WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
21 Sep 2023 | WOLA Statement

Venezuelans Eligible for TPS are Fleeing Authoritarian Regime and Humanitarian Crisis

WOLA applauds the Biden administration’s September 20 decision to re-designate and extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelan citizens for 18 months, making it available to those in the United States before July 31, 2023. 

TPS provides temporary legal status, including immediate access to work authorization, for individuals whose country is experiencing conditions that temporarily “prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.” 

Apart from the over 242,700 current TPS holders from Venezuela, it is estimated that approximately 472,000 additional Venezuelan nationals will be eligible under this re-designation. 

Under U.S. asylum law, as amended in 1996, applicants for asylum in the United States cannot obtain a work authorization until their application is six months old. Asylum seekers want to work, and employers want to hire them at a time of near-record low unemployment. But the law prohibits them from earning legal incomes, which is why some U.S. mayors and governors are citing a strain on public services. The designation of TPS is a necessary step to solve a problem caused by an antiquated U.S. law that only Congress can change.

Venezuelans coming to the United States are fleeing the regime of Nicolás Maduro and massive human rights violations committed in the midst of a humanitarian emergency. Food insecurity, malnutrition, and the collapse of public services such as health and education are among the main reasons that have forced over 7.7 million Venezuelans to leave. This, compounded with an inter-annual inflation rate of 422% and a minimum wage of around 5 US dollars, gives Venezuelans few alternatives but to seek refuge elsewhere. 

The UN’s Fact Finding Mission has consistently found that there are reasons to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela. Their latest report documents selective repression and closure of civic space. Venezuelans are being subjected to forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture, sexual violence, criminalization of dissent, censorship, and political disqualifications. In light of this, the UN’s Fact Finding Mission has determined that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela, the only country in Latin America with an ongoing investigation at the International Criminal Court. It is essential, from a human rights perspective, for  Venezuela to find a path towards restoring democracy.

This recent TPS decision is part of a significant expansion under the Biden administration of legal pathways for migrants and asylum seekers. On September 18, TPS was extended for current beneficiaries from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Nepal, and Sudan.  But  Guatemala has yet to be designated for TPS, despite repeated requests from Members of Congress, civil society organizations and the Guatemalan government itself. 

Likewise, as of July 2023, nearly 160,000 Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and Haitians arrived in the U.S. in the first six months of the new parole program, which enables the entry of up to 30,000 people per month of nationals from these countries who have a U.S. sponsor and meet other criteria. 

In June 2023, signatories of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection reaffirmed their shared goal to promote stability and assistance for communities most impacted by migrant and refugee flows; expand lawful pathways for migration and international protection; and manage our borders humanely

In 2022, the Biden administration had provided over $800 million to support a regional response to migration and it has requested additional funds in the FY2024 budget to address the root causes of migration and support hemispheric migration management, including enhanced legal pathways and access to protection. 

While important measures, WOLA remains alarmed by continued U.S. pressure on governments in the region to reduce migration flows and restrict travel, which have pushed migrants and asylum seekers into the hands of smugglers, exposed them to increased risks and abuse, and impeded access to protection. We continue to oppose unlawful measures adopted by the Biden administration that limit and restrict access to asylum at the border.