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A woman displaced by drought and crisis in Somalia
Explainer

Behind the headlines: Temporary Protected Status

Photo: Will Swanson/IRC

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a critical protection tool used to safeguard foreign nationals residing in the U.S. from deportation when conditions in their home countries make it unsafe for return. Nearly 500,000 people have benefited from TPS since it was established. Yet, the current administration is systematically stripping away this protection, along with other programs for those seeking safety in the United States, potentially putting lives in danger.

What is TPS?

TPS was established by the U.S. Congress in 1990 as a protective immigration status accorded to foreign nationals from countries affected by conflict, natural disaster or other extraordinary conditions that make safe return to their home countries impossible, including when a country cannot accept the return of its nationals.

To be eligible for TPS, nationals must prove continuous residence in the U.S. from the date the status was granted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Individuals who arrive in the U.S. after the date in question are not eligible for TPS. Foreign nationals who qualify for this lifesaving immigration program can live and work in the U.S. legally for the duration of the status, typically 18 months. TPS holders do not currently have a pathway to lawful permanent status.

DHS is required to extend or terminate TPS country designations 60 days before the status expires. In the event TPS is extended, DHS will also determine whether or not to re-designate it, so that individuals who arrived after the prior designation date may also be eligible to apply for the status. When TPS is extended for a country, nationals with TPS must re-register for the status.

TPS has historically been extended and re-designated in accordance with the law under both Republican and Democratic administrations alike — until now. The current administration’s break with tradition puts at risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras, Sudan and other countries where conditions remain unsafe for returns.

Which countries have TPS designations and how are they being stripped away?

Ten countries currently have TPS designations; six of these 10 designations will end by 2020.

Haiti, Sudan, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Nepal, and Honduras have all had their TPS designations terminated since January 2017, with 12- to 18-month wind-down periods.

Syria, Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan have had TPS extended for 18 months but not re-designated under this administration, meaning that foreign nationals arriving to the U.S. after the designation date are not eligible for the status.

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

The next decisions will be in 2019 for South Sudan and Syria and 2020 for Yemen and Somalia.  

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 15 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 extension and re-designation of the status until recently.

How will TPS terminations affect recipients of this protective status and their families?

The current administration has been ending or not re-designating TPS for several countries, putting at risk the lives of over 300,000 people. The administration has indicated that the six countries for which TPS has been terminated are safe for return, although all still suffer from conflict and instability and lack the resources to support thousands of returnees.

A young boy displaced by the civil war in Yemen stands with his baby sister outside a makeshift shelter
Civil war in Yemen has displaced 2.7 million people from their homes since 2015. Photo: Kellie Ryan/IRC

TPS holders from these countries have been given 12 to 18 months to apply for a different status or to plan their departure to their home countries. Those with spouses, parents or adult children who are legal permanent residents in the U.S. or U.S. citizens may be eligible for permanent residency in order to remain with their families. Some may try to gain entry into a third country and others may slip into the shadows rather than risk forced deportation.

Many TPS holders have lived in the U.S. for more than 15 years, have deep ties to the community and have contributed significantly to the American economy. Salvadoran, Honduran, and Haitian TPS holders alone are parents to over 273,000 U.S.-citizen children. These children will either be forced to leave the country they’ve always called home or be ripped apart from their families.

Prior to the decisions to terminate TPS for El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti, senior U.S. diplomats warned against ending this status, noting that these countries remained unsafe and that mass deportations would further destabilize the region. Litigation is ongoing challenging the Terminations of TPS for these three countries.

How does systematically ending TPS affect the U.S. economy?

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

TPS holders raise families, own homes and pay taxes. Ending their protective status without an avenue to lawfully remain in the U.S. would have truly negative effects on society and the economy. According to the Center for Migration Studies, 85 percent of Honduran TPS holders and 88 percent of Salvadoran TPS holders are in the labor force.

The Center for American Progress estimates the U.S. would lose $164 billion over 10 years if TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti are removed from the labor force. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center estimates their deportation will result in a $6.9 billion reduction to Social Security and Medicare contributions over a decade.

How does ending TPS fit in with other U.S. humanitarian policies?

The current administration has pulled the welcome mat from under the feet of refugees and immigrants seeking safety in the U.S. by implementing policies including:

  • numerous bans on refugee resettlement;
  • a historically low refugee cap of 45,000 (compared to the historic average of 95,000);
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
  • red tape measures affecting the refugee admissions program that will likely result in the admission of no more than 21,000 refugees this fiscal year (the lowest in modern U.S. history);
  • the termination of the Central American Minors (CAM-AOR) program without processing the claims of 3,800 children (the only safe and legal pathway for children facing violence and persecution in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to receive protection in the U.S. and reunite with a family member lawfully residing here);
  • establishing a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, ripping children apart from their families at the border and criminalizing asylum seekers;
  • unilaterally changing the standards for evaluating certain asylum claims, making it particularly hard for those fleeing gang violence and domestic violence to have successful claims.

What can I do to help?

Tell Congress: Stand with refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable people seeking protection in the U.S.

What can Congress do to help?

Congress must step in to enact a permanent solution for those who will be left behind by TPS terminations. The U.S. has a long and proud history of protecting and aiding those in need. It would be a moral failure to turn its back on the most vulnerable even as some of the most devastating humanitarian crises continue to unfold.

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.