I just attended a teleconference hosted by USCIS on this topic, and thought this would be excellent topic for my first blog entry on this site. So here's a primer on TPS, and some specifics about the Syria designation. This is simplified and not meant as advice on any specific person's situation. There are many nuances to immigration categories that are beyond the scope of this blog.
What is TPS? How is this different from Asylum?
Foreign nationals who are granted TPS are allowed to live and work in the U.S. without fear of removal (deportation) other than on criminal grounds, and can travel outside the U.S. with special permission (advanced parole).
The TPS designation is issued for all the nationals of the designated country. Basically, the United States government decides that it is not considered safe for anyone to go there right now, even people who are nationals of that country. The designation usually indicates a level of chaos in the country which is expected to last for some time. TPS has been designated for countries suffering natural disasters, like after the earthquake in Haiti. It has also been designated countries experiencing prolonged civil war such that there is no effective government, like the case of Somalia.
TPS offers protection to broad class of people. Basically, all you have to show is that:
- You are a national of that country (or a stateless person whose last residence before the U.S. was that country).
- You have been physically present in the U.S. and residing in the U.S. since the date that TPS was designated for your country (with exceptions for some brief trips abroad).
- You are not inadmissible on criminal or national security grounds. (e.g. you are not a terrorist have not been committing aggravated felonies and crimes of moral turpitude.)
However, TPS is something of a game of "hot potato" for nationals of the designated countries. TPS is only available to nationals of the designated country who were already here when the designation was made, and those people must apply within the designated window. Basically, if you are already here, the government will let you stay because it is too dangerous to send you back, but if you are not here, you have no special right to come here.
Also, TPS is only temporary. TPS does not lead to a green card or citizenship on its own, and expires for all nationals of the designated country on the stated date. (Though if conditions in the country do not improve, TPS may be extended.)
In contrast, applicants for asylum have to show that they are members of a specific persecuted class in their home country, and demonstrate past persecution or fear of persecution upon return to that country. The asylum process is very fact-specific and very personal. Asylum may be granted for one person from a country, but not for that person's neighbor in the same country. You have to show why it would be dangerous for you in particular to be sent back to your country. You have to show that there is a specific sort of oppression or discrimination against people like you, not just general civil disorder, war, or chaos.
Just as showing that you should be granted asylum is very personal, the deadlines for filing are personal, too. There is no universal registration period for asylum. Rather, any person seeking asylum must do so within one year of being in the U.S. and needing asylum.
If I apply for TPS, do I need to give up on other options for living and working in the U.S?
No, TPS can be used in addition to other legal options you may have for staying in the U.S.
TPS is available to persons who are already legally present in some other status, and persons in the U.S. on TPS can apply for other status as well. For example, if you are working in the U.S. on a visa that will expire before the end of the TPS designation, you can apply for TPS while still working under your current visa. Likewise, you can apply for TPS status while in the country without a visa, and start working on a petition for asylum at the same time.
However, if you are in the U.S. on two different categories of status, you must be careful to comply with rules and maintain your status for both TPS and the other visa. Otherwise, you may run into problems applying for visas or other immigration benefits in the future. USCIS will be publishing guidance shortly for Syrian students about work rules for people who have both a student visa and TPS.
For more information about TPS, see www.uscis.gov/tps