On January 5, 2023, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new lawful way for qualifying Venezuelans, Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans with US-based supporters to travel by air and temporarily reside in the United States. Individuals arriving under this new process may also apply for work authorization.
The Biden Administration has stated that the new rules aren’t a permanent solution but a stopgap to deal with an overwhelming influx of people trying to enter the US. In 2022, border encounters reached 2.76 million, an increase of 1 million over the previous year. The new program aims to stop people from crossing outside an official port of entry without a visa status.
Under a new immigration policy for Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, and Cubans, the Biden administration will allow up to 30,000 qualifying migrants total from the four countries to reside legally in the United States with permission to work for up to two years – provided they do not attempt to enter the country illegally. In addition, qualifying individuals must show they have US sponsors to support them financially.
This program marks a massive change in US immigration rules, and it will stand even as the US Supreme Court considers ending a border expulsion policy known as Title 42 that has allowed authorities to rapidly expel asylum seekers without offering them a chance to seek protection. The US department has stated, ” Nationals from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua who do not avail themselves of this process, attempt to enter the United States without authorization, and cannot establish a legal basis to remain will be removed or returned to Mexico.”
The new immigration policy also depends on the Mexican government’s “willingness to accept the return or removal of nationals” from those four countries. The program aims to reduce the irregular migration of Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans, to lawfully and safely bring qualifying individuals into the United States on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit. According to the Department of Homeland Security, a similar program for Venezuelans was implemented in October 2022, resulting in a 90% drop in arrivals.
Beneficiary Process for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans
To participate in the program, migrants from the four countries, also known as “beneficiaries,” must:
- Be outside of the United States
- Have a supporter in the United States who agrees to provide them with financial support for the duration of their parole in the United States;
- Have a valid, unexpired passport;
- Undergo and clear robust security vetting;
- Meet other eligibility criteria; and
- Warrant a favorable exercise of discretion.
Qualified beneficiaries outside the United States who lack US entry documents may be considered, on a case-by-case basis, for advanced authorization to travel and a temporary period of parole for up to two years for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.
The first step in the process is for the US-based supporter to file a Form I-134A, Online Request to be a Supporter and Declaration of Financial Support, with USCIS for each beneficiary they seek to support, including minor children.
Beneficiaries can also request advance travel authorization if they:
- Are outside of the United States;
- A national of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, or Venezuela; or be an immediate family member (spouse, common-law partner, and/or unmarried child under the age of 21) who is traveling with an eligible Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, or Venezuelan;
- Have a US-based supporter who filed a Form I-134A on their behalf that USCIS has vetted and confirmed;
- Possess an unexpired passport valid for international travel;
- Provide for their own commercial travel to an air US POE and final US.destination;
- Undergo and pass required national security and public safety vetting;
- Comply with all additional requirements, including vaccination requirements and other public health guidelines; and
- Demonstrate that a grant of parole is warranted based on significant public benefit or urgent humanitarian reasons and that a favorable exercise of discretion is otherwise merited.
An individual is ineligible to be considered for parole under these processes if that person is a dual national or permanent resident of, or holds refugee status in, another country unless DHS operates a similar parole process for the country’s nationals.
Financial supporter details
A financial supporter must agree to financially support a beneficiary while they are in the United States. According to USCIS, examples of individuals who meet the supporter requirement include:
- US citizens and nationals;
- Lawful permanent residents, legal temporary residents, and conditional permanent residents;
- Nonimmigrants in lawful status (who maintain their nonimmigrant status and have not violated any of the terms or conditions of their nonimmigrant status);
- Asylees, refugees, and parolees;
- Individuals granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
As a supporter, you must submit Form I-134A, Online Request to be a Supporter and Declaration of Financial Support, and provide proof of financial stability. Some examples of financial evidence may include your federal income tax filing, bank statements, Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement from your employer, pay stub or pay statements from the past few months, and any proof of income coming into your household. Access to the processes is free. Neither the US-based supporter nor the beneficiary are required to pay the US government a fee to file Form I-134A and be considered for travel authorization or parole.
Beneficiaries are not obligated to repay, reimburse, work for, serve, marry, or otherwise compensate their supporters in exchange for filing Form I-134A or providing financial support. As a supporter, the beneficiary does not have to live with you during their parole period. However, you may be responsible for other types of support, including helping the beneficiary secure safe and appropriate housing, health care, and transportation, obtaining initial necessities, submitting forms such as the employment authorization application, learning English, obtaining employment, and enrolling children in school.
Although an individual must file and sign Form I-134A, you can do so in association with or on behalf of an organization, business, or other entity that will provide some or all the necessary support to the beneficiary. You will need to submit evidence of the entity’s commitment to supporting the beneficiary when filing Form I-134A. Documents to support this could include a letter of commitment or other documentation from an officer or other authorized representative of the organization, business, or other entity describing the monetary or other types of support (such as housing, basic necessities, transportation, etc.) the entity will be providing to the specific beneficiary (reference the USCIS Policy Manual for more information).
