Last Updated: Wed Mar 28, 2012 07:33 am (KSA) 04:33 am (GMT)

At least 3,000 Syrians in U.S. express relief as their visas extended by 18 months

Naseeb, a Syrian student pursuing a master’s degree in business administration in Colorado, will benefit from a U.S. decision extending stays for citizens from eight volatile nations. (Al Arabiya)
Naseeb, a Syrian student pursuing a master’s degree in business administration in Colorado, will benefit from a U.S. decision extending stays for citizens from eight volatile nations. (Al Arabiya)

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it will extend the visas of Syrians living in the United States for at least 18 more months, allowing them to work and reside here legally.

In its statement announcing the decision the department said “Conditions in Syria have worsened to the point where Syrian nationals already in the United States would face serious threats to their personal safety if they were to return to their home country.”

The program, called the Temporary Protection Status (TPS), allows the citizens of eight volatile countries who are already in the U.S. to remain in the country and is usually extended until the situation improves in their home countries. Other Middle Eastern countries included in the program are Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.

The department estimates between 2,500 to 3,000 Syrian students and tourists are in the U.S. on temporary visas will be able to extend their stay.

Naseeb, a Fulbright scholar who is studying for a master’s degree in business administration in Colorado, is one of them. Naseeb, who didn’t want to declare his last name for fear of retaliation, told Al Arabiya he was worried when the security situation deteriorated in Syria.

“My friends and fellow Syrian students were really worried. We tried to reach out to local politicians and members of Congress to tell them how afraid we were about having to go back to Syria.”

Naseeb said he was relieved when he heard of the department’s decision. He said his friends who went back to Syria from Qatar and Saudi Arabiya were detained and questioned by the Syrian authorities “simply because they had written anti-government slogans on their Facebook walls.”

The decision to put Syrian nationals on the list was made in record time, only two months after the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and a coalition of Syrian American rights groups petitioned the Department of Homeland Security. Six Democratic senators also signed on to a letter urging the administration to designate Syrians in the U.S. for TPS.

ADC’s legal director Abed Ayoub said the organization has been dealing with hundreds of asylum applications for Syrians since the uprising started. “This situation is unique because, regardless of political views, Syrian nationals are still going to be in danger upon returning and you have those vocal ones who are going to be in even more danger if they return.” The decision is “a good gesture and a welcomed step,” he added.

Naseeb said he has mixed feelings about the decision. On one hand, he’s really happy he can stay, but on the other hand he feels “a bit selfish and guilty as I look for work here while people back home are dying.”


(Muna Shikaki is a correspondent for Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. She can be followed on twitter @munashik, and reached by email at: muna.shikaki@mbc.net)

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