The Biden administration has extended a programme that allows Yemenis already in the United States to stay in the country without fear of deportation, saying the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen make it unsafe for them to return.
The renewed designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will allow approximately 1,700 Yemenis to keep their status through March 3, 2023, and allows an estimated 480 additional Yemenis to apply, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Yemen continues to experience worsening humanitarian and economic conditions that prevent individuals from safely returning to their homes,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas cited the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen, lack of access to food, water, and healthcare, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic’s worsening of the economic and humanitarian situation as among the reasons for the decision.
TPS for Yemenis was due to expire in September. The programme does not automatically grant them a path to American citizenship, but allows them to work in the US and remain in the country without fear of deportation.
In 2014, the Houthi armed group took control over large swaths of Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa. The conflict escalated significantly in March 2015 when a military coalition of regional countries – led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – intervened to try to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The war in Yemen has led to what the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands killed, millions displaced and two-thirds of its 30 million population dependent on aid.
The UN’s child rights office (UNICEF) said in a report this week that millions of Yemeni children require humanitarian and emergency education assistance. “Children remain the primary victims of this terrible crisis, with 11.3 million requiring some form of humanitarian aid or protection assistance,” it said.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has faced pressure from rights groups as well as members of his own Democratic Party to end Washington’s support for Saudi-led forces in Yemen, which along with the Houthis have been accused of committing war crimes during the continuing conflict.
In February, Biden announced an end to US support for the coalition’s “offensive operations” in Yemen and paused weapons sales to Saudi Arabia that had been previously approved by the Trump administration.
A group of influential US legislators in May also urged Biden to help raise $2.5bn in aid for Yemenis suffering under the humanitarian crisis.
Since coming into office, the Biden administration has granted or extended TPS to people from several countries, including Myanmar, El Salvador, Haiti and Venezuela.
The administration’s actions stand in contrast to Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who sought to phase out the programme – an effort that was slowed by legal challenges.