Editor’s Note: Ben Helms is an Assistant Professor of International Affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. David Leblang is Ambassador Taylor Professor of Politics & Public Policy at the University of Virginia and is the director of policy research at the University’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. Tom Jawetz is a senior fellow for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. Read more opinion at CNN.
A humanitarian crisis has pushed more than 7 million people to leave Venezuela over the past decade, some settling in South and Central America and others coming to the US. Those who arrive here have often found themselves in desperate circumstances.
Without work authorization, many have been unable to provide for themselves the most basic necessities of life, like food, shelter and clothing. Some have found themselves living on the streets of US cities — a shocking plight for people who already endured violence and instability before making their way here.
In a bid to help address this, the Biden Administration last month announced the redesignation of Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which now allows nearly half a million Venezuelans who entered the US before July 31, 2023, to apply to remain here and work lawfully for an 18-month period.
While some are spreading fears that these protections will inspire more migrants to come to the country, the weight of the evidence shows otherwise: Prior TPS designations have not led to increased unauthorized migration. In fact, our research shows that TPS actually decreases the pressures driving such migration.
Few question the legality or the appropriateness of Biden’s move, and for good reason: The Secretary of Homeland Security is authorized by Congress to designate a country for TPS when individuals cannot return safely there due to ongoing armed conflict, natural disaster or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. The economic, political and humanitarian catastrophe in Venezuela falls squarely within the statute.
The decision to redesignate Venezuela for TPS at this time follows a similar move by the Biden administration in March 2021, when it first designated the country for TPS and offered protection from deportation and work authorization to nearly 250,000 people.
Months before that, then-President Donald Trump, on his last full day in office, used his authority to provide comparable protections to Venezuelan nationals in the US — for similar reasons to those given by President Joe Biden.
If the Biden administration receives and reviews applications in a timely manner — and quickly gets work permits into the hands of people who are entitled to them — the redesignation will make a huge difference in people’s lives.
It will also address the immediate concerns of many state and local officials around the country, who joined a diverse chorus of voices in calling for the TPS redesignation. Lacking the deep networks of social or familial ties that individuals from some more established immigrant communities have, recently arrived Venezuelan migrants who are unable to work lawfully for long periods of time have required assistance with housing, food and other basic necessities that have stretched the resources of government agencies and nongovernmental providers. And that has put a strain on local and state budgets.
Many of those governments are doing what they can to meet the moment. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, for example, announced a plan this week to identify some 18,000 job openings with employers open to hiring migrants and asylum seekers who have attained legal work status in the US, including those from Venezuela who have been granted TPS.
With work authorization, these workers should provide a huge boost to the economy by earning more and filling critical labor shortages. TPS additionally will strengthen the US economy by allowing a new class of TPS holders with work authorization to join the hundreds of thousands of TPS holders from other countries who are already contributing billions of dollars in federal, state and local taxes annually and holding more than $10 billion in spending power.
When migrants are able to secure work authorization — unlocking access to the formal labor market and opening the door to better jobs with higher wages and improved working conditions — they can better support friends and family back at home.
Research conducted by two of the three authors of this piece shows that countries with a TPS designation receive substantially greater remittances per person annually (remittances are funds sent, usually electronically, by someone working abroad to relatives in the home country) when compared with non-TPS granted countries facing similar conditions. If we look year-by-year, we find that remittances per capita increase over time. These findings likely underestimate the magnitude of remittance flows, as not all remittances are recorded in official data.
The positive impact that remittances have on communities abroad cannot be overstated. Because remittances flow directly from person to person, rather than through government institutions and programs, funds can be put to use immediately and where they are needed most.
Existing research shows that communities that receive greater amounts of remittances have more and better schools, health care and infrastructure. As a result, people in remittance-receiving communities report greater satisfaction with public goods and local economic conditions. Remittances allow individuals to buy necessities and help agricultural communities self-insure and build resilience, especially in the face of natural disasters and climate shocks.
Ultimately, the research shows that an increase in remittances, driven by policies like TPS designations and work authorization, has the potential to decrease subsequent migration from places like Venezuela. The receipt of remittances decreases the desire to migrate and, as a result, is associated with a drop in the number of apprehensions at the southern border of the US.
Other studies have similarly examined migration patterns following past TPS designations — including designations of countries in the Western Hemisphere, such as El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Haiti — and have found no evidence that such designations have spurred increased irregular migration.
These benefits may extend to Venezuelans who have already left their homeland for other countries, such as the nearly 3 million now in Colombia, many of whom hold a TPS-like status there. Remittances from the US to Venezuelans living in Colombia and countries like Ecuador, Peru and elsewhere could possibly serve as a buffer against financial hardship, decreasing the likelihood that they will move again.
This debunks the view of critics who claim that TPS designations have a “magnet effect” on future irregular migration. On the contrary, there is strong evidence that such designations — precisely because they expand access to the formal labor market and give people better opportunities to work, support themselves and their families and send more remittances to friends and family back home — decrease pressure for future irregular migration.
None of this is to say that TPS is a panacea. The enormous displacement happening in the Western Hemisphere is the result of failed states, economic collapses, rising authoritarianism, environmental disasters worsened by climate change and other global phenomena.
If we want to increase prosperity and reduce forced migration, the US must work with its allies in the hemisphere to address these significant challenges. But by extending temporary protection to certain people who are already here and giving them the opportunity to work, TPS is a smart and humane way to improve the lives of people living here and abroad.