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Temporary Protected Status (TPS): An Explainer

Over the last year, the Trump administration’s decisions to extend or terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for several countries has placed the status of hundreds of thousands of individuals and families currently living in the United States in jeopardy. While the administration has extended TPS status for a few countries (that have about 8,000 registrants combined), it has cancelled status for others, affecting more than 400,000 people in total. In response, lawmakers have discussed several options to provide these expiring TPS holders with legal status. A federal court in California also issued an injunction against the termination of TPS for several countries after advocates filed a lawsuit that questioned the administration’s justification for these decisions.    

What is Temporary Protected Status

Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, is a designation by the Homeland Security Secretary that a country receives if conditions in the country are deemed dangerous enough that an individual from that country, currently residing in the United States, would not be able to return safely, or if the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals from the United States. This can include situations such as national disasters, disease outbreaks, or civil unrest. TPS designations can last for six, 12, or 18 months and must be re-evaluated to determine whether they should be extended or terminated by the Homeland Security Secretary within six months before the expiration of the current designation. Individuals can apply for TPS status regardless of whether they are documented or undocumented at the time of the designation. They must register and pass background checks and are given work authorization during their status. 

What is the status of extensions and terminations for TPS designated countries?

Since Congress enacted TPS as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, 22 countries have been designated at some point in time by the Homeland Security Secretary. Seven countries have current designations. As of October 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has terminated TPS status for Nicaragua, El Salvador, Nepal, Sudan, Haiti, and Honduras, with varying termination dates throughout 2019 and 2020. However, a federal district court has issued a preliminary injunction ordering the government to continue the status for Sudan, Haiti, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. The administration has extended TPS status for Somalia, Yemen, Syria, and South Sudan. It has also granted Liberian TPS holders Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status, a humanitarian status that shields individuals without legal status in the United States from deportation and allows them to work in the country.

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Figure 1: TPS Designations, Terminations, and Extensions by Country

CountryCurrent StatusOriginal Date of DesignationExpiration Date
AngolaTerminated and ExpiredMarch 29, 2000March 29, 2003
Bosnia-HerzegovinaTerminated and ExpiredJuly 31, 1995February 10, 2001
BurundiTerminated and ExpiredNovember 10, 1997 November 2, 2007
El SalvadorTerminated—Not ExpiredMarch 9, 2001 April 2, 2019
GuineaTerminated and ExpiredNovember 14, 2014 May 20, 2017
Guinea-BissauTerminated and ExpiredMarch 11, 1999 March 20, 2000
HaitiTerminated—Not ExpiredJanuary 21, 2010 April 2, 2019
HondurasTerminated—Not ExpiredJanuary 5, 1999 January 5, 2020
KuwaitTerminated and ExpiredMarch 27, 1991 January 24, 1992
LebanonTerminated with DED*March 27, 1991 February 8, 1993
LiberiaTerminated and ExpiredNovember 21, 2014 May 21, 2017
MontserratTerminated and ExpiredSeptember 9, 1997 July 6, 2004
NepalTerminated—Not ExpiredJune 24, 2015 June 24, 2019
NicaraguaTerminated—Not ExpiredApril 1, 1999 April 2, 2019
Province of KosovoTerminated and ExpiredJune 9, 1998 May 23, 2000
RwandaTerminated and ExpiredMay 25, 1995 June 19, 1997
Sierra LeoneTerminated and ExpiredNovember 21, 2014 May 20, 2017
SomaliaExtendedJuly 31, 1995March 17, 2020
SudanTerminated—Not ExpiredNovember 10, 1997April 2, 2019
South SudanExtendedOctober 13, 2011May 2, 2019
SyriaExtendedMarch 29, 2012September 30, 2019
YemenExtendedSeptember 3, 2015March 3, 2020
Sources: Department of Justice and USCIS

*DED is a blanket relief from removal known as deferred enforced departure.

What are the characteristics of the TPS recipient population in the United States?

Approximately 436,866 TPS holders live in the United States, with the largest groups located in California (80,636 individuals), Florida (60,969 individuals), Texas (55,514 individuals), and New York (53,412 individuals). Nearly 273,000 U.S. citizen children have one or two parents with TPS status. More than half of all TPS holders, 254,550, come from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti. These TPS holders mostly live in major metropolitan areas including Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, and Miami, with an average length of residency in the United States of 20 years. 

