When certain emergencies arise in another country , the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can designate that country’s citizens, if they are already present in United States, as eligible for “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS).
TPS is a temporary designation that allows its beneficiaries to live and work in the U.S. and travel in and out of the U.S. for the duration of the emergency without fear of being placed into removal proceedings for overstaying a visa. The U.S. usually authorizes TPS in situations of upheaval due to natural disasters (such as hurricanes or earthquakes), an outbreak of disease, or armed conflicts that have made it unsafe to return.
Which Countries Are Eligible for TPS
To see whether your country is on the list of TPS designees, as well as the valid registration periods, you can visit the "Temporary Protected Status” page of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. As of mid-2015, the following nations are designated for TPS:
- El Salvador
- Sierra Leone
- South Sudan
Additional Eligibility Requirements for TPS
It is not enough to merely be a citizen of a designated nation to be eligible for TPS. You must submit an application to USCIS within the advertised initial or late registration periods and meet a number of other eligibility requirements:
- Physical Presence in the U.S.: You must have been continuously physically present in the U.S. since the effective date upon which your country was designated or redesignated for TPS. This means that other than “brief, casual, and innocent” travel outside the U.S. (a short trip to Canada or Mexico, for example), you have remained in the United States.
- Continuous Residence in the U.S.: Likewise, you must have continuously resided in the United States from the date USCIS specifies for your country, usually a few months or days prior to the effective date. The same travel limitations from the physical presence requirement apply here.
- No Serious Criminal Record: If you have been convicted of a felony or two or more misdemeanors in the United States, you will be ineligible for TPS benefits.
- Not Otherwise Inadmissible: If you are considered “inadmissible” to the U.S., you will not be eligible to file for TPS unless a waiver is available and you file a Form I-601 along with your TPS application. Some grounds of inadmissibility include criminal convictions, immigration violations, and medical issues. For more on inadmissibility and waivers, visit “Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out.”
- Not Subject to the Asylum Bars: Although TPS differs from asylum in a number of ways, USCIS treats the two the same when it comes to the mandatory bars to asylum. Therefore, if you have firmly resettled in a third country, persecuted others in your home country, been convicted of a serious crime, or pose a national security threat, you will not be eligible for TPS. To learn more about the mandatory asylum bars, see the article “Bars to Receiving Asylum or Refugee Status.”
It’s also important to note that if your native country has been designated a TPS nation because of violent conflict or political turmoil, you may have a basis upon which to apply for asylum. So if you have been persecuted or have a credible fear of persecution based on your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, applying for asylum might, in the long-term, be a better option than applying for TPS. However, if you need to work immediately, you should first apply for TPS, as you won’t be able to get a work permit for a long time after submitting your asylum application. For more on applying for asylum, see the section “Asylum & Refugee Status.”