In September, the Biden administration extended temporary protection to some 472,000 Venezuelan migrants in the United States. Doing so provided welcome humanitarian relief—thousands of men, women, and children have fled violence and natural disasters and find themselves without a home—but it also ushered in the possibility of notable economic gains for U.S. communities.
Research by the American Immigration Council finds that immigrants who are granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) help fill the local labor needs and even start businesses at high rates. They spend billions of dollars on taxes and consumer goods and contribute to regional housing wealth through home purchases. All are contributions made more likely with the protections afforded through the TPS program.
Created by Congress in the Immigration Act of 1990, TPS is a temporary immigration status for nationals of specifically designated countries that are confronting an ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster, or extraordinary and temporary conditions. People from TPS countries who are already in the United States can receive work authorization and are protected from deportation for designated periods of six, 12, or 18 months. TPS country designations can, and often are, renewed. Many have lived in the country for outside of two decades.
By working, TPS holders are not only able to provide for themselves and their families but also to support their American communities at large.
The Council analyzed American Community Survey data from 2021, the latest year for which socioeconomic data is available, and identified more than 354,000 immigrants who had TPS in 2021. TPS households earned $10.3 billion and held $8 billion in purchasing power, money that helps support American businesses and their workers. It found that the majority of TPS holders, 94.6%, were employed. They also had a high rate of entrepreneurship—14.5% compared with 9.3% of the U.S.-born workforce.
In 2021, TPS households paid nearly $1.3 billion in federal taxes, contributions that help to sustain troubled entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. They also help buoy federal public assistance programs for which TPS holders are ineligible, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and regular coverage under Medicaid. TPS holders also paid $966.5 million in combined state and local taxes, money that helped sustain local police, schools, and other services.
The contributions of the TPS holders were particularly important in several key states, including some—Texas and Florida, most notably—that have been sending migrants north by bus since last year. In 2021, nearly three out of every five TPS individuals were concentrated in four states: Florida, California, Texas, and New York. In each of those states, TPS households earned more than $1 billion in 2021 and paid more than $110 million in combined state and local taxes. In Florida, California, and Texas, TPS households held more than $1.1 billion in spending power that year.
New TPS holders could be expected to contribute more to the economies of those and other states. As of March 2023, 610,630 people have TPS status, thanks to an expansion of the program by the Biden administration from 12 countries to 16 countries. The September extension of TPS to Venezuelan migrants who arrived in the country by July 31, 2023 has allowed even more immigrants to play an active role in local economies.
Since Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy spun into a free fall in 2014, triggering widespread violence and severe shortages of food, medicine, and other necessities, more than one-quarter of the population—or 7.7 million people—have fled, including 1.4 million who left the country between May 2022 and August 2023. Most—more than 6.5 million—settled in Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Among the Venezuelans who found refuge in the United States, only 242,700 had TPS status before the extension of the designation—those who had arrived by March 9, 2021. The hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants who arrived after that date were unprotected and thus unable to legally work. U.S. cities struggled to provide shelter, even as businesses grappled with labor shortages and migrants sought employment.
The September extension gives these Venezuelans 18 months of TPS. At that time, the president will need to renew the country’s designation up to another 18 months. This is always the case for all TPS holders, and it leaves them in a state of limbo, often for many years.
Due to ongoing violence and extreme conditions abroad, more than 80% of TPS holders in the United States in 2021 had been living here for more than 20 years, some raising children who cannot remember another home. If the federal government decides to terminate a TPS designation—as the Trump administration threatened to do for many designated countries—TPS holders face deportation to a life-threatening region of the world.
But they also would have to abandon jobs, businesses, and houses. In 2021, at least 41% of TPS households in the country had also purchased their home, holding a total housing value of $19 billion and adding to their region’s housing wealth and property tax revenues.
Would such financial investments in America rise if TPS holders had access to a permanent path to residency? If they could envision a future in this country beyond 18 months? Research by the Council highlights the economic contributions TPS holders already make when living in limbo. The United States should ask if, by not extending residency, it is missing an even bigger economic opportunity.
FILED UNDER: Economics