The Trump administration extended protections for roughly 7,000 Syrian nationals in the US due to the ongoing civil war in the country, the agency announced Wednesday evening.
But Syrians who arrived in the US after August 2016 will not be eligible under the new policy.
The protections for Syria were first enacted in 2012 and shield recipients from deportation while authorizing them to work in the US. The roughly 7,000 Syrians covered under temporary protected status program will have their protections for another 18 months.
This will be the first time since the protections were created for Syria that the Department of Homeland Security will not also allow new immigrants to apply.
The decision by the Department of Homeland Security had been due Wednesday, which is 60 days before the current round of protections run out. The Associated Press was first to report the news.
After the 18 month extension, the homeland security secretary will make a fresh decision about whether conditions in Syria, which has been embroiled in violent conflict for years, warrant another extension.
The temporary protected status, or TPS, protections are designed to prevent people already in the US when a disaster occurs from being sent back to a country suffering various forms of devastation, including conflict, natural disaster and epidemics. It was not created to be a blanket allowance for nationals of that country to come to the US, though programs like refugee and asylum protections could be applicable on a case-by-case basis. It is also common for TPS protections in general to be extended without allowing new immigrants to apply.
The extension for Syria runs counter to several terminations of TPS protections in the past few months, including for hundreds of thousands of Central Americans who have lived in the US roughly two decades. In those cases, DHS said the conditions in the country had improved enough from the original disaster that triggered the protected status, but immigration advocates and bipartisan members of Congress have called the decisions unnecessarily harsh.
The Trump administration has also moved to substantially reduce the number of refugees who are allowed to enter the US each year and has placed additional screening on all refugees, with additional vetting for those coming from high-risk countries.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement she continues to make TPS decisions on a “country-by-country basis.”
“After carefully considering conditions on the ground, I have determined that it is necessary to extend the Temporary Protected Status designation for Syria,” Nielsen said. “It is clear that the conditions upon which Syria’s designation was based continue to exist, therefore an extension is warranted under the statute.”