Updated March 16 at 3:22 p.m.
Roughly 80,000 people who evacuated from Afghanistan last summer, including nearly 2,000 now in Massachusetts, will get the opportunity to apply for temporary protected status, allowing them to remain legally in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday morning.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday the designation of Afghanistan for temporary protected status for 18 months. Only individuals who are already residing in the United States as of March 15, 2022, will be eligible.
“This TPS designation will help to protect Afghan nationals who have already been living in the United States from returning to unsafe conditions,” said agency secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “Under this designation, TPS will also provide additional protections and assurances to trusted partners and vulnerable Afghans who supported the U.S. military, diplomatic, and humanitarian missions in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.”
About 1,900 Afghan evacuees settled in Massachusetts over the past six months with the help of local resettlement agencies, and more are coming from overseas where they are temporarily. They fled the rise of the Taliban after President Joe Biden withdrew U.S. troops in August.
“I think this is, of course, a step in the right direction. It's a positive thing,” said Jeff Thielman, president of the International Institute of New England, which has resettled 407 Afghan evacuees around the state. “Our clients will in all likelihood, apply for both asylum and temporary protected status.”
Those who have arrived so far came through humanitarian parole, which the federal government offered as an option to avoid the many years it takes for refugees to be vetted for U.S. arrival. That allowed two years of legal status, and then parolees must apply for another kind of visa or legal status before it ends.
That means applying for a visa through an employer, family, or try to apply for asylum — or, now, temporary protected status. They can apply for asylum and TPS at the same time.
TPS is a legal status that can apply to people from countries facing armed conflict if returning would pose a serious threat to their personal safety. The Immigration and Nationality Act, a longtime piece of federal law, gives the Department of Homeland Security the power to extend TPS to citizens from countries facing war, natural and humanitarian disasters. It lasts for two years and can be extended by the federal government, which has happened for Haitians and other nationalities many times.
There’s also an effort among immigration advocates to get Afghan evacuees permanent resident green cards, through the Afghan Adjustment Act. Advocates are concerned that the short-term solution of designating TPS for Afghan evacuees will dissipate their efforts to secure a more permanent solution. Temporary protected status is exactly that: temporary, and doesn’t lead to a green card.
“I think it's a step in the right direction, but I'm concerned that the government is telling us our leaders are telling us that the Afghan Adjustment Act isn't going to happen, and that is a disappointment,” Thielman said.
“I think the best thing for the state is for these folks to have a permanent status in the country,” he continued. “So we know they're going to be here, they're going to settle in, they're going to work, they're going to build lives and careers and community here in New England.”
This article was updated to include local comment from Jeff Thielman.