The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that it is extending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Haiti through January 22, 2018 – a much shorter period than the normal 18-month extension. This announcement allows qualifying individuals to reapply for TPS and work authorization during a 60-day period starting May 24, 2017. If TPS designation for Haiti is allowed to expire in January 2018, as DHS warns may happen, the nearly 60,000 persons enrolled in the program will be forced to return to Haiti, change to another status if eligible, or remain in the United States unlawfully.
TPS allows qualifying persons inside the United States to remain temporarily until conditions in their home countries improve following civil war, natural disaster or similar extraordinary situations. Haiti’s initial TPS designation was granted within days of the devastating earthquake the country experienced in January 2010.  It was unclear whether the latest extension would happen at all, despite pleas by Haitian government officials, bipartisan members of Congress and others that an 18-month extension was the minimum time needed to plan for the safe and orderly return of citizens to Haiti. Advocates for a longer extension argued that Haiti continues to struggle to rebuild its infrastructure and economy after the 2010 earthquake and subsequent natural disasters, and that the relocation of such a large number of individuals will further erode economic and living conditions in Haiti.
Individuals in TPS are only allowed to remain in the United States until DHS decides the temporary designation is no longer warranted. However, persons in TPS are permitted to change to another temporary status or seek permanent residence if they meet the relevant eligibility requirements. Citizens of Haiti who are in TPS should begin to plan for a return to Haiti in the event their TPS ends in 2018, or speak with an immigration attorney to determine if they qualify for a change to nonimmigrant status or obtain permanent residence.
Haitian TPS employment authorization documents that expire on July 22, 2017 are automatically extended through January 22, 2018, but only if applicants have timely filed to extend their TPS and employment authorization during the 60 day re-registration period. As explained in the Federal Register, employers are required to inspect several documents in order to complete or update their Form I-9 based on the automatic extension.
It is anticipated that DHS Secretary John F. Kelly will decide in late 2017 whether further extensions of TPS for Haiti are warranted. Hunton & Williams attorneys will continue to share information about this issue, in addition to monitoring the TPS for the nine other designated countries, many of which are up for review in late 2017 and early 2018.