The United States has extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuela for an additional 18 months, shielding Venezuelans residing in the US as of early March 2021 from potential deportation.
In a statement on Monday, US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said that Venezuelans in the country as of March 8 last year would be eligible to apply.
Majorkas said the move was “one of many ways the Biden administration is providing humanitarian support to Venezuelans at home and abroad”.
TPS is a designation that allows the US government to shield foreign nationals already in the country from deportation when it is deemed not safe for them to return to their home countries due to armed conflict, natural disaster or other temporary conditions.
Venezuela is experiencing a widespread refugee crisis, as escalating violence, a lack of access to basic goods, including food and medicine, and political uncertainty have pushed more than six million people to flee the country, according to the United Nations.
Last month, thousands of migrants – mostly from Central America and Venezuela – set off on foot from southern Mexico towards the US border in search of asylum.
But Monday’s DHS order does not re-designate TPS for Venezuela, meaning that those who have come to the US since March 8, 2021, will not be eligible, drawing criticism from migration advocates.
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, said on Twitter that this means “none of the 150,000+ Venezuelans who entered since then will qualify”.
Immigration rights groups and some US legislators, including members of President Joe Biden’s own Democratic Party, had called on the administration to re-designate Venezuela to widen the scope of the protections.
“Instead, these community members will now be at risk of being deported to a country in chaos where they continue to face unsafe conditions,” the organisation said. “Placing them at extreme risk of violence and even death.”
The 18-month extension will begin on September 10, 2022, and expire on March 10, 2024.
The Biden administration extended TPS to Venezuela in March 2021, saying the South American nation was “in turmoil” and unable to protect its citizens.
Since then, “threats to civilians by armed actors, the complete erosion of the rule of law, and the systemic collapse of vital infrastructure have forced nearly half a million additional people to flee the country”, Democratic US senators Chris Van Hollen and Bob Menendez said in a letter last week to Majorkas and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The legislators said 76,450 Venezuelans had been approved for TPS as of May 5, and they urged the Biden administration to extend and re-designate the country.
“Denying access to TPS will not serve as an effective deterrent to future border crossings, it will simply ensure that Venezuelans will live in poverty in the United States, with no other options,” they wrote.
New! @SecMayorkas extends TPS for Venezuela but does NOT redesignate it, meaning it still only applies for people who arrived before March 8, 2021.
Many asked Mayorkas to move up the date, but he did not. So none of the 150,000+ Venezuelans who entered since then will qualify. pic.twitter.com/U1FMFiAoH8
— Aaron Reichlin-Melnick (@ReichlinMelnick) July 11, 2022
Other countries in the Americas region with TPS designations include Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador.
However, the US has been criticised by human rights groups for denying entry to migrants and asylum seekers from countries where violence is widespread, largely under a pandemic-era border restriction known as Title 42.
While Haiti, for example, has a TPS designation, the Biden administration has turned away Haitian migrants at the US’s southern border with Mexico and even sent some people back to Haiti on deportation flights.
In September 2021, a former US special envoy to Haiti quit his post over the “inhumane” deportations of Haitian asylum seekers.
Biden, who promised to overturn some of his predecessor Donald Trump’s most hardline, anti-immigration policies, has been under political pressure amid record numbers of asylum seekers arriving at the US-Mexico border.