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Explainer

Behind the headlines: Temporary Protected Status

Last updated 
Photo: Will Swanson/IRC

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a critical protection tool used to safeguard foreign nationals residing in the United States from deportation when conditions in their home countries make it unsafe for return. 

The program was recently in the news when the Biden Administration announced that it would designate TPS for Ukrainians and Afghans residing in the U.S. The move could protect approximately 75,000 Ukrainians and nearly that same number of Afghans. 

Get the facts on TPS and what it means for Ukrainians, Afghans and other people forced to flee their homes.

What is Temporary Protected Status (TPS)?

TPS was established by the U.S. Congress in 1990 as a protective immigration status accorded to foreign nationals (a person without U.S. citizenship or nationality ). It is for people from countries affected by ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, an epidemic, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions that make safe return to their home countries impossible.

To be eligible for TPS, a person must already live in the U.S. Specifically, they must have been continuously physically present and residing in the U.S. before the date the status was granted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), although the law allows an exception for some brief departures. Individuals who arrive in the U.S. after the date in question are not eligible for TPS. So, for instance, Ukrainians who arrive in the U.S  after March 1, 2022 will not be eligible (unless the program is redesignated, a process explained below). The initial period of designation for a country must be between six and eighteen months, although TPS may be redesignated for many years. 

A young girl wearing a winter coat and hat leans on a woman standing next to her.

A young girl forced to flee Ukraine. Over 5.5 million refugees have left the country since the conflict began.

Photo: Francesco Pistilli/IRC

Foreign nationals who qualify for TPS can live and work in the U.S. legally for the duration of the status. TPS holders are not granted a pathway to lawful permanent status.

Extending TPS 

All TPS designations have an expiration date. DHS is required to extend or terminate these designations 60 days before the status expires. When TPS is extended, DHS can also decide to re-designate it. That change allows individuals who arrived after the prior designation date to apply for the status. 

For instance, in July of 2021, the Biden Administration announced that it would both extend and re-designate TPS for Yemen. The country was entering its seventh year of war and remains one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The previous administration had merely extended TPS for Yemen, meaning anyone who arrived after its original designation date–in 2017–was not qualified. The Biden Administration decision resets that cut off to July of 2021. 

Whenever TPS is extended for a country, nationals with TPS must re-register for the status.

Against a view of a desert mountain, a man sits with his son on his lap.

Abdul Ghafar sits with his son Adbdullah outside their home in Mosuk Village in Radfan, Lahj, Southern Yemen. The country is facing one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world.

Photo: Kellie Ryan for the IRC

Which countries have TPS designations?

Twelve countries currently have TPS designations. They are Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Nepal, Syria, Nicaragua, Myanmar, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and South Sudan. Ukraine and Afghanistan’s TPS designations will go into effect once a notice providing application instructions, alongside other information, is published in the Federal Register.

A woman picks her way through the rubble of her village in northeastern Syria.

A woman picks her way through the rubble of her war-ravaged village in northeastern Syria.

Photo: IRC

Salvadorans, Hondurans and Haitians comprise the most TPS holders, totaling nearly 300,000 beneficiaries. El Salvador received TPS designation following two devastating earthquakes in 2001; subsequent factors, including levels of violence similar to major conflict zones around the world, led to its extension and re-designation for over 20 years. Hondurans were offered TPS after a 1998 hurricane took thousands of lives; like El Salvador, ongoing factors including instability and violence led to subsequent extensions and re-designations. Haitians qualifying for TPS have been allowed to stay in the U.S. since the catastrophic 2010 earthquake; conditions in the country have also led to the extension and re-designation of TPS for the country.

Which countries have been given TPS designations by the Biden administration?

People walk past earthquake-damaged buildings in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2010
Haitians qualifying for TPS have been allowed to stay in the U.S. since the 2010 earthquake. Photo: Gerald Martone/IRC

Recognizing the dangers that Afghan nationals in the U.S. may face after the change in government, the Biden Administration designated TPS for Afghanistan in March of 2022. Most recently, the administration designated TPS for Ukraine, allowing 75,000 Ukrainians in the U.S. to live and work in the country temporarily. 

