The Biden administration will allow hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants in the United States to apply for temporary protection, the Department of Homeland Security announced on Monday.
The department said Venezuelans would be eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months, until September 2022 – a decision that could aid more than 300,000 people, according to a senior US official.
“The living conditions in Venezuela reveal a country in turmoil, unable to protect its own citizens,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
“It is in times of extraordinary and temporary circumstances like these that the United States steps forward to support eligible Venezuelan nationals already present here.”
The move fulfils a promise that President Joe Biden made during the 2020 election campaign to give shelter to Venezuelans who left their homeland amid an economic collapse, humanitarian crisis and political turmoil under President Nicolas Maduro.
Approximately 5.4 million Venezuelans have emigrated in recent years due to the crisis, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Venezuelans will have to show they have been residing in the US continuously as of March 8 to qualify for TPS, the Department of Homeland Security said.
The temporary protection gives them the ability to stay in the country and work legally.
Colombia also recently offered temporary protection for up to 10 years to nearly one million Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers in that country.
When Biden took office on January 20, he inherited from his predecessor Donald Trump an array of harsh sanctions that further tightened the economic noose on Venezuela.
Trump largely sought to phase out TPS but was stymied by legal challenges, while Biden has moved to reverse Trump’s hardline immigration policies.
The former president signed an executive order on his final full day in office to shield 145,000 Venezuelans from deportation – and Republican legislators have in recent days urged Biden to formalise that decision.
Still, Biden administration officials told the Reuters news agency that the US president is in “no rush” to lift sanctions on Venezuela.
An official told Reuters that Biden is moving away from the mostly unilateral approach of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the country and plans to coordinate more closely with US partners, including the European Union, to force Maduro to hold free and fair elections.
The official also said Washington is reviewing Venezuela sanctions to make sure they are effective against intended targets and not “unnecessarily” punishing the Venezuelan people.
Meanwhile, Biden’s administration continues to recognise opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president.
Dozens of countries have backed Guaido’s claim following Maduro’s re-election in 2018 in a vote Western governments called a sham.
The Venezuelan government did not immediately respond to the TPS announcement.
Guaido released a statement saying Venezuelans in the US can “sleep easier knowing the United States is in solidarity with our people”.