Venezuelans In Utah Rush To Get New Temporary Protection Status

Mar 12, 2021, 7:04 PM | Updated: 9:54 pm
Laura Lopez was overjoyed to learn that she and thousands of other Venezuelans in Utah were granted...
Laura Lopez was overjoyed to learn that she and thousands of other Venezuelans in Utah were granted Temporary Protection Status. (KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Thousands of Venezuelans learned this week that they are now under a legal protection umbrella that allows them to remain in Utah.

According to the non-profit advocacy group Venezuelan Alliance of Utah, as many as 15,000 Venezuelans live in Utah.

Many arrived in the last five years seeking protection from political oppression. It’s why they are celebrating the recent changes that gave them temporary protection status.

Laura Perez described this moment as better than going to Disneyland. “I’m so excited,” she said. “I’m so happy!”

Five years ago, 25-year-old Laura graduated from law school in Venezuela. The next day she was on a plane headed to the U.S. with her grandmother. Her grandmother passed away two years ago while waiting for this day to come.

“I mean if she was here, Oh, she’d be happy. Oh yeah,” Perez said.

She is one of the thousands of Venezuelans who are now able to stay and work legally in the United States.

“It’s a relief,” Perez sighed.

Monday, the Biden administration announced Venezuelans can apply for temporary protection status.

That announcement caused the phones to ring off the hook at the office of immigration attorney Jonathan Shaw, who has a waiting list with 600 names. He started to hire new staff to keep up with all the calls for help.

“We just don’t have the manpower to handle all of this right now,” he said. “Not only our office, but every other immigration office in Utah I know is facing the same situation. Just not enough attorneys to serve the population of Venezuelans in Utah at this point.”

In recent years, millions of Venezuelans fled poverty, food shortages and political oppression under the regime of Nicolas Maduro.

“His name just means so many bad things to my country,” Perez said.

“The interesting thing about this program is there is an initial registration period that only lasts for six months, and after that, the people that have qualified can renew a work authorization every 18 months as long as the temporary protected status lasts,” said Shaw.

Shaw said Venezuelans are temporarily living in neighboring countries as well as Europe, and the U.S. Temporary protection status will cover those who arrived here before March 8.

“When they get here they are starting fresh, they’re starting new but they have this special skillset. I have a lot of clients, probably the majority of my clients are doctors, lawyers, engineers that type of person, and so they’ve humbly been working in restaurants but with this work authorization, they are going to be able to contribute, in a major way, to our economy,” Shaw added.

He said the majority of Venezuelans have a deep connection to their country and he expects most want to return to Venezuela if political conditions improve.

“They love their country and so many of the people even that have won asylum or will get TPS, the majority of them want to return to improve their country as soon as they can. So it’s an interesting opportunity because it’s a temporary protected status, and if and when things improve, a lot of these people on their own accord will leave and go back and rebuild their country.”

Perez said temporary protection status offered her refuge and the hope of one day returning to rebuild her country.

“Everybody wants to go back home,” she said.

The Venezuelan Alliance of Utah is planning a celebration and informational session on the status Saturday.

It will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Sabor Latino, located at 2080 West North Temple in Salt Lake City.

For more information visit: facebook.com/alianzaveutah

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Venezuelans In Utah Rush To Get New Temporary Protection Status