Two of my Ukrainian employees are trapped.
They are software developers in Odessa and Kyiv, and while they could become refugees, they don’t want to wander across Europe for the foreseeable future. Nor should they be forced to stay put as Russia slowly advances toward their homes. The United States should help them — and millions of their fellow Ukrainians — by welcoming them to the land of the free.
American ideals and our national self-interest counsel this move. At the most fundamental level, Ukraine is enduring a worsening humanitarian crisis. Millions of people are looking at a horrible future. They are and have long been America’s friends, and when times get tough, friends offer each other a helping hand. And make no mistake: Ukrainians would help America.
Ukrainians have incredible and varied expertise, from steelmaking to shipbuilding. My two Ukrainian employees are part of one of the best tech hubs in all of Europe. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians are an important part of the global tech industry. In fact, my company and many if not most other tech companies heavily rely on Ukraine’s tech workforce. Think how these hard-working people and their families could strengthen our economy and enrich our communities.
They would bolster our culture, too. As I’ve seen on my own travels to the country, Ukrainians are broadly aligned with American values. They have a deep love of freedom and a desire to defend it, which is powerfully evident. They are also an overwhelmingly religious people, with an ingrained Judeo-Christian tradition, which also undergirds America. Such principled tenacity and ideological overlap would fortify our culture.
There are so many upsides to letting more Ukrainians come to the United States. But the current system isn’t up to the task. While Ukrainians can already apply for visas, huge numbers of qualified applicants will be denied. My two Ukrainian employees might be eligible for H-1B visas, but the number of annual recipients is capped, and they have, at best, a 1 in 3 chance of being selected. Something more expansive — and speedy — is needed.
The current system also guarantees that many if not most applicants will spend years in line. But Ukrainians don’t have years: Their country is at risk of being swallowed before their eyes, and it could be a warzone for a long time to come. Who knows if they’ll be able to escape six months (or six years) down the line? Who knows how many will die to constant shelling, missiles and sieges? If America wants to get the most and the best out of Ukraine, we need to move fast.
The Biden administration has already taken some steps, most notably by accepting up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. It has also directed Ukrainians interested in immigrating to make their way to the American consulate in Frankfurt, Germany. Yet it’s not enough to focus mainly on refugees, nor is it sufficient to create a massive line in the middle of Europe.
The administration should offer visas to a much broader pool of qualified people, and give them many more avenues to make their way here. For that matter, we should also create a special visa program targeted at highly skilled Russians, many of whom desperately want to leave their country and would surely benefit ours.
The convergence of our national ideals and national interests is unmistakable. We need what Ukrainians have; they want what America is. My two employees are a case in point. Their future in their homeland is dark, yet in our country, it would be bright, and they could brighten the futures of the American people, too. They are not alone, and we should not abandon them.
Peter Rex is founder and chief executive of Rex in Austin. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.