Indiana-based relief group Church World Service (CWS) has welcomed the U.S. government's decision to give Haitian refugees in the country an additional six months to apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
Originally July 22, 2010, the TPS application deadline is now January 18, 2011.
Nearly 35,000 Haitians have already received TPS status, which allows them to live and work legally in the United States until July 22, 2011, according to the Associated Press.
The government expects 70,000 to 100,000 Haitians to apply before the new deadline.
The Department of Homeland Security makes TPS available to immigrants from countries whose conditions temporarily prevent them from returning safely. Countries whose migrants are currently eligible for TPS in the United States include El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan.
CWS has been holding TPS workshops for Haitian immigrants since it was made available in late January, and have made a concerted effort to bring immigrants accurate information about the program.
"We haven't exhausted all outreach possibilities," said CWS Associate Director for Immigration Tara Pinkham, New York City. "In fact, we feel that our outreach efforts are really beginning to bear fruit."
Along with workshops, CWS and its partners are offering legal services to Haitians wanting to apply for TPS or who have other needs as visitor visa extensions, deferred action, and family-based petitions.
"We are glad that we now have an additional six months to reach Haitians with accurate TPS information and legal advice so that they can make informed decisions about their immigration case," Pinkham said.
She adds, "We advise any Haitian wishing to apply for TPS to seek legal counsel, as there are important eligibility requirements and filing deadlines that must be met."
Erol Kekic, director of the CWS Immigration and Refugee Program in New York City, meanwhile, notes that many Haitians haven't applied because they have been preoccupied with grieving the loss of family and friends and ensuring the wellbeing of family members in Haiti.
"Even for the undocumented among them, applying for TPS has not necessarily been the priority," he said.
Kekic adds that other Haitians are afraid to apply because they assume they won't qualify or can't afford the application fee, or believe they will be rejected and deported to Haiti immediately.
"In fact, the U.S. government is not deporting people to Haiti at this time," Kekic says.