Since taking office, the Biden Administration has also taken positive action on the TPS designations for Venezuela, Syria, Yemen, Myanmar (also known as Burma), Haiti, Somalia, El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sudan and South Sudan, as each of these countries reached their TPS expiration date.

How is Temporary Protected Status different from refugee resettlement?

TPS is a program for people already living in the United States. It is also temporary, meaning holders are not given a pathway to permanent status or citizenship.

Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take groups of them into custody near McAllen, Texas.
Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take groups of them into custody near McAllen, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Refugee resettlement allows people forced to flee their own country to rebuild their lives in the U.S., with many eventually becoming citizens. Fewer than one percent of refugees across the globe have a chance to resettle in the U.S. or another welcoming country.

The Biden Administration has taken steps to rebuild the refugee resettlement program after years of attacks by the previous administration, including by setting an ambitious admissions goal of 125,000 for fiscal year 2022. Learn more about refugee resettlement.  

How is Temporary Protected Status different from asylum?

Asylum seekers are people who are forced to flee their country, but who apply for asylum once they have reached the U.S. They must be able to demonstrate that they are unable or unwilling to return to their country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. 

Lincy Sopall sits at a desk holding a pencil and looking at a sheet of paper. Her supplies for her fashion design studio are behind her.

Lincy Sopall, a transgender woman who faced abuse and persecution in Honduras, received asylum in the U.S. in 2018 and works as a fashion designer. She says of her decision to flee: "I had only two choices: leave Honduras and live or stay and die."

Photo: Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Asylum seekers have to make their case in immigration court, a long process that can depend heavily on whether an asylum seeker has legal representation. Once asylum is granted, though, that person becomes an asylee. They are legally allowed to remain in the country without fear of deportation and may apply to become a permanent resident and citizen. They qualify to work, travel abroad and apply for their spouse or children under the age of 21 to join them.  

TPS is temporary, and depends on federal redesignation. However, it can safeguard those who have been denied or may be ineligible for asylum but are still in need of lifesaving protection. TPS holders may also apply for asylum to gain a more permanent status. 

Learn more about the U.S. asylum system.

What else is the United States doing to help Ukrainian refugees? 

The Biden Administration announced that it would use all legal pathways possible to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing the conflict. The war in Ukraine is causing the fastest growing refugee crisis in a generation, with over 4.5 million refugees fleeing the country.

What else is the United States doing to help Afghan refugees? 

Since the Taliban entered Kabul in August 2021, taking control of Afghanistan, the United States has welcomed over 76,000 Afghan nationals forced to flee their country. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the evacuation was the largest since the Vietnam War.

In order to bring Afghans to safety as quickly as possible, the U.S. admitted them under a process called “humanitarian parole.” That means that while they are temporarily allowed to stay in the country, they are not guaranteed a path to legal permanent residence and eventual citizenship. Instead, newly-arrived Afghans have to apply for permanent protection through the U.S. asylum system, which is already facing a backlog of cases. 

In a doorway to a home, a couple sits on a stoop and looks away from the camera.

An Afghan family who recently arrived in the U.S. Newly-arrived Afghans have to apply for permanent protection through the U.S. asylum system, which is already facing a backlog of cases.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt for the IRC

The IRC urges Congress to take up and pass an Afghan Adjustment Act to provide a pathway to lawful permanent residency for Afghan evacuees. Otherwise, because their humanitarian parole only lasts for two years, Afghans would soon lose access to employment, health care, and their legal right to reside in the U.S. Many would even be vulnerable to deportation back to a country they fled in fear—all through no fault of their own.

How does the IRC help?

The International Rescue Committee offers high-quality, low-cost immigration legal services and citizenship assistance in 23 cities across the United States. As part of our immigration programs, the IRC assists eligible individuals to apply for and renew their TPS status, identifies TPS holders for other forms of relief, and assists with legal services to seek these forms of relief where applicable. Learn more.