US Immigrant Relief Measures under Special Situations

United States Immigration Series Post No. 11

Francisco A. Laguna & Annapurna Nandyal

In 1990, the United States Government enacted a procedure called Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”) as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, extending immigration benefits to those immigrants who cannot safely return to their home country either due to war, conflict, environmental disaster or other extraordinary/temporary conditions. Some of the countries that are currently on the list are El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Syria, Somalia and Sudan.  Under the TPS procedure, immigrants from beneficiary countries must meet the eligibility requirements to extend their stay. The benefits include:

  • Work authorization and obtaining employment authorization document (EAD)
  • Provisional protection against deportation from United States
  • Possible travel authorization with right to return to the US
"2006-2010 imm rate" by BGManofID - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“2006-2010 imm rate” by BGManofID – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

As the name suggests, the TPS program is only temporary and does not guarantee lawful permanent status.  Immigrants, however, may file for adjustment of status based on their immigrant petition.

Besides the TPS program, there are other special immigrant programs which the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers to certain countries. These programs include special benefits for people who lose citizenship by marriage or by serving in foreign armed forces, and certain employees and former employees of the US Government abroad.

"Migrant" by Tomas Castelazo - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Migrant” by Tomas Castelazo – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Recently, as part of its benefits program, the US has granted relief measures under “special situations” whether they occur in US or abroad. USCIS defines a special situation as people who have been affected by natural catastrophes or extreme conditions, and the relief measures provided falls short the relief available to TPS beneficiaries. Yemen and Nepal are the two recent countries which have been granted immigrant relief measures under special situations for its citizens residing in United States.  Yemen has been facing internal war conflict whereas Nepal faced devastating earthquake in June 2015. Some of the benefits afforded the immigrants include:

  • Extension or change of immigration status – If an immigrant has fallen out of status with USCIS because of a disaster, even if the request is filed after his/her authorized period has expired, the applicant can apply for an extension or change in status if s/he can prove direct connection with the disaster.
  • Expedited processing of advance parole requests – USCIS will expedite the processing of advance parole requests if the applicant demonstrates s/he needs to leave the US for a family emergency in wake of a disaster.
  • Fee Waiver – If the immigrant is able to demonstrate his/her inability to pay the relevant application fee, the applicant may request for a fee waiver.
  • Expedited Processing – Adjudication for certain applications such as students with F-1 visas can be processed faster, if an individual needs to work off-campus to support himself/herself in lieu of a disaster. An applicant must demonstrate that s/he is experiencing severe economic hardship as a result of the disaster.
  • "U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service" by Gulbenk - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

    “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service” by Gulbenk – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

    Employment Authorization – Regardless of whether the disaster occurs in the United States or abroad, if the situation has affected the applicant’s ability to be self-supporting, and s/he has a pending employment authorization application, the work permit will be granted.

  • Replacement of Lost or Damaged Travel Documents – If an immigrant has lost or damaged travel documents due to the disaster, such as a Green Card, USCIS will help replace the documents.

As mentioned earlier, a special situation can occur either in the US or abroad.  In the past, special situation measures were implemented in Japan (earthquake and tsunami in 2011), Philippines (flooding in 2013) and Ebola affected countries. Domestically, special situations were implemented during Hurricane Sandy, which turned out be a huge relief for many immigrants who lost their legal documents during the disaster.

Contact TransLegal to learn more about how immigrants affected by unforeseen circumstances can request relief from USCIS.