The Biden administration recently announced an extension and redesignation of the program that gives temporary protection from deportation for nationals of Sudan and Ukraine. Nationals of El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal and Nicaragua also have had their protection extended.
The Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program allows migrants whose home countries are considered unsafe to live and work in the United States for a period of time if they meet certain requirements established by the U.S. government.
In a call Wednesday with reporters, immigration advocates urged the Biden administration to designate new countries to receive TPS status and redesignate current ones to allow more people to qualify for the program and work legally in the U.S.
Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, said current TPS holders have high labor force participation rates and contribute billions to the U.S. economy every year.
"TPS raises wages through the provision of work authorization for people who don't have it. … Higher wages also mean more spending back in the economy, which creates more jobs," he said.
The original TPS designations for Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador were made more than 20 years ago. When the Biden administration extended TPS for those countries in June, it was for current TPS holders.
If the Biden administration were to redesignate TPS, it would change the cut-off date of when people had to have entered the U.S. in order to qualify for the program, and those who entered within the last 20 years would be eligible.
According to a report by the Niskanen Center, a Washington-based policy research institute, the "vast majority" of TPS holders are employed.
"More than 94% of TPS holders were in the labor force as of 2017, working in sectors ranging from retail to health care. According to some estimates, ending TPS for just El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti would lead to a loss of over $160 billion to U.S. GDP over a decade," the report shows.
Advocates also called for new TPS designations. Immigrants rights groups have ongoing campaigns for Mauritania and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Nils Kinuani, the immigration coordinator for the Congolese Community of Washington Metropolitan, told VOA the group had conversations with DHS officials in April, and they are still hopeful.
"Last winter, we were joined by over 110 organizations, national and state, to request a TPS designation for DRC. We launched the campaign in February 2023. We have been also working with congressional leaders to push for this designation," Kinuani said.
According to the State Department, the DRC is suffering a humanitarian crisis marked by civil conflicts that have spanned more than two decades.
Black Mauritanian leaders and others have also urged the administration to designate Mauritania under TPS status.
"This is the longest TPS campaign many of our organizations have worked on; a stark difference from the TPS designation for countries like Ukraine, which received TPS within a week of the conflict starting. The United States had a long-standing policy of not deporting Mauritanians because of the country’s well documented record of human rights abuses, which include the practice of enslaving Black people and maintaining an apartheid regime," Haddy Gassama, policy and advocacy director of the UndocuBlack Network, wrote in a statement.
A bipartisan letter from Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown and Republican Representative Mike Carey was sent to President Joe Biden and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging officials to consider the circumstances in Mauritania and requesting immediate TPS designation for Mauritanians living in the United States.
DHS officials did not disclose why these countries have yet to receive a TPS designation, but they said DHS is "monitoring" the situation.
Who has TPS designations?
Congress established TPS in 1990. Currently, 16 countries are designated for the program.
A U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesperson wrote in an email to VOA on background — often used by U.S. officials to share information with reporters without being identified — that TPS is not to be equated with other recently expanded pathways to legal residence in the United States.
These include "a dramatic expansion of refugee resettlement processing from the Western Hemisphere; parole processes for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans; expanded Family Reunification Programs; expanded labor visas; and direct access to appointments at Ports of Entry via the CBP One app," the official wrote.
Current TPS holders who want to extend their status must register again during the 60-day registration period for their country’s designation. Re-registration opens soon for four counties starting with El Salvador.
What is the process for a country to receive TPS designation?
Congress authorized the DHS secretary to decide when a country should be placed under TPS designation.
Before making a decision to designate a country, the secretary is required to consult with various government agencies. While the specific agencies are not outlined in the law, these consultations typically involve the Department of State, the National Security Council, and sometimes the Department of Justice.
"The Department regularly monitors country conditions and consults other appropriate government agencies to determine whether a TPS designation is warranted. The department does not have anything specific to share regarding the status of these considerations for any particular country," a DHS official wrote in an email.
These designations are set for six, 12, or 18 months. About two months before a country’s TPS expiration, the secretary has to decide once again if the U.S. will terminate or extend the TPS benefit.
Whatever the decision, it needs to be published in the Federal Register — the nation’s daily publication system for a variety of public documents.
The TPS program, however, does not lead to permanent U.S. residency. As of March, about 610,000 foreign nationals currently hold TPS status.
TPS holders who leave the U.S. without first obtaining a travel authorization may lose their TPS status and won’t be able to reenter the country.