U.S. offers nearly half-a-million Venezuelan migrants legal status and work permits following demands from strained cities

Washington — The Biden administration on Wednesday offered nearly half-a-million Venezuelan migrants in the U.S. the ability to live and work in the country legally, approving a longstanding request from cities struggling to house asylum-seekers.

The Department of Homeland Security expanded, or redesignated, the Temporary Protected Status program for Venezuelan migrants, allowing recent arrivals to apply for the deportation protections and work permits offered by the policy. CBS News first reported the move earlier Wednesday.

Previously, only Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. before March 2021 qualified for TPS, a program created by Congress in 1990 to offer a temporary safe haven to migrants from countries facing humanitarian crises, such as an armed conflict or a natural disaster.

By redesignating Venezuela’s TPS program, the U.S. is rendering the record number of Venezuelans who have reached the U.S. over the past two years eligible for the status. An estimated 472,000 additional Venezuelans are expected to qualify for TPS, which has already allowed about 242,000 migrants from that country to obtain the status, according to DHS figures. Venezuelans who reached the U.S. after the end of July will not qualify for TPS.

“Temporary protected status provides individuals already present in the United States with protection from removal when the conditions in their home country prevent their safe return,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “That is the situation that Venezuelans who arrived here on or before July 31 of this year find themselves in.”

While others without legal status will also qualify for TPS, the announcement will mostly benefit the more than 400,000 Venezuelan migrants who have trekked to the U.S. southern border over the past two-and-a-half years as part of a massive exodus from the South American country.

In recent years, more than seven million Venezuelans have fled economic calamity and authoritarian rule, with most of them resettling in other South American nations, such as Colombia, marking the largest refugee crisis ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. Increasingly, more Venezuelans have left Venezuela or other countries in search of better economic opportunities in the U.S., embarking on a weeks-long journey that entails crossing Panama’s once-impenetrable Darién Gap on foot.

The administration’s announcement is an important victory for congressional Democrats and leaders in large cities like New York, who for months have been pressuring the federal government to grant migrants in their communities legal status so they can work legally more quickly and not rely on local services.

New York City, in particular, has struggled to house tens of thousands of migrants, many of them from Venezuela, in over 200 hotels, shelters, tent cities and other facilities.

New York City, in particular, has struggled to house tens of thousands of migrants, many of them from Venezuela, in over 200 hotels, shelters, tent cities and other facilities.

“Our administration and our partners across the city have led the calls to ‘Let Them Work,’ so I want to thank President Biden for hearing our entire coalition, including our hard-working congressional delegation, and taking this important step that will bring hope to the thousands of Venezuelan asylum seekers currently in our care who will now be immediately eligible for Temporary Protected Status,” New York Mayor Eric Adams said on Wednesday.

Asylum seekers camp outside the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan of New York
Migrants line up outside Roosevelt Hotel in New York City while waiting for placement inside a shelter that is at full capacity on Aug. 2, 2023.FATIH AKTAS/ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES

The Biden administration has used TPS on an unprecedented scale, making record numbers of migrants from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Haiti, Myanmar, Sudan and Ukraine eligible for the program.

The administration has also kept in place long-standing TPS programs for El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Nepal, reversing the Trump administration’s efforts to terminate them. TPS has long been criticized by Republicans who argue it had been improperly used to give legal status to migrants, some of whom entered the U.S. illegally, for indefinite periods of time despite its temporary nature.

The Biden administration, however, has internally resisted at times expanding TPS programs for certain countries, such as Nicaragua, due to concerns about encouraging more migrants to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally with a generous immigration announcement.

Pressed by CBS News on whether they feared that expanding the TPS policy could fuel more migration, administration officials said they hoped to dissuade Venezuelan migrants from entering the U.S. illegally by setting a cut-off date for the program in July.

“The continuous residence date being set at July 31, 2023, makes clear that individuals who arrive after that date will not be eligible for TPS. We’re hoping to communicate that clearly,” a senior DHS official said, requesting anonymity during a briefing with reporters.

Illegal crossings along the southern border have reached record levels under the Biden administration. While they dropped to a two-year low in June, unlawful border crossings increased sharply in July and August, testing a carrots and sticks strategy the administration unveiled earlier this year with the hopes of slowing down U.S.-bound migration.

The administration announced several additional actions on Wednesday to address the concerns from New York and other cities receiving migrants. It said it would expedite the review of work permit requests for migrants who enter the U.S. at border ports of entry through a phone app-powered system and a program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans with American sponsors. The objective, officials said, is to adjudicate those requests within 30 days, down from the current 90-day average.

Officials also announced that DHS will increase the validity period of work permits from two to five years for many migrants, including asylum-seekers, refugees and green card applicants. The move, officials added, is designed to cut down on the number of renewal applications the agency has to review.

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