Federal authorities are permitting Haitians who fled their impoverished country before and after last year’s devastating earthquake more time to stay in the United States.
Haitian nationals who were already living in the U.S. before the earthquake and who were granted temporary protection status can apply for an 18-month extension to remain, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday.
About 48,000 Haitian nationals fall into this status and their temporary protection was due to expire July 22, which was a “great concern,” said Maureen Kelleher, managing attorney for the Legal Aid Service of Collier County. Now they can apply to stay until Jan. 22, 2013.
In addition, homeland security has renewed Haiti for a temporary protection program, which means Haitians who came to the U.S. up to one year after the earthquake can apply for protected status to stay and work. If eligible, they also could stay through Jan. 22, 2013.
The new eligibility applies to those who can prove continuous residency and physical presence on or before Jan. 12, 2011, said Luz Figuereo Irazabal, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The original temporary protection status had only applied to Haitians already in the U.S. on or before the day of the earthquake, which struck Jan. 12, 2010. Many others were authorized to enter the U.S. immediately after on temporary visas or humanitarian parole, but were not eligible for the temporary protection.
“We had a ton of people who came afterward,” Kelleher, of Legal Aid, said. “This is saying (the federal government) is giving an additional eligibility to people here within a year of the earthquake.”
When asked if Legal Aid has an estimate of how many earthquake refugees may now be eligible for temporary protection status to stay and get a work permit, Kelleher said that is the magic number.
“I don’t know. I can tell you a lot of the Haitian churches were very active in trying to get humanitarian parole,” she said. “You have to show you are Haitian, and your continuous residence.”
Legal Aid staff in both the Immokalee and Naples offices handled several hundred applications under the original program.
“Legal Aid did about 350 applications so we expect a huge number will come back for renewals, and they will have to prove continuous residence,” she said.
Those applying for the 18-month extension will have to pay a $380 application fee and $85 for fingerprinting, for a total of $465, she said. Those Haitians who will be newly eligible for the temporary protection will have to pay both those fees, plus an additional $50 fee for a total of $515, she said.
John Paul, church board secretary for New Haitian Church of the Nazarene in East Naples, said the new eligibility for Haitians who came after the earthquake will be a big help for them and local family members who have taken them in. Without temporary protection status, they could not get work permits.
“A lot of those people were in limbo, they had visitors’ visas and got here legally and have been here since,” he said. “I honestly think this is a good thing for the people who came after the earthquake.”
A person who has been convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors, or who is subject to a criminal or security-related matter that bars admissions under immigration law is not eligible for TPS. Haitians who attempt to enter the country now or in the future will not be granted temporary protection status.
Homeland security also announced that it will soon publish a notice for the continued suspension of requirements of foreign students who suffered hardship from the earthquake. The continued suspension through Jan. 22, 2013, allows these students to work, to work an increased number of hours during the school term and, if necessary, reduce their course work while maintaining their foreign student status.
Paul, of New Haitian, said the fees for new temporary status applicants will likely be paid for by the local family members who have taken in the earthquake refugees since they haven’t been able to work. That means the families will have less money for other things, and may seek help from charities and social service agencies.
The church will help out where it can and can accept donations on behalf of Haitians who fled after the earthquake.
For more information about the TPS program, Haitians are encouraged to call the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services at 1-800-375-5283 or go to the website, www.uscis.gov/tps.