The Biden administration said Monday it will offer temporary legal status to Venezuelans who illegally entered the U.S. after fleeing the nation’s economic crisis, a designation that could affect hundreds of thousands of people.
Under the temporary protected status (TPS) designation, eligible Venezuelan nationals can apply to legally remain in the country for an 18-month span ending in Sept. 2022. The White House cited “extraordinary and temporary conditions in Venezuela,” including a hunger crisis, societal repression, poor infrastructure and a rise in non-government armed groups, as the catalyst for the action.
“The living conditions in Venezuela reveal a country in turmoil, unable to protect its own citizens,” 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, while their home country seeks to right itself out of the current crises.”
Former President Donald Trump imposed severe sanctions on Nicolas Maduro’s regime but resisted bipartisan calls to grant a TPS designation for Venezuelans during his term in office. In January, Trump enacted the Deferred Enforced Departure program to protect some Venezuelan nationals from deportation for an 18-month period.
Under the Biden administration’s policy, an estimated 320,000 people could apply to legally live in the United States over the 18-month span, the Associated Press reported, citing a senior official. In 2019, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that a TPS order would apply to roughly 200,000 Venezuelans.
The White House and the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request to clarify the exact figure.
Venezuela’s economy collapsed under the Maduro regime, resulting in widespread shortages of food and medicine in recent years.
The US was one of dozens of countries that recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful president and called on Maduro to step down following contested election results. The Trump administration enacted sweeping sanctions on top Maduro regime officials, as well as the country’s oil industry.
Potential applicants must prove continuous residence in the US as of March 8, 2021, in order to be eligible, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Venezuelans who apply for the program during ta 180-day registration period will submit to security and background checks.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lauded the decision, noting that it “demonstrates the commitment our nation has to support the protection of Venezuelans fleeing a corrupt regime.”
“The plight of the people of Venezuela is a challenge to the conscience of the world and I commend Secretary Mayorkas and President Biden for working to combat the humanitarian disaster in the region,” Schumer said.
Florida Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott were among the prominent GOP officials who supported a TPS designation. Venezuela is one of 10 nations with temporary protected status.
“I have long advocated providing much-needed relief to help eligible Venezuelan nationals residing in the U.S. with a work permit and a temporary solution, which is exactly what the Trump Administration did earlier this year,” Rubio said in a statement. “I am glad the Biden Administration shares that commitment, and I support granting TPS status to eligible Venezuelan nationals currently in the U.S.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.