Mounting backlogs in government processing of applications for humanitarian immigration programs are leaving thousands of foreign nationals without the ability to work to support themselves and their families while they wait.
The lengthy processing times—which can take up to a year or more—threaten to undercut the Biden administration’s expanded use of such programs, including Temporary Protected Status.
TPS allows foreign nationals who can’t return to their home countries because of conflict or natural disaster to live and work in the US for 18-month periods. The program serves as a complement to the country’s slower-moving, yet permanent, asylum process.
The Department of Homeland Security most recently extended protections for Venezuelan and Syrian nationals.
But while US Citizenship and Immigration Services has taken some steps to provide relief from the effects of the backlogs, such as automatically extending work permits for existing TPS recipients whose protections are extended, that does little for first-time applicants.
Initial TPS applications for Venezuelans are taking roughly 10.5 months on average to process, leaving them just months before they must reapply.
“Announcement of TPS grants is becoming a little symbolic while the agency struggles to keep up with applications,” said Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.
Without approval to seek employment for months on end, TPS applicants may need to rely on support from nonprofits and family networks, or work illegally. Extended work without authorization can count against individuals applying for immigration benefits like green cards.
“They’re left in a situation where they have no good options,” said Lora Adams, campaign coordinator for the TPS-DED Administrative Advocacy Coalition.
USCIS saw a dramatic increase in TPS applications from Venezuela and Haiti beginning in late 2021. Processing times vary depending on the complexities of each case, and applicants could see delays as the agency navigates registration periods for several extensions and designations for new countries, a spokesman for the agency said.
By Andrew Kreighbaum
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