The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced August 1 that it is extending Syria’s Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months, although qualified people who have not yet applied for the program will be ineligible to participate.
The decision to extend means that some 7,000 TPS holders from Syria will be able to remain and work in the U.S. through March 31, 2021. After that, the department will determine whether to again renew the designation or end it.
“The decision to extend TPS for Syria was made after a review of the conditions upon which the country’s designation is based, which was ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions, as well as an assessment of whether those conditions continue to exist as required by statute,” the Department of Homeland Security said.
The department determined that these conditions are still present in the country, and that Syrian nationals returning to their country would face perilous and life-threatening conditions.
Organizations that work with Syrian TPS holders welcomed the decision, while lamenting that new applicants who are currently in the U.S. will not be accepted.
Americans for a Free Syria, the American Relief Coalition for Syria, and the Syrian American Council have formed a coalition to advocate with Congress and DHS officials, as well as build public awareness and support for Syrian TPS holders.
In a statement, the group applauded the TPS extension, but added that “we remain gravely concerned for the Syrians in this country not protected by TPS.”
“If Syria is unsafe for American travelers and current TPS holders, it’s also unsafe for Syrians who came to the United States more recently. We urge the Administration to take a closer look at redesignation until the country is at peace and ready to accept returning Syrians.”
Nada, a Syrian TPS holder working with the coalition, voiced gratitude at the extension. Nada is an art teacher who just completed her master’s degree last year. She is the mother of two teenage children, and the breadwinner for her family.
“As a TPS holder, I can’t tell you how much my family and I are relieved about this decision,” she said in a statement. “It opens new horizons for us and allows us to feel more at peace.”
The U.S. provides “temporary protected status” to some groups of immigrants who are unable to return home due to temporary emergencies in their homeland, including armed conflicts or natural disasters. TPS beneficiaries must pass background checks and cannot be linked to criminal or terrorist groups. Syrian TPS holders must have been in the U.S. since Aug. 1, 2016.
Syria has been included as a TPS country since 2012, following the outbreak of a civil war in the country. More than 500,000 people have been killed in the ongoing violence, and some 5.6 million people have become refuges, with 6.6 million more believed to have been internally displaced by the violence.
While TPS benefits have been extended for 18 months, the Department of Homeland Security declined for the second time to redesignate TPS for the country, meaning that those qualify for TPS but had not yet applied are ineligible for the program’s protections.
DHS first chose to extend TPS benefits for Syria without redesignating last year, after several years of both extending and redesignating.
The coalition of advocacy groups working with Syrian TPS beneficiaries objected to this failure to redesignate, stressing that “[t]he threat to civilians living in Syria and those returning is still very real.”
“The State Department issued a travel advisory in April of this year stating plainly: ‘No part of Syria is safe from violence.’ Until that changes, no Syrian should be forced back to a war zone,” the group said.