Initially, on Aug. 5, 2021, President Biden issued a memorandum to defer for 18 months the removal of eligible residents of Hong Kong who were present in the United States as of that date. This Deferred Enforced Departure order (DED) for Hong Kong residents was due to expire on February 5, 2023. Fortunately, on January 23, 2023, President Biden announced a 2-year extension of this program, through February 5, 2025.
What is Deferred Enforced Departure?
Deferred Enforced Departure is not an immigration status. Rather, it is part of the President’s power to conduct foreign relations. It protects recipients from deportation and allows them to legally stay in the country for the duration of the order. It is similar to Temporary Protected Status (TPS), issued by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. The President or DHS Secretary issue DED or TPS orders when they believe it would not be safe for certain persons to return to their home countries. President Biden had issued the DED order in response to the democracy crackdown in Hong Kong. As a result, persons who are not comfortable returning to Hong Kong can remain in the U.S., if they qualify.
Who Qualifies for DED?
USCIS has published detailed requirements here. While they might sound restrictive, most residents of Hong Kong who have lived in the United States since August 5, 2021 should qualify. However, persons who have traveled to Hong Kong or the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since that date are not eligible. Likewise, the order excludes persons who are otherwise inadmissible, such as convicted felons.
How do you apply for DED status?
Because DED is not an immigration status, no application is necessary. Qualified recipients benefit from the DED order automatically. However, please retain proof of your eligibility for future reference. You may need to prove that you remained in the U.S. lawfully if you were to apply for other immigration benefits. Proof of DED eligibility for Hong Kong residents would include a document establishing Hong Kong citizenship, such as a HKSAR passport or identity card. Additionally, keep proof of your continuous residence in the United States, such as copies of your lease, form I-94, tax filings, and pay stubs.
Can DED recipients work?
DED recipients are eligible to apply for a work permit by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, along with documents establishing their eligibility. If approved, USCIS will issue an employment authorization document (Form I-766/EAD). You cannot work until you receive your EAD and must present this document to prospective employers. Please keep in mind that USCIS does not accept online applications for DED recipients and does not offer premium processing for forms I-765 filed by DED recipients. Current (February 2023) processing time for form I-765 is approximately 6 months. USCIS publishes current processing times here.
Can DED recipients travel to other countries?
DED recipients cannot travel to Hong Kong or the People’s Republic of China. To travel to other countries, recipients must first file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. You can file form I-131 and form I-765 at the same time. Unfortunately, USCIS is currently experiencing major processing delays. Form I-131 processing times vary between 7 and 16 months, depending on which processing center receives your application. Do not plan international travel until you receive your travel document.
Consult with an Immigration Attorney
Navigating immigration forms can be tricky. While you can do all the work yourself, you do not have to. Reach out to us today for a free consultation. We would be happy to discuss your unique immigration situation and find options that work for you. There are no fees until you decide to retain us to represent you in your immigration matter.