The US will offer temporary legal protection to an estimated 320,000 Venezuelans who came to the US after fleeing the brutal dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro, fulfilling one of President Joe Biden’s campaign promises.
A senior Biden administration official said Monday that Venezuelans currently residing in the US will be able to apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which is typically conferred on citizens of countries suffering from natural disasters, armed conflict, or other extraordinary circumstances.
For an 18-month period, it will allow Venezuelans who pass security and background checks to continue to live in the US free of fear of deportation, and to obtain work permits. Those who arrive after March 8, however, will not be eligible.
Since Maduro claimed to have won a 2018 presidential election whose results have been widely disputed, some 5 million Venezuelans have fled the country. Those who remain continue to face widespread hunger, economic collapse, threats from non-state armed groups, crumbling infrastructure, limited access to health care amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and violent crackdowns on free speech.
The Biden administration’s decision to extend TPS status to Venezuelans living in the US is part of a broader strategy to increase pressure on the Maduro regime and push the country toward democracy after sanctions have failed, the official said.
“This designation is due to the extraordinary and temporary conditions in Venezuela that prevent nationals here from returning safely,” they said. “This is a complex humanitarian crisis.”
It’s not clear whether the Biden administration will evaluate whether to renew their TPS status after the 18-month period, or how it will eventually determine when it is safe for them to return to their home country. The official emphasized that the protections are intended to be temporary — even though many TPS recipients from other countries have been allowed to remain in the US for decades.
Those eligible will have 180 days to apply for protections, starting Tuesday, and will have to provide school records, pay stubs or other proof of residency in the US. For those who request work permits, the total cost of applying will be $545.
Former President Donald Trump previously offered Venezuelans in the US the opportunity to apply for another kind of humanitarian protection called “Deferred Enforced Departure,” shielding them from deportation and allowing them to apply for work permits for a period of 18 months starting in January. Biden’s decision to also extend TPS status to Venezuelans gives them another way to seek protection.
Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez and Dick Durbin had proposed legislation to offer TPS to Venezuelans in 2019, but it was repeatedly blocked by Republicans.
Despite recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s rightful president, Trump had also refused to offer TPS to Venezuelans. His administration continued to deport them until at least March 2020 despite the United Nations’ finding that the Maduro regime had committed crimes against humanity.
Trump also sought to dismantle TPS more broadly. He tried to terminate TPS protections for about 400,000 citizens of El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, among nationals of other countries, starting in November 2017, against the advice of senior State Department officials. He argued that conditions in those countries had improved enough that their citizens could safely return.
Biden, on the other hand, has vowed to prevent TPS recipients from being sent back to countries that are unsafe, and to pursue legislation providing a path to citizenship to those who have lived in the US for an “extended period of time and built lives in the US.”
The Dream and Promise Act, which passed the House in 2019, would have made TPS holders who have lived in the US for three or more years eligible to apply for a green card and, eventually, US citizenship. The latest version of the bill is expected to go up for a vote in Congress as early as this week.