MIAMI — Ana and her husband fled crisis-stricken Venezuela in 2018 with tourist visas. Once they were in the United States, Ana said a lawyer mistakenly advised them not to seek asylum.
Ana, who is being identified only by her first name because of her legal status, had received a student visa but had to drop out of school after a difficult pregnancy with twins.
Lacking any legal authorization to be in the country, Ana and her husband worked underpaid odd jobs and constantly feared deportation. “We always felt that everyone was watching us,” she said.
But after the news that President Joe Biden had extended Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, to Venezuelans this month, Ana and her husband say they are “super optimistic.”
TPS is intended to protect those who are unable to return to their home countries safely because of civil unrest, violence or natural disasters. Under Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, the country’s once prosperous economy has crumbled. Millions of residents have fled the country and many of those who remain face shortages of food and medicine.
TPS recipients can remain and work in the U.S. for 18 months, which can be extended by the administration if conditions are still unstable in their home country.
TPS is a big topic of discussion among Venezuelans in the United States. The program could give over 300,000 of them protection from deportation.
Many are consulting with attorneys to see if they meet the requirements before the September deadline. The application process involves providing translated documents and paying a $540 fee.
For many Venezuelan asylum-seekers, TPS gives them an opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief. While asylum cases are pending, they are protected from deportation and eligible to work, but TPS gives them a back-up plan in case their asylum case is denied.
On his last full day of office, former President Donald Trump authorized deferred enforcement departure (DED) for Venezuelans, protecting them from deportation for 18 months and providing them the opportunity to apply for work permits. While TPS and DED are similar, most experts say TPS is better because it gives those who qualify an immigration status.
For José Londoño, TPS is an extra tool. He left Venezuela three years ago because of political persecution. His uncle, who he worked with, owned a newspaper critical of the government, leading to a two-year imprisonment.
Now Londoño, an Uber driver in Miami, is consulting with attorneys about TPS. He applied for political asylum when he arrived and said it’s a relief to know TPS is an option in case his asylum case fails. He is hoping TPS will give him the opportunity to visit his mother, whom he has not seen in years, in the Dominican Republic, or meet his daughters outside Venezuela, where Londoño is afraid to return.
“We feel much better, happier and fortunate to have TPS,” said Londoño.
"So much interest in TPS"
Attorneys have been flooded with calls, and nonprofit organizations are setting up ways to help fill out applications as the six-month window to apply is underway. While some Venezuelans have rushed to send their applications in to the U.S. government, others are taking time to consult with attorneys and weigh their options.
John de la Vega, a lawyer who is well known in Miami's Venezuelan community, said he is cautioning clients not to hurry through their application. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requires that applicants follow specific instructions and protocols that include providing evidence and translated documents. De la Vega said it’s best to take time to have everything organized to “have a better chance at winning the case.”
For people who lived in another country for a period of time and received some type of legal status there, it can affect their ability to be approved for TPS in the U.S. Some Venezuelans lived temporarily in countries like Colombia before making their way to the U.S. Having dual nationalities may also affect people’s eligibility for TPS.
Patricia Andrade, who heads Raíces Venezolanas/Venezuelan Awareness, a Miami-based nonprofit, has been taking a series of courses on TPS so she can work with an attorney helping Venezuelans file applications at a discount.
The day after TPS was announced, Andrade streamed an Instagram Live video with an attorney explaining the application process and said it had thousands of views.
“There is so much interest in TPS. All Venezuelans are talking about it, but I’m afraid people may rush and make mistakes,” said Andrade. “One mistake can cost them the status.”
Andrade said TPS will help many Venezuelans who fled their home country because of the dire economic situation and have been applying for asylum in the U.S. because they had no other legal options.
In Delaware, Maria, 65, who is not being identified by her full name because of her immigration status, said the announcement on TPS has helped her “see the light after being in darkness for so many years.”
Maria came to the U.S. with her husband and two children in 2000, a year after the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez took power in Venezuela. “We came because we saw what was coming and we knew it wasn’t good. I did not want my children to grow up there,” she said.
Solange Reano, 58, had been hoping for TPS since she came to the United States in 2018 and settled in Miami.
Reano, who works as a cashier at a local store, left Venezuela for political reasons and filed for asylum when she arrived here, but TPS is now giving her an added layer of protection. If asylum is denied she won’t be deported if she has TPS. She is now in the process of gathering the documents he needs to apply.
“I am very happy. We spent a long time waiting for this,” said Reano.