In this comprehensive article, we will be unpacking the asylum process for Russian immigrants in the U.S., offering insight into the intricacies of this path to sanctuary. The aim is to provide clarity on this complex journey that affects the lives of countless Russian individuals seeking a new beginning. Our focus will be on the legal framework and procedural aspects that come into play, in order to equip aspiring asylees with the necessary knowledge and tools for their journey.
Long before February 2022, when the war in Ukraine began, there were Russians who were fleeing Russia for the U.S. Since the beginning of the war, the number of Russians making their exodus from Russia increased significantly. A partial mobilization was announced in Russia in September 2022, and the U.S. has seen an even greater influx of Russians crossing its Southern border.
The New Law
In April 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that now allows the government to issue electronic notices to army draftees. Previously, the government had to serve the draftees personally, which was not always easy. Many men moved out of their residences or even left Russia because they opposed the war in Ukraine and/or were afraid of being drafted into the military. The new law has significantly modified the old rule. Currently, a notice can be sent to a draftee’s account through Gosuslugi, a commonly used platform operated by the Russian government, which gives individuals online access to information about state services. The notice is considered delivered and received the moment it is put on the portal.
The new rule is designed to make sure that every draftee “receives” the notice regardless of where they are physically located. The law also announced consequences for those who fail to present themselves at a military conscription office upon the receipt of the notice. They may be prohibited from leaving Russia, renewing their drivers’ licenses, get the licenses suspended, obtaining loans, registering transport vehicles, registering as a solo entrepreneur, and even from selling their real estate and other assets.
The Russian government has also set up and begun to maintain its electronic registry of people required to serve. Having an electronic registry helps the government to track those who are attempting to leave Russia and potentially prevent them from doing so.
Russia also has laws prohibiting unsanctioned, peaceful rallies and protests where more than one person participates, and laws establishing war censorship and prohibiting anti-war statements. People who oppose the Russian government or publicly criticize the current government are being fired from their jobs and put in prison. Russia’s war on opposition is continuing and is not going to stop any time soon.
Effects on Russians
Many Russians who left their homeland and subjected themselves to, at times, dangerous conditions had no choice but to take this challenge because of their fear of returning to Russia. Many of them have publicly expressed their political opinions against the government and the war, exhorted others to oppose it, took part in protests, published politically-motivated posts against the President of Russia and his allies on the social media, or fled Russia out of fear of being sent to fight in the war against their will.
The number of Russians seeking asylum at the U.S. Southern border has increased to the highest numbers in the recent years. Families with minor children and elderly adults, some of whom require medical treatment, line up to enter the U.S. Some of them risk their lives trying to cross the border on their own and some are being separated from their families and placed in immigration detention.
At the beginning of March of 2022, I met a family of five from Russia—two parents with two young children and a grandmother. All adults in the family took part in several peaceful protests in support of the Russian political opposition over several years and were detained by the police multiple times. Following the start of the war, they were arrested after participating in an anti-war protest. Eventually, after receiving numerous threats and summons to come to the police department for questioning, the family decided to leave Russia.
Before entering the U.S., they spent almost a month in Mexico. A 60-year-old grandmother who spoke no English and had a medical condition was the only one who was placed in immigration detention, where she spent three weeks before she was released with the help of an attorney. When I spoke to the grandmother after her release from the detention center, she was thankful for the opportunity to be in the United States and to feel safe. Eventually, the family reunited and applied for asylum.
This family was paroled into the U.S. for one year after crossing the Southern border. They were able to apply for employment authorizations as parolees and secure employment in the U.S.
Russians often choose to cross the Southern border instead of flying directly to the U.S. because it is very challenging for them to obtain a U.S. visa. The U.S. Consulates are not operating in Russia, and not every U.S. Consulate outside Russia would readily accept a Russian visa applicant. In addition to that, Russians need to secure visas to travel to other European countries for their U.S. visa interviews. The relationship between the U.S. and Russia is currently strained to say the least. In comparison, securing an electronic tourist visa to Mexico is more straightforward.
Throughout 2022, many Russians crossed the U.S. Southern border with the help of various nonprofits that promised to provide their services in exchange for a large amount of money.
As of this year, the CBP’s phone application CBP One became available to schedule appointments at the U.S. border. In January and February, the application worked better than it does now, according to the reports. Many were able to take advantage of the application, make an appointment, and cross the border. Others still remain in Mexico, trying to find a better wi-fi connection and accessing the app several times per day to find an available appointment.
Currently, there is a significant number of Russians in Mexico who have been unsuccessful in scheduling appointments through CBP One for weeks. Several people reached out to our law firm asking questions regarding securing an appointment using the app. Unfortunately, there is not much to advise if the app is already installed correctly and if a person is doing everything according to the instructions. Some people told us that new appointments become available at 11 am CST. We shared this information, and it helped at least two families that reached out. Another Russian woman figured out that the app worked better for her if she came closer to the border.
Navigating out the CBP One app and securing appointments is an issue for people trying to cross the border. Of course, not everyone has a cell phone or can read in English. Also, CBP One often fails to recognize people with darker skin tones. These issues have been brought up many times, and we are hoping the CBP will address this issue soon.
While many Russians continue to arrive in the U.S., we are also hearing reports that deportations have resumed this Spring and Summer to Russia, which is a reversal of the Biden administration’s position adopted in 2022. I am not sure why this policy would change now given that not much has changed politically since 2022. The news of deportations horrifies many of those who publicly expressed their political opinions or fled Russia out of fear of being forced to fight in the war with Ukraine. People are afraid that if they return to Russia, the very fact they traveled to the U.S. would worsen their already complicated situations.
This fear is very much justified since the Russian government has been vocal about its treatment of political opponents and those who have fled Russia to Western countries. We remember Putin’s famous speech in which he emphasized that “such people who by their very nature, are mentally located there, and not here, are not with our people, not with Russia.” He also added, “…but any people, and even more so the Russian people, will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors, and simply spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths, spit them out on the pavement.” Also, given how quickly the Russian government can enact a new law, many are scared that by the time they return to Russia, there may be new rules in effect punishing those who left the country seeking a new home.
For as long as the Russian government continues its war on opposition, people will continue to find ways to flee Russia for their own safety.
As a reminder, a person may apply for asylum only in the U.S. or at the U.S. border. To qualify for asylum, a foreign national must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. To speak with an attorney at McEntee Law Group, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 773-828-9544.