Washington (AFP) - More than 58,000 Haitians who stayed in the United States with a special protected status since a catastrophic 2010 earthquake will be allowed to stay another six months, the Department of Homeland Security said Monday.
The Haitians were facing orders to return home from July 23 if the department did not renew their so-called Temporary Protected Status, granted after a magnitude 7 earthquake destroyed much of the capital Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010.
Activists had been hoping for a longer extension -- as much as 18 months -- and warned that six months is not long enough for destitute Haiti to prepare for an influx of more than 50,000 people.
The quake killed tens of thousands and displaced more than one million people. Since then the country has struggled against hurricane disasters, political turmoil and a sweeping cholera epidemic to rebuild and shore up its economy.
Having TPS allowed the Haitians to remain in the United States past the expiration of their visas and work legally.
DHS officials said there are around 58,700 Haitians living in the US under temporary protected status.
Many do not have up-to-date Haitian travel documents, which has posed a problem to ending their status.
Before the extension expires in January, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will decide whether to grant another one or terminate it, his department said in a statement.
"I believe there are indications that Haiti –- if its recovery from the 2010 earthquake continues at pace -- may not warrant further TPS extension past January 2018," Kelly said in the statement.
"TPS as enacted in law is inherently temporary in nature, and beneficiaries should plan accordingly that this status may finally end after the extension announced today."
Haitian Women of Miami, an advocacy group, said it was disappointed that the extension was only six months rather than 18.
"As we have stated numerous times, Haiti is in no position to safely absorb an additional 50,000 persons, nor to make up for the remittances that would be curtailed," it said in a statement.
"Haitian immigrants will continue to live in fear and will be further pushed in the shadows," it added.
As part of a general crackdown on illegal immigration, the government has been deporting Haitians who do not have temporary protected status, raising protests from pro-immigrant groups.