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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

GAO: Jobs Lost Because of Temporary Protected Status Confusion at DHS

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reviewed the Temporary Protected Status process. The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) if conditions prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely. Under this status, eligible foreign nationals can temporarily stay and work in the U.S.

Work authorization lasts as long as the status, but the documents proving it can expire. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) gives extensions and recently notified people about them via letter.

However, the GAO review found that not all of DHS’s guidance tells employers that letters are acceptable proof of authorization, and some people reportedly lost jobs over this.

DHS reviews of countries for TPS include three main steps.. First, the Secretary of Homeland Security may initiate a review of a country for TPS designation in response to various triggering factors, such as a request from a foreign government, on the basis of one or more statutory conditions. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires subsequent reviews after an initial designation. 

Second, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—which manages and coordinates the TPS review process for DHS—and the Department of State (State) compile country conditions reports and recommendations to inform the Secretary’s decision. Although the INA does not prescribe the other agencies that must be consulted for a TPS review, State generally has a role in providing input for the Secretary of Homeland Security’s consideration. GAO found DHS collected country conditions reports and recommendations from USCIS and State for all eight of the countries GAO selected for its review. Other DHS components and non-DHS entities may also provide information. 

Third, under the INA,the Secretary of Homeland Security exercises discretion in deciding whether to initially designate a country for TPS. For an existing designation, the Secretary determines whether country conditions warrant an extension or termination of TPS. DHS provides official notice of decisions in the Federal Register.

GAO’s review found that DHS has communicated TPS decisions to the public through required Federal Register notices as well as other mechanisms. The watchdog added however that DHS has not provided consistent guidance regarding mechanisms it uses to communicate automatic extensions of TPS employment authorization documents. 

USCIS officials stated that the agency has typically communicated these extensions of documents for TPS beneficiaries through Federal Register notices. However, for five recent automatic extensions, USCIS instead mailed individual notifications to thousands of beneficiaries. USCIS guidance on its website identifies the individual notifications as a mechanism for communicating automatic extensions, but an employers’ handbook and related guidance do not. As a result, some employers reportedly terminated TPS beneficiaries’ employment because the employers did not understand or accept the notifications as proof of employment authorization. 

GAO therefore recommends that the Director of USCIS should update published guidance, such as Handbook for Employers: Guidance for Completing Form I-9 (M-274), to consistently identify each of the official mechanisms that USCIS may use to communicate automatic extensions of TPS employment authorization documents.

DHS concurred and noted planned actions, including updating guidance in the M-274 handbook, which it intends to complete by April 30, 2020.

Read the full report at GAO

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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