Activists march toward the White House on Feb. 23 in a call for Congress and the Biden administration to pass legislation granting immigrants with Temporary Protected Status a path to citizenship.
Activists march toward the White House on Feb. 23 in a call for Congress and the Biden administration to pass legislation granting immigrants with Temporary Protected Status a path to citizenship. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants who do not want to return to dangerous conditions in their home countries have received extensions of Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, a federal program that gives time-limited permission for some immigrants from certain countries to work and live in the United States.

Since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the program, has added two nations (Myanmar – also called Burma – and Venezuela) to the list of those whose immigrants may be eligible to apply for TPS. The department also extended benefits into 2022 and beyond for eligible immigrants from nine other nations: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In addition, the Biden administration expanded eligibility for immigrants from Haiti based on recent turmoil. By contrast, the Trump administration had sought to end TPS for nearly all beneficiaries, but was blocked from doing so by a series of lawsuits.

After taking office in January 2021, the Biden administration designated immigrants from Venezuela and Myanmar (also called Burma) as eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and extended deadlines for protection from deportation to immigrants from nine other countries. In addition, the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress have proposed a pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of immigrants with TPS as part of broader immigration legislation. This represents a change from the Trump administration, which sought to end the TPS program for most beneficiaries.

To look at who could be affected, we analyzed information about the TPS program published on the Department of Homeland Security website and Federal Register announcements about TPS benefits, as well as a White House fact sheet, a fact sheet from Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., and the text of a bill proposed by congressional Democrats. We also relied on information from the Congressional Research Service.

In this analysis, TPS beneficiary numbers for most countries are taken from Department of Homeland Security statistics provided to the Congressional Research Service, which exclude recipients who also have Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status or U.S. citizenship. Some may have left the U.S. or died. For immigrants from Myanmar and Venezuela, estimates of the number of people eligible were included in Federal Register notices designating those nations as covered by TPS.  

A table showing that at least 700,000 immigrants from 12 different nations are covered by Temporary Protected Status

Overall, it is estimated that at least 700,000 immigrants from 12 countries currently have or are eligible to have a reprieve from deportation under TPS, which covers those who come from designated nations where it may not be safe to return because of war, hurricanes, earthquakes or other extraordinary conditions. The estimated total is based on those currently registered, in addition to those estimated to be eligible from Myanmar, Venezuela and under the expanded designation for Haiti.

Federal immigration officials may grant TPS status to immigrants for up to 18 months initially based on conditions in their home countries and may repeatedly extend eligibility if dangerous conditions persist.

Biden and congressional Democrats have proposed granting citizenship to TPS recipients who meet certain conditions. After taking office, Biden asked Congress to pass legislation that would allow TPS recipients who meet certain conditions to apply immediately for green cards that let them become lawful permanent residents. TPS currently does not make people automatically eligible for permanent residence or U.S. citizenship.

The legislation proposed by Biden and congressional Democrats would allow TPS holders to apply for citizenship three years after receiving a green card, which is two years earlier than usual for green-card holders. Citizenship would be granted if they pass additional background checks and meet the usual naturalization conditions of knowledge of English and U.S. civics.

The TPS provisions are a part of broader proposed legislation that would grant similar benefits to some unauthorized immigrant farmworkers and recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Other U.S. unauthorized immigrants, after applying for temporary legal status, would be required to wait five years to apply for a green card that would make them eligible for citizenship later.

In designating Venezuelans as eligible for TPS, the Biden administration said the country “is currently facing a severe humanitarian emergency” with impacts on its economy, human rights, medical care, crime, and access to food and basic services. The Federal Register notice, which estimated 323,000 people would be eligible to apply, also cited charges of election fraud on behalf of President Nicolás Maduro, who has led the country since 2013. Since January 2021, Venezuelans also had been eligible for deportation relief and work authorization under a separate federal program called Deferred Enforced Departure (read more in text box “Deferred Enforced Departure also offers protection from deportation”).

Deferred Enforced Departure also offers protection from deportation

Another form of temporary relief from deportation, called Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), is granted at the president’s discretion, rather than as a result of an administrative process in the Department of Homeland Security. It usually follows catastrophes in immigrants’ home countries similar to those that have triggered TPS. Currently, certain immigrants from Liberia, Venezuela and Hong Kong are eligible for this benefit and are also allowed to apply for authorization to work. Liberian immigrants with DED have relief until June 30, 2022, and those from Venezuela have it until July 20, 2022. Immigrants from Hong Kong must have lived in the U.S. since Aug. 5, 2021, and are eligible for 18 months after that date.

The designation of Myanmar applies to immigrants who have lived in the U.S. since March 11, 2021, or earlier. About 1,600 people are estimated to be eligible, according to a Federal Register notice. In announcing the TPS designation, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas cited the impact of the Feb. 1 military coup, including “continuing violence, pervasive arbitrary detentions, the use of lethal violence against peaceful protesters, and intimidation of the people of Burma.”

As of March 2021, most TPS beneficiaries had lived in the U.S. for two decades or more. Those from Honduras and Nicaragua were designated eligible based on damage from Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and must have been living in the country since Dec. 30 of that year. The current protection for immigrants from El Salvador applies to those who have lived in the U.S. since Feb. 13, 2001, following a series of earthquakes that killed more than a thousand people and inflicted widespread damage.

The original TPS designation for Haiti was based on a damaging earthquake in January 2010. Immigrants from there are eligible if they entered the U.S. by early 2011. The Biden administration added a new designation covering Haitians who lived in the U.S. since July 29, 2021, based on a continuing political crisis, violence, human rights abuses and other dangerous conditions that were worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Immigrants with TPS live in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Congressional Research Service. The largest populations live in California, Florida, Texas and New York, which traditionally have had had large immigrant populations.

Once the Department of Homeland Security designates 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. Those with a valid temporary visa or another non-immigrant status, such as foreign students, are also eligible to apply.

To be granted TPS, applicants 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.

Federal officials are required to announce at least 60 days before any TPS designation expires whether it will be extended. Without a decision, it automatically extends six months. Congress and President George H.W. Bush authorized the TPS program in the 1990 Immigration Act, granting the White House executive power to designate and extend the status to immigrants in the U.S. based on certain criteria.

CORRECTION (Oct. 29, 2021): Due to a typographical error, a previous version of the table by country misstated a required date of U.S. residence for Haitian immigrant eligibility (2010 designation). The required date was Jan. 12, 2011.  

Note: This is an update of a post originally published March 1, 2021.

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