In a stray from previous policy, US immigration officials announced that Haitians who found refuge in the United States after the earthquake last year will be allowed to stay in the US legally for a fixed amount of time.
Those who fled after the disaster can apply for temporary protected status from the US government, which will allow them to live and work legally until January 22, 2013.
Previously, the US government only allowed Haitians who were in the United States before the earthquake to apply for temporary protected status. The new policy also grants them an 18-month extension, as the previous grant had been set to expire in July.
An estimated 10,000 fled to the US after Haiti was destroyed and were granted visitor visas, however many found themselves homeless or living in motels or family members’ homes, according to the Boston Globe.
“Providing a temporary refuge for Haitian nationals who are currently in the United States and whose personal safety would be endangered by returning to Haiti is part of this administration’s continuing efforts to support Haiti’s recovery,” Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said in a statement.
Haitian immigrants and advocates were overjoyed with the shift in policy.
“We are all ecstatic,” said Marjean A. Perhot, director of refugee and immigration services of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Boston. “I ran down the hall I was so excited. We are so thrilled, so thankful. Today has made the lives of thousands of Haitians hundreds of times better.”
People must apply for temporary protected status, and if granted, they must pay fees in order to live and work in the United States.
The Homeland Security secretary grants this special status to people who have suffered a natural disaster or war in their home country until the US decides it is safe for them to return.