Four countries in focus
Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Haiti have been singled out for the program because the four countries account for the most people traveling through Mexico to cross the border into the United States. Difficulties in deporting the migrants back to their home countries also play a factor due to the lack of diplomatic relationships the countries have with the US and the countries’ refusal to accept deportations. Unfortunately, each country’s political turmoil and desperate situations force people to flee in alarming numbers.
In Venezuela, an ongoing economic and political crisis has forced people to flee the country, including inflation that reached a crippling 155 percent in October 2022, according to Reuters, causing about 7 million Venezuelans to leave the country. More than half of its citizens face challenges accessing food, healthcare, education, housing, and stable employment.
An article by Forbes shines a light on the country’s unrest, “When oil prices were high in the years before 2015, Venezuela’s socialist government took on more debt rather than saving money. When oil prices collapsed, the government lost access to financing. To keep servicing the debt, the government reduced imports. That resulted in a collapse in the supply of food, medicine, and intermediate inputs, including spare parts, seed, fertilizers, and other items needed to keep the economy going and prevent people from starving.”
In Cuba, deepening poverty due to the impact of tightened US sanctions and the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as political repression in the wake of mass anti-government protests in 2021, caused an attempted 220,908 crossings at the southern border in 2022, a nearly sixfold increase from the previous year according to data from the Department of Homeland Security.
Food has become even more scarce and more expensive, lines at pharmacies with scant supplies begin before dawn, and millions of people endure daily hours-long blackouts. The situation has worsened since the Cuban government nixed a dual currency system and kept only the Cuban peso. In addition, Cuba’s tourism sector has drastically declined, especially during the pandemic, adding to the economic crisis.
For the first time in Nicaragua’s history, the small nation of 6.5 million is a major contributor to the mass of people trekking to the US southern border, having been displaced by violence, repression, and poverty. More than 180,000 Nicaraguans crossed into the United States this year through the end of November 2022 — about 60 times as many as those who entered during the same period two years earlier, according to US Customs and Border Protection data.
Although the International Monetary Fund’s figures show about 25 percent of Nicaraguans live in poverty, analysts say the actual rate is likely far higher as some two-thirds of the nation live on about $120 a month. According to Human Rights Watch, political repression in the country has intensified under President Daniel Ortega, creating an atmosphere of terror and a faltering economy. In 2018, protests erupted over changes to social security rules that would have required workers to pay more and retirees to receive less. But the demonstrations expanded to mass anti-government uprisings across the country that lasted months and led to several hundred deaths.
According to Human Rights Watch, Haiti is experiencing a dire security situation, including loss of government control over strategic areas to the hands of dangerous armed gangs, widely believed to be financed by politicians and to have police officers on their payroll. In addition, violence has worsened an already severe humanitarian crisis.
Haiti is also enduring a deep political and constitutional crisis after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2022. The following month, the country suffered another deadly earthquake. In 2010, many Haitians migrated to South America after a devastating earthquake that the country could not fully recover from.
Despite the desperation in these countries, migrants coming to the US from Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Haiti won’t be able to claim asylum under the new program.
The new program may limit the opportunity for asylum
The Biden administration hopes the new program will speed up the immigration process at the border by taking some of the asylum cases out of the hands of the overloaded immigration courts. The number of cases in the immigration courts has exploded over the past decade from more than 262,000 in 2010 to 1.26 million in 2020. Meanwhile, just over 231,000 cases were completed in 2020. The program intends to discourage unauthorized migration by allowing asylum officers to conduct the first set of interviews to reduce the numbers. However, individuals who fail to follow this new process may face certain conditions on asylum eligibility and expulsion under Title 42.
Homeland Security officials said they would begin denying asylum to those who circumvent legal pathways and do not first ask for asylum in the country they traveled through en route to the US. Previously, Title 42 under President Trump’s administration, US required asylum seekers to wait across the border in Mexico. But clogs in the immigration system created long delays, leading to dangerous camps over the border where migrants were forced to wait. That system was ended under Biden, and the migrants who are returned to Mexico under the new rules will not be eligible for asylum.
Previously, Haitians, Cubans, and Nicaraguans had been exempted from Title 42, partly because their home countries, and Mexico, refused to take them back. However, as part of this new program, Mexico has agreed to accept up to 30,000 migrants from the four countries each month who are denied US entry.
The requirements for granting asylum are narrow, and only about 30% of applications are granted. That has created a system where migrants try to cross between ports of entry and are allowed into the US to wait out their cases. But there is a two million-case immigration court backlog, so cases often are not heard for years. Unfortunately, this new program puts migrants trying to cross the border in a hopeless situation if they can not secure a financial sponsor.
That’s the main issue for critics of the new policy: Even though it identifies a legal pathway for people in crisis to come to the US, it prevents many more who are likely highly vulnerable — without a financial sponsor, a safe and legal route, or the ability to apply for the program online — from applying for asylum, shuttling them to Mexico in unsafe and inadequate conditions. If you or someone you know may be affected by the new entry process or in need of asylum, please contact a reputable immigration attorney.
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