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Sector backs US relief, but says expansion needed

Students from Ukraine and Sudan in the US have been provided Special Student Relief by the government, meaning they will have access to work permits and protection from deportation.

The US has granted Cameroonian citizens in the US Temporary Protected Status for 18 months as a result of "extreme violence perpetrated by government forces and armed separatists" in the African country. Photo: iStock

"SSR for J-1s needs to be announced by ECA with their own Federal Register notice, which has not happened"

The US Department of Homeland Security has also designated Cameroonian citizens as Temporary Protected Status, but stakeholders have called on authorities to extend SSR in order to “more efficiently and effectively” provide humanitarian relief to the 930 Cameroonian international students on F-1 visas in the US.

From April 19, DHS said that individuals from Ukraine or Sudan wanting to request TPS and SSR must file an application.

In March, secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced the 18-month designation of Ukraine for TPS for individuals continuously in the US since April 11 and the 18-month designation of Sudan for TPS for those in the United States since March 1. Organisations have urged the government to extend the support to a wider range of individuals however.

The DHS decision to offer relief to students of the two countries could help the approximately 1,739 Ukrainian and 324 Sudanese students in the US, according to OpenDoors data, the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration indicated.

“The decision to couple SSR alongside TPS is very encouraging and should be applied to all countries experiencing crises,” Jill Welch, senior policy advisor to the Presidents’ Alliance, said in a statement.

The organisation applauded the Biden administration for its recent efforts to “utilise TPS more zealously than previous administrations”, while NAFSA was “heartened” to see the SSR announcement for international students from Ukraine, Sudan and other countries “that meet the ’emergent circumstances’ standard, as described in NAFSA’s SSR resource page”.

Together, TPS and SSR allow students to “continue their education and participate in our economy by continuing to work and live in the US”, as well as providing protection to those whose home countries are in crisis, Presidents’ Alliance added.

“International students want to continue their studies and SSR makes this possible for F-1 students”

“SSR is particularly important to international students from these countries who may need to work more hours off-campus or drop below a full-time course load without the risk of violating their student status,” Welch stated.

“We urge DHS to keep moving toward being more responsive to the needs of crisis-impacted populations determined to succeed and build a better future.”

“International students want to continue their studies and SSR makes this possible for F-1 students,” deputy executive director of Public Policy at NAFSA, Jill Allen Murray, highlighted. But NAFSA urged the government to expand SSR to J-1 visa holders.

“NAFSA has long advocated for greater availability of SSR for international students from countries that are in violent upheaval or other dangers and was eagerly awaiting its formal announcement,” Allen Murray noted.

“Currently, SSR is only available to F-1 students. SSR for J-1s needs to be announced by ECA with their own Federal Register notice, which has not happened.”

The Presidents Alliance has appealed to USCIS to ensure that SSR is simultaneously provided for students and scholars from conflict-affected countries whenever TPS is designated.

SSR should be made immediately available to 7,107 Colombian, 2,166 Ethiopian, 1,492 El Salvadoran, 1,125 Congolese, 1,102 Guatemalan, 930 Cameroonian and 354 Afghan students, the organisation said.

NAFSA also urged the DHS and Department of State to “provide accommodations to those students who have fled Ukraine and other countries in crisis but who are outside the US and seek to study here”.

“That includes waiving visa processing requirements that impede these students’ entry into the US, including the current stipulation that visa applicants must have an in-person interview with consular officers,” Allen Murray noted.

“We are ecstatic that the administration finally granted a TPS designation for Cameroon”

Authorities should also shorten the timeline between the announcement of relief and the opportunity to apply for and receive relief, and expedite employment authorisation documents based on economic hardship, the Presidents’ Alliance added.

For example, DHS announced Afghanistan would be designated for TPS on March 15, but the designation is not in effect until a notice is published in the Federal Register, which is expected soon, as NAFSA has highlighted.

“We are ecstatic that the administration finally granted a TPS designation for Cameroon,” Jose Magaña-Salgado, director of Policy and Communications at Presidents’ Alliance, stated.

“We are grateful to secretary Mayorkas, president Biden, and all of the many individuals who have worked tirelessly to make this happen. As the administration continues to use their authority to grant humanitarian relief via TPS, we hope that countries like Ethiopia, Guatemala, and other countries are similarly designated for TPS.”

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