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Temporary Protected Status Program Ends for Nicaraguans and Haitians

What this means for TPS beneficiaries, and what you can do.

The US has announced that in January 2019 it will terminate a temporary program that gave Nicaraguan immigrants protection from deportation following natural disasters in their country, and that Haitian immigrants will also see their program end after an 18-month transition period. Similar decisions regarding Honduran and El Salvadorian beneficiaries of the same program are expected to follow.

What is the TPS program?

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a program that was enacted by Congress in 1990 to protect immigrants fleeing from war and other emergency situations. Such situations might include hurricanes, earthquakes, civil strife, terrorism or other natural disasters that make it dangerous for these immigrants to return to their homeland. The TPS program currently protects more than 320,000 people from nine different countries living in the United States today. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the largest number of these immigrants come from El Salvador, at around 195,000 people.

According to federal immigration officials, TPS is meant to provide temporary, rather than long-term relief; however some of the program's beneficiaries have been able to renew their status under the program for six or eighteen-month intervals for several decades. Earlier this year, TPS programs expired for immigrants from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The program for Nicaraguan immigrants was originally due to expire on January 5, 2018, but it was delayed by 12 months “to allow for an orderly transition.”

Immigrants from Nicaragua became eligible for TPS status when Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America in October of 1998 (Honduran Immigrants became eligible for the same reason). The storm killed more than 3,000 people in Nicaragua, and more than 5,600 in Honduras. Immigrants from those countries had to have been living in the US since December 30, 1988 to qualify for the TPS program. The TPS program has been extended for both countries due to tropical storms, earthquakes, drought, poverty and, in Nicaragua, a volcanic eruption getting in the way of recovery efforts, according to federal reports.

While it's not as surprising that Nicaragua's TPS program will be suspended after nearly three decades, it is interesting to note that Haitians had already bee told in May by then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, after extending Haiti’s TPS status for six months, that they “need to start thinking about returning.”

Haiti was given TPS status in 2010, after an earthquake killed hundreds of thousands of people on the small island country; however multiple tropical storms since then have seriously inhibited recovery. Still, the US Department of Homeland Security attests that the country of Haiti has sufficiently recovered to welcome it's 50,000 refugees currently on American soil, back to the island, although many others disagree.

Popular singer-songwriter Wyclef Jean, a Haitian immigrant himself and an outspoken supporter of immigrants right's was quoted in an interview with Billboard Magazine expressing his displeasure on the decision. "The country of Haiti right now, we cannot afford to take 50,000 Haitians to go back home right now," said Jean.

TPS Programs currently protect immigrants from eight other countries beyond Nicaragua, including El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Nepal, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Officials from some of these countries, such as Haiti and El Salvador, have asked for extensions, stating that their nations have not yet recovered enough to accept their citizens back, and that their immigrants are contributing positively to the US economy.

Damage from hurricanes in Haiti

What Does This Mean for those in TPS Programs?

Temporary Protected Status does not currently make individuals automatically eligible for permanent residence or U.S. citizenship; however a few lawmakers have introduced a bill that is trying to change that.

Representative Yvette Clarke from New York, along with Miami Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington are preparing legislation that would allow every TPS recipient to apply for permanent residency - it's called the ASPIRE act, and it would allow everyone who was a TPS recipient as of January 1, 2017 to apply for permanent residency by proving in front a judge that they would face extreme hardship if forced to return to their home country.

Some TPS recipients may already be eligible to apply for permanent lawful status. Even if you previously had TPS status that is due to expire, and you feel you have no other options, you do have time. According to an interview with a Department of Homeland Security administration official, former TPS recipients are not considered to be immediate targets for deportation.

“We prioritize criminal aliens and those who have a final order of removal. Your typical TPS recipient will not fall into those priorities," he explained. "We stand by our position that all persons who are here illegally are eligible for removal, but they will not be targeted for removal."

The officials interviewed stated that the administration would support any effort by Congress to find a more permanent solution for the Nicaraguans previously part of the TPS program, and any other immigrants whose programs may end soon as well.

What Options do I have?

The first thing you should do if you're worried that your TPS status might expire is to contact an immigration attorney and see if you are able to apply for a more permanent visa.

What you can do to make your status more permanent depends on many factors. A small number of TPS grantees are still in the U.S. on a valid temporary visa, especially from countries granted TPS in the past few years. If you fall into this category, you should contact an immigration lawyer today to regularize your situation before your TPS and/or your visa expire.

If you entered the country legally on a tourist visa, your options will be different than if you entered without documentation. There may be different routes to permanency for those who have developed community attachments, built families, business or have employers that might support them staying. It's difficult to answer this question without knowing the specifics of your situation, so the best thing you can do is contact us if you have any questions about your situation and what to do after TPS expires.

You can read more about the TPS program on the official USCIS website, or contact us directly if you have any specific questions about the program.