By Ted Hesson and Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will renew but not extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelans in the country, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Monday, a move that leaves dozens of thousands of newly arrived Venezuelans without access to the humanitarian program.
The Biden administration will offer an 18-month extension of TPS for Venezuelans who were in the United States before March 8, 2021, but will not allow new arrivals to register, DHS said.
US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has greatly expanded the use of the TPS program, which provides relief from deportation and work permits to immigrants in the United States if their home countries experience a natural disaster, armed conflict or other extraordinary event. At the same time, Biden has run into trouble both politically and operationally with large numbers of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border, including Venezuelans.
Since January 2021, US Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 144,000 Venezuelans on the southwest border.
The Biden administration granted TPS to Venezuela in March 2021, citing economic and political turmoil and human rights abuses under socialist President Nicolás Maduro.
Democratic lawmakers and advocates had urged the administration to offer protections to newly arrived Venezuelans, but a source familiar with the matter said some US officials worried that it would encourage more irregular migration.
The Biden administration estimates that 343,000 Venezuelans are eligible under the existing TPS designation, though the backlog of applications has left many waiting for approval.
Some 76,000 had been approved by early May, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat who has called on Biden to offer protections to more Venezuelans.
The Biden administration remains at odds with Maduro and has maintained much of the strict sanctions program against his government established under former US President Donald Trump, but has taken some steps to soften its policy slightly in recent months.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Bill Berkrot)