TPS Program Conflicts with the Pause in Migration from Seven Countries

By David North, January 30, 2017

One of the ironies of the president's ban on the admission of aliens from seven Muslim-majority nations is that it does not seem to touch the ability of illegal aliens from four of those countries, assuming that they are in the United States, from signing up for temporary legal status under the TPS program, and getting permits that would allow them to work legally in America.

So a non-troubling alien with a brand-new visa cannot enter the nation immediately, but someone who has broken our immigration laws successfully is given benefits.

Why is this the case? There are at least two reasons: First, the immigration law is complex and elements of it are not well known to the new administration; and second, quickly enacted policies are not always researched thoroughly.

Let's look at this in a little more depth. Three of the seven nations (Iran, Iraq, and Libya) are not covered by Temporary Protected Status, but the other four (Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) are covered. TPS means that for the time being — it is doled out in 18-month chunks and rarely terminated — aliens from those countries, whether legally in the United States or not, can apply for legal status and a work permit.

This is how these policies would seem to play out for three categories of people from Yemen, for instance:

  • A green card holder outside the United States wanting to return must be re-checked by U.S. diplomats before returning to the United States.

  • A holder of a valid, newly issued visa outside the United States cannot be admitted for 90 days.

  • An illegal alien now in the United States can apply for TPS and an employment authorization card.

Fortunately, the number of TPS eligibles who have applied is not large, and perhaps the number of potential eligibles who have not yet filed is also small. Recent Federal Register announcements for the four countries have carried these estimates of TPS enrollees:

  • Somalia: 250
  • Sudan: 450
  • Syria: 5,800
  • Yemen: 1,000

There are several reasons why these numbers are low: We have not been granting many visas to Syrian applicants, for instance, in recent years; there has not been, historically, much migration from Sudan, for instance; and, during the Obama years the level of interior enforcement of the immigration laws became so lax that many TPS eligibles did not bother to apply.

If they meet certain standards, illegals from the four nations listed above now in the United States can apply for TPS status even though they missed the first application period.

My colleague Nayla Rush has written recently on a related challenge, the possibility that many stateless Palestinians, if they get to the United States, might apply for TPS status as former residents of Syria.