The major population centers for Salvadoran TPS holders are California and Texas, particularly in the cities of Los Angeles and Houston. Most Haitian TPS holders live in Florida, especially in the Miami metropolitan area, where 80 percent have entered the labor force. In contrast to Salvadoran and Haitian TPS holders, Honduran TPS holders are more dispersed across the United States. However, Texas has the largest Honduran TPS population, with 8,400 individuals living in the state.

 


Figure 2: Major TPS Populations by Country of Origin and City of Residence

Country of Origin City/State of Residence TPS Population in City TPS population in state
El Salvador Los Angeles, California 29,400 49,100
Houston, Texas 19,000 36,300
Haiti Miami, Florida 24,000 32,500
Honduras Texas -- 8,400
Source: Journal on Migration and Human Security

What industries do TPS recipients work in?  

Although comprehensive data on TPS recipients is difficult to come by, at least one survey found that 88.5 percent of all TPS holders are in the U.S. labor force, demonstrating higher labor participation rates than U.S. citizens and other non-citizen groups. The five leading industries for Salvadoran, Honduran, and Haitian TPS holders include construction (51,700 individuals), restaurants and other food services (32,400 individuals), landscaping services (15,800 individuals), child day care services (10,000 individuals), and grocery stores (9,200 individuals).

More than half of TPS holders from the two largest populations (El Salvador and Honduras) pursue additional educational opportunities in the United States. A 2016 study found that approximately half of Salvadoran and Honduran TPS holders enrolled in English language courses (36.4 percent), completed high school or general education courses (9.6 percent), received a certification (4.9 percent), or enrolled in a university program or obtained a university degree (2.6 percent).

How has Congress responded to the termination of  TPS status for certain countries

During the 115th Congress in 2017, lawmakers proposed seven bills to extend TPS or provide a pathway to legal status for at least some of the countries whose designation has been terminated. While the proposed bills would allow certain groups to adjust status to permanent residence or obtain a TPS extension, the requirements, beneficiaries, and eligibility vary among the bills.

House members from both parties have proposed six bills, including the American Promise Act (H.R. 4253); the Act to Sustain the Protection of Immigrant Residents Earned through TPS (ASPIRE TPS) (H.R. 4384); Continue American Safety Act (CASA)(H.R. 6326); Extending Status Protection for Eligible Refugees with Established Residency Act (ESPERER Act) (H.R. 4184); TPS Extension Act of 2018 (H.R.6696) and the TPS Act of 2018 (H.R. 4750). While the ESPERER Act, American Promise Act, and TPS Act of 2018 provide different groups of TPS holders with a pathway to legal status, the ASPIRE TPS, TPS Extension Act of 2018, and CASA only extend TPS status for groups without granting access to a pathway to legal status.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced the S. 2144 Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and Emergency (SECURE) Act, which would provide a pathway to adjustment of status for eligible TPS and deferred enforced departure status holders if they have remained in the United States continuously for over three years and have a clean criminal record. In addition to these bills, 74 Democratic House members and 27 Democratic Senate members signed a letter expressing concern about the administration’s decision to eliminate TPS status for Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Haitians.

All legislation on TPS will have to be reintroduced when the 116th Congress convenes in January 2019.[note]Although the administration has not yet decided on granting TPS status for Venezuela, Congress has taken steps to push for this option. The anticipated new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), will propose legislation creating for TPS for Venezuelans. Menendez and Durbin, along with Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced legislation in December that would also grant TPS status to Venezuelans as well as allocate $10 million to assist countries in the region who are receiving Venezuelan emigrants. [/note]

Have the courts weighed in on these terminations

In March 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network filed a lawsuit on behalf of TPS holders and U.S. citizen children of TPS holders contesting the legal grounds of the administration’s decision to eliminate TPS status for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. In October 2018, a U.S. district court judge in California issued a preliminary injunction against the removal of this status for the four countries. The judge stated that the administration’s decision was an “arbitrary” act that would negatively impact these beneficiaries and their families. The judge also stated that the decision reflected racial animus towards the nationals of these countries. Although the lawsuit remains in litigation, DHS extended TPS for these countries until at least April 2, 2019.