U.S. says to end protected status for 9,000 Nepalese immigrants

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration said on Thursday the protected immigration status the United States granted to some 9,000 Nepalese after a 2015 earthquake would end in June 2019, making them vulnerable to deportation.

The United States offered so-called temporary protected status for Nepalese after a large earthquake killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands homeless. In 2016, it was extended for 18 months, and it was set to expire on June 24.

The decision to terminate the status announced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gives the immigrants a year to leave the country or change their immigration status. After June 24, 2019, they would face deportation.

The department said in a statement the decision was reached after a review of the disaster-related conditions that led to the status initially being granted.

“The disruption of living conditions in Nepal from the April 2015 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks that served as the basis for its TPS designation have decreased to a degree that they should no longer be regarded as substantial, and Nepal can now adequately manage the return of its nationals,” it said.

In recent months, the Trump administration has decided to end temporary protected status for immigrants from several countries affected by disasters, including Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador, leaving hundreds of thousands of people who had permission to live and work in the United States vulnerable to deportation if they remain.

Critics of the TPS program have complained that repeated extensions in six-month to 18-month increments of the status, sometimes for decades, has given beneficiaries de facto residency in the United States.

The administration faces a separate deadline on May 4 when it will have to decide the fate of some 57,000 Hondurans covered by TPS, the second-largest group in the program after immigrants from El Salvador.

Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere and it has recently has been convulsed by protests following a contested presidential election.

So far most of the other countries that have come up for review have been terminated except for Syria, which is in the midst of a devastating war.

Reporting by Makini Brice and Tim Ahmann; additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by James Dalgleish