November 8, 2017

More than 100,000 Haitian and Central American immigrants face decision on their status in the U.S.

People protest the possibility that the Trump administration may overturn Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office on May 13 in Miami. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
People protest the possibility that the Trump administration may overturn Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office on May 13 in Miami. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

More than 100,000 immigrants from Haiti and Honduras are expected to learn in the coming weeks whether they will be allowed to stay in the United States under temporary protection that was granted years ago because of natural disasters in their home countries. That protection expires next year.

These immigrants are among more than 320,000 from 10 nations who have time-limited permission to live and work in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) because of war, hurricanes, earthquakes or other catastrophes in their home countries that could make it dangerous for them to return. The largest number – 195,000 – is from El Salvador, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates.

Federal officials have not said whether they plan to extend Temporary Protected Status for Haiti and Honduras, which already have repeatedly been extended, but they have stated that TPS is meant to provide temporary rather than long-term relief. Nicaragua’s designation will now expire in January 2019, U.S. officials announced on Nov. 6. Officials from some nations where TPS will soon expire have asked for extensions, saying their countries have not fully recovered and that their immigrants contribute to the U.S. economy. Earlier this year, on May 21, TPS expired for immigrants from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In all, immigrants with Temporary Protected Status were about 3% of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2015, according to Pew Research Center estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population and Homeland Security estimates of immigrants with TPS. Immigrants with this status account for close to half of all unauthorized immigrants from Haiti, about a quarter of those from El Salvador, 15% of those from Honduras and a smaller share (about 5%) of those from Nicaragua. This analysis assumes that nearly all immigrants with TPS are in the U.S. without authorization.

Once the administration or Congress has designated a nation’s immigrants as eligible for Temporary Protected Status, immigrants may apply if they entered the U.S. without authorization or entered on a temporary visa that has expired. A small number may be in the U.S. on a valid temporary visa, especially from countries granted TPS in the past few years.

To apply successfully for TPS, immigrants must meet filing deadlines, pay a fee and prove they have lived in the U.S. continuously since the events that triggered relief from deportation. They also must meet criminal-record requirements – for example, that they have not been convicted of any felony or two or more misdemeanors while in the U.S., or been engaged in persecuting others or terrorism.

Temporary Protected Status does not make individuals automatically eligible for permanent residence or U.S. citizenship, but some may apply for permanent lawful status.

The TPS designation for Haitians expires Jan. 22, 2018, and federal officials are required to announce 60 days before any TPS designation expires whether it will be extended; without a decision, it automatically extends six months. The designation for Honduras was to expire Jan. 5, 2018, but was extended for six months because officials said they were not ready to make a decision. El Salvador’s TPS designation is to end March 9, 2018.

Here is the status for the largest origin groups now protected under TPS, based on the most recent Federal Register notices that extended the designations for each country:

HAITI

There are about 110,000 unauthorized immigrants from Haiti in the U.S., according to the Center’s estimates, and about 46,000 have Temporary Protected Status, according to government figures.

The TPS designation for Haiti was based upon an earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people in January 2010. Immigrants also are eligible if they entered the U.S. up to a year later – so any Haitian immigrant with protected status has been in the U.S. since at least early 2011.

In May, then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly extended Haiti’s status for six months, but said Haitians “need to start thinking about returning.” Some Haitians have fled to Canada and applied for asylum there because of concerns that their TPS status may be taken away. The Haitian government has asked for an 18-month extension, citing recent catastrophes including other recent hurricanes.

EL SALVADOR

There are 725,000 unauthorized immigrants from El Salvador in Pew Research Center 2015 estimates, and U.S. government officials estimate that 195,000 have Temporary Protected Status.

The current TPS status for El Salvador applies to immigrants who were living in the U.S. as of Feb. 13, 2001, following a series of earthquakes that killed more than a thousand people and inflicted widespread damage. Recovery has been slowed by a series of problems, including “hurricanes and tropical storms, heavy rains and flooding, volcanic and seismic activity, an ongoing coffee rust [fungus disease] epidemic, and a prolonged regional drought that is impacting food security,” according to a Federal Register notice explaining why the designation has repeatedly been extended. The notice also cited increasing violence and high unemployment. El Salvador’s government has asked that TPS be extended.

HONDURAS and NICARAGUA

Of the estimated 375,000 unauthorized immigrants from Honduras, 57,000 have Temporary Protected Status. Among the estimated 75,000 unauthorized immigrants from Nicaragua, roughly 2,550 have TPS until it expires in early 2019.

Immigrants from Honduras and Nicaragua who qualify for TPS must have been living in the U.S. as of Dec. 30, 1998. Immigrants from both countries were designated eligible for TPS based on damage from Hurricane Mitch in October 1998. The storm killed more than 5,600 people in Honduras and more than 3,000 in Nicaragua. The government of Honduras also has requested an extension of TPS.

Damage in Honduras was estimated at $5 billion, and recovery has been hampered by tropical storms, drought and poverty, according to federal officials when they last extended the TPS designation. In Nicaragua, damage was at least $1.3 billion, with a series of environmental disasters – including storms, earthquakes and a volcanic eruption – getting in the way of recovery efforts, federal officials said in extending that country’s TPS designation. Elaine Duke, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said in that announcement that conditions in Nicaragua have improved enough that the TPS designation can be terminated.

Because of data limitations, Pew Research Center has not estimated the TPS share of unauthorized immigrants from the other six countries whose immigrants are eligible. They include Nepal (with 8,950 immigrants eligible for TPS, according to Department of Homeland Security estimates), Somalia (250), South Sudan (70 or more), Sudan (1,040), Syria (8,300) and Yemen (1,000).

Congress and President George H.W. Bush authorized the TPS program in the 1990 immigration law, granting the White House executive power to designate and extend the status to immigrants in the U.S. based on certain criteria.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published Nov. 3, 2017.

Topics: Immigration, Latin America, Unauthorized Immigration, Foreign Affairs and Policy, Donald Trump

  1. Photo of D’Vera Cohn

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Jeffrey S. Passel

    is a senior demographer at Pew Research Center.