A Demographic Profile of TPS Holders Providing Essential Services During the Coronavirus Crisis

Frontline medical workers are applauded by New Yorkers as the city battles against the COVID-19 pandemic, April 2020.

While Americans continue to grapple with the coronavirus crisis, an estimated 131,300 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti are helping to support the nation by serving as essential workers. These individuals, who, due to their jobs, do not have the option to shelter in place or work from home, are exposing themselves to the risk of infection by continuing to report for duty as home health aides, repair workers, food processors, and more.

Despite the important role that large numbers of TPS holders are playing in the country’s response to the new coronavirus, they would all be without work authorization and protection from deportation had the Trump administration’s efforts to terminate their countries’ TPS designations not been put on hold by federal courts around the country. As these individuals continue to make critical contributions to society, they do so knowing that a court ruling could at any moment begin to unravel the protections that they and their families rely on.

This column looks at the demographics of TPS holders whose work in particular industries and occupation groups makes them “essential critical infrastructure workers,” according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidance. The department states that these “essential workers [are] needed to maintain the services and functions Americans depend on daily and that need to be able to operate resiliently during the COVID-19 pandemic response.” These DHS guidelines have been adopted in whole or in part by many U.S. governors who have identified special rules for “essential workers” as part of their general stay-at-home orders.

Health care

The health care industry is currently experiencing unprecedented strain, and the problem is only projected to get worse as new COVID-19 epicenters emerge across the country. Workers in the industry—including those who provide direct patient support and who work in hospitals, medical clinics, and nursing homes as critical administrative and support staff—are at heightened risk of exposure to the virus, jeopardizing both their own health as well as their ability to continue to serve patients in need. There have even been stories of TPS holders in the medical field continuing to work extra hours after being exposed to the virus.

An estimated 11,600 health care workers today are TPS holders, including:

  • 8,100 home health and personal care aides, nursing assistants, orderlies, and psychiatric aides
  • 1,900 health technologists and technicians
  • 1,300 other health care support occupations

Not surprisingly, the states with the most TPS holders are also home to the largest numbers of TPS holders in health care occupations: Florida (2,900), California (2,700), and New York (2,100), for example, are all home to sizable numbers of these frontline health workers. These states are also home to large numbers of individuals who have tested positive for or died as a result of COVID-19, highlighting that TPS workers in these occupations are precisely where they are needed most at this moment. In addition, the significant number of TPS holders working as home health and personal care aides is particularly notable given that older Americans and people with disabilities are at heightened risk of serious medical consequences should they become infected by COVID-19.

As the entire health care system buckles under the weight of the challenges posed by the new coronavirus, it is important to look at not only health care workers who are directly providing medical support to individuals in need, but also others employed in the industry whose work undergirds and helps to support the systems themselves. In the case of TPS holders, the Center for American Progress’ analysis finds another 6,100 TPS holders working in a health-related setting, many of whom are physically on the frontlines along with doctors and nurses and are critical in keeping these spaces functioning.

Food

Across the entire country, the 76,100 TPS holders working in food-related occupations or industries—from grocery stores and restaurants to farms and food processing plants—have felt the impacts of COVID-19.

These individuals play an integral role in food production, with 3,900 TPS holders working in farming and agriculture and another 11,700 working in food manufacturing. Moreover, they are vital to the distribution chain that helps deliver this food to stores and restaurants: A total of 4,700 TPS holders work in food-related wholesale trade while 11,600 TPS holders work in food warehousing, transportation, and delivery.

Finally, TPS holders in stores and restaurants help to keep Americans fed during both ordinary and extraordinary times. This includes the 8,400 TPS holders working in grocery stores as well as the 28,800 TPS holders working in restaurants or food service establishments. Though DHS labels carry-out restaurants and quick-service food operations as essential during the pandemic, the operating status of many restaurants is uncertain, as the restaurant industry has experienced remarkable closures and layoffs.

Other workers

Beyond health care and food services, TPS holders comprise a vital part of the workforce that is keeping the United States running during these uncertain times. For example, 6,900 TPS holders work in transportation and warehousing services, and 4,100 work in automotive repair and maintenance. These individuals are getting the products Americans order to their homes and keeping drivers on the road. Meanwhile, the 12,700 TPS holders working in manufacturing plants and the 3,300 TPS holders working in administrative and waste management services are ensuring that the supply chain remains uninterrupted, garbage pickup continues, and U.S. security systems are monitored.

Conclusion

The average TPS holder from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti has lived in the United States for 22 years. Now, in addition to caring for their own families, more than 130,000 of these individuals—like so many other Americans—are providing a service to the entire nation at great personal risk. Whether they are providing care to older Americans in nursing homes, growing or processing food in plants to ensure that grocery store shelves remain stocked, or cleaning hospitals that treat COVID-19 patients, many thousands of TPS holders are keeping the country safe every day.

The ability of these individuals to remain with their families and communities in the United States, and to continue to provide essential work that the country relies on, now hinges on whether appellate courts will affirm the preliminary injunctions that lower courts have issued to preserve the status quo. Given the fear and anxiety that all Americans are experiencing during the current public health crisis, Congress and the administration should take steps to relieve some of this uncertainty by automatically extending protections for current TPS holders.

Nicole Prchal Svajlenka is the associate director for research on the Immigration team at the Center for American Progress. Tom Jawetz is the vice president of Immigration Policy at the Center.

Methodology

The findings presented in this column are based on CAP analysis of three years of pooled American Community Survey microdata—the 2016 1-year, 2017 1-year, 2018 1-year ACS, accessed via the University of Minnesota’s IPUMS USA. Aggregating three years of data results in three times the number of samples, allowing researchers to drill deeper into smaller crosstabulations with higher levels of confidence. The analysis is benchmarked to the data reported in the Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) April 2020 update to Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues.

Data are presented for the three largest groups of TPS beneficiaries: individuals from El Salvador (247,697), Honduras (79,415), and Haiti (55,338). TPS holders from these three countries represent 93 percent of all individuals with the status. As the CRS notes, the population figures are derived from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data that include the total number of people whose TPS applications have ever been approved—including individuals who have adjusted to another status, left the country, or died, but excluding those who subsequently became naturalized U.S. citizens. This means that the actual numbers of TPS holders from these countries are currently lower than the officially reported totals from USCIS.

CAP’s analysis defines occupational categories using the 2018 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. Health care workers include “Healthcare practitioners and technical occupations” and “Healthcare support occupations.”

To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, visit our coronavirus resource page.