Thousands of Salvadoran migrants have re-registered for a provisional U.S. residency program while they weigh what to do when its protections for them expire in September 2019.
Roughly 200,000 Salvadoran migrants have until March 19 to re-register for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, which allows certain migrants to live, work and study in the United States without fear of deportation. El Salvador's embassy in Washington reports that at least 3,200 people have filed paperwork since the renewal period opened January 18.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it would end TPS coverage for Salvadoran immigrants in the fall of 2019. The Central American country was designated for TPS in 2001, after two ruinous earthquakes, but Homeland Security determined it has recovered sufficiently.
El Salvador's Foreign Ministry said its embassy and consulates in the United States have extended their hours and added weekend shifts to handle questions about TPS re-registration.
Meanwhile, Salvadoran officials and TPS holders are contemplating their next moves.
Jose Vicente Chinchilla, El Salvador's consul general in New York, told VOA that the ministry is looking at a range of countries and employment options for nationals who must leave the United States, but fear returning to their homeland. El Salvador, struggling with corruption and gang violence, has one of the world's highest murder rates. Almost 81 people per 100,000 were killed there in 2016, according to the U.S. State Department.
One possible destination is Qatar. El Salvador announced that its foreign minister was visiting the Persian Gulf emirate and negotiating potential employment opportunities there for Salvadoran nationals.
Qatar is in the midst of a construction boom, fueled in part by preparations for the soccer championship World Cup 2022. It needs stadiums, roads, a new airport and other infrastructure — and workers.
"Taking in Salvadorans so that they can work can be an excellent option," said Salvadoran immigrant Mauricio Santa Cruz.
However, Santa Cruz also pointed out challenges for TPS beneficiaries. His 57-year-old father, for example, "is diabetic. He is sick. How could he work?"
El Salvador's embassy in Washington did not respond to VOA inquiries about a possible Qatar deal. Earlier media reports said that the two nations' foreign ministries were discussing a guest worker program to bring in Salvadorans and that Qatar had proposed sending health workers to El Salvador.
The prospect of a Salvadoran guest worker program in Qatar has its critics. Groups such as Human Rights Watch for years have accused the Middle East country of abusing and exploiting migrant laborers — primarily from Asia and Africa.
Salvadoran migrants with TPS protection now are U.S. "stakeholders," said Daniel Costa, immigration director for the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, in a Twitter post earlier this month.
Government of El Salvador is negotiating with Qatar to send former US #TPS-holders there to be employed as guestworkers: Would mean they%27d go from having labor rights to being indentured workers under an abusive sponsorship system where employers own them. https://t.co/BV8eK3JtCR— DC (@costadaniel) January 17, 2018
?The International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency, in November closed a complaint against Qatar after the country pledged to implement extensive labor reforms to curb exploitation of migrant workers. Those measures include establishing a minimum wage and improving worker accommodations.
This article originated in VOA's Spanish service.