asia 15,000, Europe and Central Asia 10,000, Latin America/Caribbean 15,000, Near East/South Asia 35,000 and the Unallocated Reserve with 10,000.

The “unallocated reserve" is the last number.

"And this year it's 10,000 people and it's a number where in case there is international crisis that there is a spot for people to come to the United States in case of emergency," Graupman said. "We still do have considerable numbers left that for Ukrainians if that happens and of course the Congress and the president can decide to increase that number if necessary."

President Biden tweeted Monday, “We will welcome Ukrainian refugees with open arms.”  But he stopped short of raising that unallocated reserve number or saying they’d set up the extensive vetting process for Ukrainian refugees.

"I'm guessing, I don’t know this for sure, that that is something the Biden Administration is talking about and hopefully planning for," Graupman said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, a 2019 report said there were more than 110,000 cumulative arrivals of new Americans in the state since 1979. Graupman said among the reasons people choose the state are because of the diversified economy, the low unemployment rate, good schools and the strong resettlement community in Minnesota. 

"It's a place where they think they can be successful," Graupman said. She said new Americans are the biggest percentage of the new labor force in Minnesota, so it is also a strategic investment for the state. "It's remarkable to see how people adjust," she said.  

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Graupman said they reached out to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Friday and that organization hadn't heard official word from the administration yet, but she is hopeful they will soon.

If you have more questions, Graupman said you can go to the U.S. State Department website for information and resources.

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Watch more coverage of the developing conflict in Ukraine in our YouTube playlist: