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Program that brought Ukrainians to North Dakota oil fields ends

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An oil and gas trade group has ended a recruitment program that brought Ukrainians from their war-torn country to North Dakota's oil field to fill jobs.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council shelved the Bakken Global Recruitment of Oilfield Workers program after placing about 60 Ukrainians with 16 employers from July to November 2023, the group's president, Ron Ness, said. The goal had been to recruit 100 workers by the end of last year and 400 within the first 12 months of the program, not all of them from Ukraine.

“We just weren’t seeing the great demand from our members on us to help them with workforce,” Ness said. Job placement also isn’t a “core function” of the trade group, he said.

Workers who have already been placed can apply to stay in the U.S. for two more years under a recently announced “re-parole” process, Ness said. Applications will be considered on “a discretionary, case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit,” according to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services email announcement.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council presented the program as a workforce and humanitarian solution amid a labor shortage in North Dakota and the war in Ukraine. Bakken GROW worked with the Uniting for Ukraine humanitarian program.

Ness called it a success but also a “tremendous investment on our part in terms of time and staff and all those things.”

“The model is out there and, I think, works very well,” he said. “I think we were very happy with the matching that we did between Ukrainians who needed our help and we needed their help.”

The most recent worker arrived about two weeks ago, and two more have travel credentials, Ness said. They will still be able to live and work in North Dakota, he said.

Some of the Ukrainian workers have brought family members to North Dakota.

In the Dickinson area, workers and their families total about 50 Ukrainians, including roughly 10 young children, said Carter Fong, executive director of Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber has a part-time “community connector" who is Ukrainian and who helps the other Ukrainians with accessing housing, health care and other resources, Fong said.

Dickinson has a rich Ukrainian heritage, and an initial group of workers in July was welcomed with a lunch at the the city's Ukrainian Cultural Institute.

Dickinson employer Glenn Baranko hired 12 to 15 Ukrainians, with more to come. Some of those workers were in Alaska and Europe and came to work for him after hearing about the program through media and word of mouth, he said. His companies do a variety of work, including highway construction and oil field environmental services.

The Ukrainians Baranko hired have worked in mechanical roles and as heavy equipment operators and cleaned oil field equipment and pipe. Four are working on attaining their commercial driver's licenses. Just one has decided to move on, a worker who gave notice to pursue an opportunity in California.