USCIS on Options Available After Natural Disasters

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a news alert on November 15, 2013, reminding those impacted by the devastation in the Philippines created by Typhoon Haiyan that certain forms of immigration relief may be available. This reminder covers a number of general provisions applicable to foreign nationals whose countries of origin have been affected by natural disasters, civil unrest, or other adverse country conditions. However, as of this writing, no new provisions have been issued specifically towards helping Filipinos, and Filipinos in the United States have not been granted temporary protected status (TPS).

General Relief Due to Disasters

As explained in the news alert, the USCIS can, upon request, make certain procedural and processing accommodations to help those applying for any form of relief due to natural disasters. These options include the ability to extend or change status, even if the request would otherwise be considered a late filing (i.e. after expiration of the prior status). The USCIS has authority to extend certain grants of parole, and expedite the processing of advance parole requests for individuals who are otherwise eligible in order to permit travel and reentry to the United States. The USCIS and U.S. Department of State (DOS) will also coordinate to assist lawful permanent residents who may be stranded abroad without travel documents so that they can return to the United States.

Expedited Work Authorization for F-1 Students and Others

The USCIS has the ability to expedite requests for off-campus employment authorization for certain (F-1) foreign students. Such a request is appropriate when a student’s usual source of financial support has been cut off, leading to severe economic hardship. Other classes of foreign nationals who are eligible to apply for employment authorization, such as L-2 dependent spouses, may also be able to request this discretionary expedited processing, based on the criteria laid out on the USCIS WebSite.

Expedited Family Petitions

There is a large Filipino community in the United States, including many who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. The USCIS has the ability to expedite the processing of family-based petitions filed by these individuals on behalf of qualifying relatives. Please note, however, that neither immigrant visas nor green cards can be issued unless an individual’s priority date is current.

Other Assistance Possible

The list of options in the USCIS announcement is not exhaustive. There are likely other case types and requests that potentially could be expedited, if necessary, to better ensure that immigration problems do not further compound the damage caused by the typhoon.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

Again, as of the time of this writing, the United States has not yet extended TPS protections to Filipinos in the United States. However, there has been some talk in Washington about providing this form of relief.

TPS, in essence, provides a safe haven for a limited period to individuals from designated countries who are present in the United States at the time when a particular event – such as civil unrest or a natural disaster – occurs. If TPS is offered, it generally is designated initially for six to eighteen months, and can be extended for as long as the country conditions remain appropriate for such designation. Those with TPS can be granted both work and travel authorization during their TPS period.

TPS can only be granted through formal designation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in coordination with other appropriate executive branch officials. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), among others, are asking the DHS to extend TPS relief to Filipinos. However, it remains unclear whether the DHS will take action in this regard.


The Murthy Law Firm extends deepest sympathies to those who have suffered loss and upheaval due to Typhoon Haiyan. We urge the DHS to provide TPS relief to Filipinos who were in the United States at the time this tragedy occurred.

Help is still urgently needed in the Philippines. Readers interested in donating to emergency relief efforts for victims of the typhoon can research vetted charities and effective ways to contribute online at Charity Navigator.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.