In the last few months, comprehensive immigration reform has been pushed into the national spotlight as Congress works to pass legislation to amend the U.S. immigration system. While most of these discussions and prospective changes involve employment-based immigration and how to address the large undocumented immigration population, it has recently come to light that Congress might also include changes to the Temporary Protected Status in its reform legislation.
Temporary Protected Status ("TPS") was created in 1990 as the U.S.'s humanitarian response to the tumultuous civil war in El Salvador. The purpose of this status was to help foreign nationals from countries that were engaged in war (or continuous armed conflicts) or facing natural disasters (such as hurricanes or earthquakes). Because the grant of TPS is dependent upon a country's conditions, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designates which countries' citizens are eligible for TPS. Currently, a few designated countries include El Salvador, Haiti, and Sudan.
In general, to qualify for TPS, the individual must be a national of a designated country, file the request for TPS within the designated registration period, have been physically present on a continuous basis in the U.S. since the country's date of designation, and have been residing on a continuous basis in the U.S. since the specific date allotted to the country. Individuals who qualify for TPS are eligible to apply for work and travel authorization. Although, the TPS does not lead to U.S. permanent residence (i.e., a green card), individuals with TPS are allowed to apply for a green card through other avenues such as family or employment.
A grant of TPS is initially valid for 18 months. However, if the individual's country conditions remain dangerous, the TPS can be extended on an ongoing basis, potentially for several years. This constant extension of TPS - that itself offers no pathway to permanent status - has resulted in many TPS individuals encountering difficulty finding employment. Most employers are unfamiliar with the intricacies and realities of many complex immigration laws, and many companies do not want to hire a person with only temporary status - even though that person's status may be extended for more than twenty years.
Because the current state of TPS leaves many individuals in limbo, several immigration advocacy groups are encouraging Congress to include a pathway to permanent residence (and ultimately citizenship) for these foreign nationals.
As with most legislative proposals, it may take a very long time for Congress to decide which changes to make to TPS, if any. In the meantime, the Gee Law Firm will continue to monitor the TPS debate and will provide visitors to our blog with further information on this important subject as it becomes available.