The End of Nepali TPS

The End of Nepali TPS
Exploring the reasons behind the decision, whether it was right, and what it means for thousands of Nepalis in the United States.

On April 25, 2018, hundreds of people gathered around the fallen Dharahara tower in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal in remembrance of the 60 victims tragically buried under its rubble three years ago following the devastating 2015 earthquake. It was a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the loss of the monument was a significant blow to human history. A day later across the Pacific in Washington D.C., the tragedy was remembered in a different light.

The status of the nearly 9,000 Nepalis staying in the United States under Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, had been terminated, according to the announcement issued by Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen. The TPS Nepalis were given 12 months to make arrangements to return to Nepal, or face deportation.

According to a Homeland Security statement,“the disruption of living conditions in Nepal … [has] decreased to a degree that they should no longer be regarded as substantial, and Nepal can now adequately manage the return of its nationals”. The statement argued that the conditions have improved significantly for the people of Nepal, a stance which has been contested by others.

“The facts are clear. Nepal has barely begun recovering from the massive earthquake,” said Jeanne Atkinson, Executive Director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. The organization worked with a Nepalese advocacy group Adhikaar to assess the conditions in Nepal following the 2015 earthquake. According to Adhikaar Executive Director Pabitra Khati Benjamin,  “Hundreds of thousands of TPS holders are scrambling to figure out how to either adjust their status or leave behind everything they have built, including their homes, businesses, children and families.”

But the Nepali government did not request an extension for TPS by Homeland Security as it had done since the earthquake in 2015. According to the Kathmandu Post, the Nepal government did not request the extension of the TPS by the US government because of the assumption that Homeland Security would end it regardless, indicated by a high ranking official at the Foreign Ministry of Nepal saying “The US government decision to cancel the temporary residency permits of about 9,000 immigrants from Nepal, is unlikely to change… the Trump administration assessed that Nepal’s reconstruction pace is gaining momentum, so it is meaningless to request the US government for the extension”.

In a press release provided to Thrive Projects by Nepal’s Housing Reconstruction and Recovery Platform which partners with both the government of Nepal and NGOs, they urged that they are committed to making sure that nobody is left behind in the rebuilding process.  In regards to the end of TPS, they stated, “the impact of the reconstruction on [returning Nepalis] is expected to be limited. There may be opportunities for these people and families to contribute to the reconstruction.”

Despite the optimism of the Housing Reconstruction and Recovery Platform, organizations and lawmakers in the United States have urged against the termination of TPS for Nepalese. In a letter from 38 members of congress to Homeland Security, lawmakers insisted that the designation be extended as the conditions in Nepal were “uncertain and potentially unsafe.”

With different narratives coming from various organizations it is difficult to understand the conditions of Nepal and whether it is truly ready to accommodate its citizens living in the United States. Understanding this is essential, as sending back foreign nationals to an unsafe situation will not only look poorly for the US but could potentially violate American laws and values.

After the Earthquake struck Kathmandu, Nepal in 2015, the Obama administration granted TPS for Nepalese in the U.S., and in response 14,791 Nepalis obtained the designation. Many found a home in the New York City area where they could find decent paying jobs, send their children to school, know the water from the faucet was safe to drink, and sleep soundly knowing that their homes would not collapse due to recurrent aftershocks.

While seemingly commonplace in a country like the U.S., these are luxuries that are hard to afford in Nepal. Nearly 800,000 homes had been destroyed, large amounts of infrastructure was turned to rubble, 8,000 schools were leveled, and access to food, clean water, and adequate medicine was stripped from those in affected areas – around 8 million people.

According to Gita, a Nepali TPS recipient whose name has been changed to protect her identity, the decision has been a devastating one. She is a nail salon worker in the NYC area, and has found peace there for three years. “With TPS, I was not afraid…I got a work permit and health insurance,” said Gita. “It made my life easier for me and gave me the confidence to advocate for myself with my employers.” Gita is strongly advocating for a path to citizenship for the TPS recipients in the US, as for many there simply are none.

Recovery in Nepal is occurring, but at a frustratingly slow speed for many survivors.
Much of Nepal that was affected by the earthquake has not been repaired. The government reports that only 18.5 percent of homes were rebuilt as of April 24, 2018. It was also reported that 57 percent of homes were under the process of construction, and the remainder of homes represent the most marginalized of the population who are unable to afford to rebuild properties to government standards.

Many of those who have not finished their homes remain in temporary shelters or with relatives, and for them life is challenging and uncomfortable. After the quake struck, shelters were generally constituted of tarps and tents that provided minimal protection from the environment. Today, the shelters are constructed from metal, which although is more structurally stable, still offers limited protection from the environment.

According to Dorje Wangchuck, the executive director at Thrive Projects’ subsidiary Thrive Nepal and a resident of Kathmandu, in the hot Nepal summer the metal sheeting of the shelters vastly amplifies this heat, creating unbearable temperatures inside the homes.  In the winters, temperatures in the shelters become so low that often times people are forced to wear 5 to 6 blankets just to stay warm.

Temporary Shelters set up in Boudha, Kathmandu after the earthquake in 2015. Photo by Brian Kam.

Grants issued by the government are available for rebuilding, but they only cover a small percentage of the cost. According to the Housing Recovery and Reconstruction Platform, or HRRP, the government will provide only 300,000 NPRs, or $2,773 USD, to aid in the cost of construction.

According to Wangchuck, the financial burden of construction runs households in Nepal up to $18,000 USD. This amount of capital is difficult to save for the average Nepali citizen as the nation is among the poorest in the world, with about one quarter of its population living below the poverty line.

This raises a major ethical consideration in sending Nepalis in the U.S. back to Nepal: many of those living in the United States send money back home to aid the recovery process. This is important for the Nepali people, as nearly 50 percent of the population rely heavily on money sent from relatives abroad.

Individual financial burden isn’t the only thing impeding a swift and sustainable recovery, as the Nepalese government is notorious for its instability. This is particularly troublesome when the government must oversee the monumental task of rebuilding nearly 800,000 homes. Recently the government of Nepal held an election to establish a new constitution, and this has lead to an increase in the material cost of construction supplies, according to sources on the ground in Kathmandu.

And with all of this, Nepal has endured yet another natural disaster. In 2017, an unusually strong monsoon devastated the city with the heaviest rainfall in 60 years. The Terai region of Nepal, an area that was affected by the 2015 quake, was left inundated with flood waters in its aftermath. As transportation in this region is primarily upon dirt roads, the rain rendered the transportation of construction materials impossible. This greatly delayed the reconstruction process, and damaged about 60,000 homes.

Temporary Protective Status, by nature, has always attracted much criticism from both sides of the aisles in the United States. Although it was always made clear that it was a temporary designation, after extended stays in the nation recipients tend to invest in their lives here, buying cars, homes and developing careers to support their family at home and abroad. In the past year, hundreds of thousands of TPS designations have been terminated. Nations such as El Salvador, Haiti and Sudan too must now accommodate those who come back. Many situations to which they will be returning may be dangerous or unpleasant, but according to Wangchuck, the news could be worse, “The situation and lifestyle has changed drastically… but there are opportunities in Nepal. There is hope.”

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