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Tool makes immigration documents easier for Ukrainians

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Posted at 11:08 AM, Jun 17, 2022

Those born and raised in the United States will likely never have the same experience with the immigration system as those born outside the country.

“Sometimes being here, so far from home, you feel a bit helpless,” said Katya Kravchenko.

A native of Ukraine, Kravchenko came to the United States six years ago to study. 

“Anytime I have to deal with documents and visas and anything, I get a little anxious," she said. "It all feels super official and serious. And I’m like I don’t know what I’m doing."

Ukraine is now on the list of countries where people can apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). It lets people from places where it would be unsafe to go home extend their visa by 18 months.

It may sound straightforward, but former BYU law professor Kimball Parker says it is not.

“The TPS application is the most complicated government form I have ever seen," Parker says.

The documents are available online but only in English, which could make it hard for someone who is from another country and needs to fill them out.

Many of the questions are written in legal terms that also could be hard to understand. 

“I would have difficulty running through it as a lawyer, native speaker," Parker says.

Parker's software company, SixFifty, enlisted the help of Kravchenko and another person from Ukraine to translate the dozens of pages into Ukrainian.

“For example. The form asks for a middle name, but Ukrainians don’t have a middle name, we have something that's called a patronymic, so your father’s name," Kravchenko says.

SixFifty now offers this free online tool Ukrainians can use to simplify the process.

Parker says it's similar to automated tax software like Turbo Tax.

It walks people through questions in Ukrainian, using more conversational wording, then fills out the document in English and emails a final version in a downloadable file. He says hundreds have already used it already.

"We recommend that people also use an attorney. We know that's not always possible," Parker says.

Ransom Wydner is working to expand the tool to help people from other TPS-designated countries like Afghanistan and Haiti.

"As a country, we say things like we’re acting with urgency to help the people from Ukraine, which I think is the intent but then what we generate to give them, and say, 'Here is the way we’re helping you is weeks of homework, months maybe,'" Wydner says.

Parker gets emotional when he thinks of the impact the war in Ukraine has had on its people, and the challenges Ukrainians can face when it comes to the immigration system and its documents.

“Our legal system, and the government, is not a customer-centric place. When they build this application I don't think they’re thinking of sometimes the users who are going to have to use it," Parker says.

Beneath every immigration policy, and pile of paperwork, are people like Kravchenko. She plans to one day return home.

“For now my plan is to graduate and maybe get a little bit of experience working in the field. Then go back to Ukraine and help rebuild it," Kravchenko says.