By Adriel Orozco | Aug 24, 2023
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the extension and redesignation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nationals of Sudan and Ukraine last week. This is a welcome development, but more must be done to provide resources to USCIS as continuing worldwide conflicts and natural disasters increase calls for more designations.
TPS is a humanitarian protection that allows nationals of a designated country to remain in the United States after a natural disaster, armed conflict, or other temporary condition makes it unsafe for them to return to their home countries. TPS beneficiaries can live and work in the United States legally so long as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to designate their home country as qualifying for TPS. However, TPS does not give people a permanent immigration status in the United States; as we saw during the Trump administration, it can be taken away.
The TPS extensions for Sudan and Ukraine apply to existing TPS beneficiaries, while the redesignations allow nationals from these countries who were in the United States as of Oct. 20, 2023 to request TPS for the first time. Both last the maximum statutory period—18 months—which is until April 19, 2025.
The announcements came three days before DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was required to determine whether he would extend the designation for both countries. Secretary Mayorkas cited ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine and Sudan as reasons for the extensions and redesignations.
DHS estimates that there are more than 26,000 Ukrainian TPS-holders eligible for an extension, if they continue to meet the TPS eligibility requirements, and over 166,000 more Ukrainians who entered after April 19, 2022 who may be newly eligible to apply. In addition, the agency estimates that more than 1,200 Sudanese TPS holders are eligible to renew their TPS, with an estimated 2,750 eligible to apply for the first time.
Currently, 16 countries are designated for TPS. These designations come as conflicts, violence, and natural disasters continue to fuel unprecedented levels of global migration and internal displacements.
Members of Congress and advocates are also urging for initial designations of countries similarly impacted by armed conflict, humanitarian crises, and internal displacement, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and Mauritania. Relatedly, there are calls for redesignations of others like El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, which have been designated for TPS for decades, but where violence, climate-related disasters, and political repression have emerged or continued.
The precarious state of the world has resulted in nearly 670,000 TPS beneficiaries being stuck in a legal limbo where every 18 months they are required to wait and see if their country’s designation will be extended. By the end of 2023, DHS will have to decide whether to extend TPS for Afghanistan and Cameroon as those designations are set to expire. Next year, DHS will have to make this decision for seven other countries.
The growth In TPS designations also places pressure on USCIS, which continues to struggle to address its ongoing processing backlogs.
The median processing time for TPS applications is about 17 months, which means that many are taking longer than the 18-month designated period. To address this issue, DHS won’t require those with pending initial applications to re-apply under the extension and will provide those with an approved TPS application an automatic year-long extension of their work permits. Despite these efforts, statutory requirements—like a $50 filing fee, no filing fee for renewals, and the short designation period—will continue to hamper USCIS’ ability to meet the ongoing humanitarian need effectively and efficiently.
Unfortunately, durable solutions are nowhere to be found as some members of Congress refuse to address these and other immigration issues without first addressing border policy. Which means that as global conflict and disasters continue, the Biden administration and DHS will have to cobble together short-term solutions to bring safety and stability to people left in limbo.