The Biden administration is shielding Afghans already in the United States from deportation, as Afghanistan faces an uncertain future amid a humanitarian crisis under Taliban rule.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Wednesday that it designated Afghanistan for temporary protected status (TPS) for 18 months due to the “ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions that prevent the country’s nationals from returning in safety”.
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“This TPS designation will help to protect Afghan nationals who have already been living in the United States from returning to unsafe conditions,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
“Under this designation, TPS will also provide additional protections and assurances to trusted partners and vulnerable Afghans who supported the US military, diplomatic, and humanitarian missions in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.”
While TPS typically helps people who are in the US on a temporary basis, including visitors and students, Wednesday’s designation could help Afghan refugees who have no intention to return to their home country.
More than 74,000 Afghans moved to the US following the chaotic Kabul evacuation in August last year. The refugees were initially housed on army bases, dubbed “safe havens”, before being settled in communities across the US. The US military announced in February that all Afghans evacuated from their country last year have been resettled.
But most are on what’s known as humanitarian parole, a status that gave them an entry pass into the country and allows them to remain in the US for up to two years, but does not grant permanent residency or a path to citizenship.
TPS, which is renewable beyond the initial 18 months, would allow Afghan refugees to live and work legally in the country after their parole period expires, while their immigration status is resolved.
But immigration advocates have warned that TPS is only a temporary solution, as its name suggests, calling on the US Congress to pass legislation that would secure permanent residency for Afghan refugees.
In a report (PDF) in January, DHS said more than 36,400 Afghan refugees do not qualify for the special immigrant visa (SIV) programme designed for Afghans who worked with US forces during the 20-year war.
The only way these Afghan refugees can get permanent immigration status in the US is to apply for asylum, a lengthy process that advocates have said would put additional strain on an already enormous backlog of asylum applications, mostly from people arriving at the southern border.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), a resettlement agency, on Wednesday reiterated the need to pass legislation to grant Afghans permanent status in the US.
“While TPS for Afghanistan is an important protection tool, it does not address the legal limbo faced by tens of thousands of Afghans evacuated to the US on humanitarian parole. Our nation’s moral obligation to our Afghan allies and friends demands the stability that only a pathway to permanent residence can provide,” she said in a statement. “It is imperative that Congress deliver lasting safety by passing the Afghan Adjustment Act.”
Sunil Varghese, policy director at International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a New York-based advocacy group, also applauded the TPS designation but called for Congress to pass the adjustment law.
“IRAP welcomes this effort to protect Afghans from danger, but TPS is by definition temporary,” Varghese said on Twitter. “Congress should pass the #AfghanAdjustmentAct to ensure evacuated Afghans have a permanent pathway to safety in the US.”
The Biden administration’s decision to grant TPS for Afghans comes nearly two weeks after it also shielded Ukrainians in the US from deportations amid the Russian invasion of their home country.