The Department of Homeland Security Wednesday announced it would be extending Venezuela’s temporary protected status, allowing asylum seekers – including the 49 migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard last year – to begin making a living for themselves sooner than previously allowed.

Temporary protected status is a special designation granted to people fleeing civil war, natural disaster, or other conditions or circumstances that inhibit a safe return home. This week’s designation affects roughly 500,000 Venezuelan migrants across the U.S., including the ones flown to the Island in a program devised by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and extends temporary protected status into March 2024.

Under the status, Venezuelans who had entered the U.S. before July 31 can begin applying for work authorization as soon as they apply for temporary protected status.

“We are thrilled that many of the migrants who were transported to Martha’s Vineyard last September now have this path available to them in addition to their other applications for relief,” Island-based immigration attorney Rachel Self said in a statement. “They will all be able to apply for TPS, ensuring that they do not have to return home to the oppressive regime, gang violence, and complete economic devastation - among other dangers - that they left behind.”

In a phone interview with the Gazette, Ms. Self said the change is an “extraordinary opportunity” for her clients and any other Venezuelan who had newly arrived to the U.S.

“I sent a letter to everyone I know last night telling them the good news and letting them know I’m available to help,” Ms. Self said.

The announcement comes as state governments in New York and Massachusetts scramble to marshal the resources necessary to accommodate the influx of migrants in the Northeast.

Where asylum seekers previously had to apply for temporary protected status and then apply for work authorization, asylum seekers can now apply for both at the same time, streamlining what can be a long, drawn-out process and reducing the burden on local governments to provide aid in the interim, Ms. Self said.

“Hardworking people who want to start providing for themselves can now do that,” she said.

Nearly 30 countries have been granted temporary protected status, allowing immigrants from those countries to live and work in the U.S. on a temporary basis. About 243,000 Venezuelan immigrants were previously granted temporary protected status in 2021.

While Ms. Self considers the announcement a step forward, she acknowledged that the approval process for these work authorizations is still deeply backlogged, with authorization documents often taking between six and nine months to arrive.

“I’m hopeful with the new program they will implement faster processing times,” she said, adding that since online filing has become available in the past year, some have reported faster approval rates.

Some of the 49 migrants who arrived last September have already begun receiving the green light to work legally in the U.S. Ms. Self said that of her five clients from that incident, three have received their employment authorization documents.

“A year ago, several employers reached out saying they would hire anyone as soon as they received work authorization,” Ms. Self said. “One of my clients who just got his employment authorization document this week has an interview tomorrow with one of those employers.”