Effects of the Earthquake on Haitian Immigration Status
Following the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010, the Unites States issued a 18-month designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti. This allows Haitians who were in the United States at the time of the earthquake to stay in the country legally and obtain work authorization while they are unable to return home. This applies to the 100,000-200,000 estimated Haitians who are currently in the United States. However, Haitians are not automatically granted this status, and must apply for TPS within 6 months of the January 12, 2010 designation, or else their application for TPS and work authorization will be denied. If they do not have any other means of obtaining legal status, they will be subject to removability. According to USCIS, as of February 12th, only 12,000 Haitians has applied for TPS.
It is estimated that over 500,000 Haitians are internally displaced, meaning that they were in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, but their homes have been destroyed or are inaccessible, and thus have no place to call home. Approximately 50,000 of these Haitians have been approved to reunite with family in the United States, but still much await a visa before they can actually enter the country.
Though there are legal ways for Haitians to enter the United States, because of the dire situation in their home country, many are fleeing for the Dominican Republic and the United States, regardless of whether they have received advance permission. The United States Coast Guard is left with the unfortunate task of stopping boats of people from Haiti, and then are left with the problem of where to take them. The United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has made an international appeal to governments to suspend all involuntary returns and grant interim protection to these desperate people, but many countries have been unwilling to announce an official policy to accept displaced Haitians.