The US government has extended temporary protection for Salvadorans living in the United States by an extra year, US Ambassador to El Salvador Ronald Johnson said on Monday, in a possible sign of easing tensions over migration.
"Today in Washington, we signed an agreement which extends the TPS (temporary protected status) for the Salvadorans in the United States for another year," Johnson said in a joint video statement with Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele.
The TPS protections had been set to expire in January.
They could be extended for a second year, through January 2022, provided that lawsuits in US federal court do not invalidate President Donald Trump's decision to end the program, Bukele told reporters later on Monday.
"We achieved not only the extension through January 4, 2021, but for just Salvadorans an additional 365 days once the lawsuits are over," he said.
TPS was granted to citizens of the Central American country following two devastating 2001 earthquakes in El Salvador that left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.
However, Trump has shown considerable skepticism toward the protection scheme and has moved to revoke the special status afforded to thousands of immigrants from a number of countries including El Salvador.
In a statement, the US embassy in El Salvador said that the Trump administration would also extend work permits held by Salvadorans enrolled in TPS over the same dates.
Both countries also agreed to deploy agents from US Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to "advise and mentor" their Salvadoran police, border security, immigration and customs counterparts, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement.
Additionally, the DHS and El Salvador agreed to enhance crime prevention through the expansion of biometric data collection and information sharing, it added.
The accords will help Washington and San Salvador confront illegal migration and strengthen the entire region, said DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan.
The TPS program offers protection from deportation to immigrants who already are in the United States, including those who entered illegally, from countries affected by natural disasters, civil conflicts and other problems.
El Salvador, along with Guatemala and Honduras, are the homelands of the bulk of migrants caught trying to cross into the United States illegally via Mexico.
Bukele on Sept. 26 said the United States should promote legal migration as part of its crackdown on illegal immigration, and called on Trump to continue TPS.
"Thanks to President Bukele, we can tell nearly 250,000 fellow citizens and their families that with the support of the United States they can continue to fight for their dreams," said Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill in the DHS statement. "They are not alone. We will continue to work 24/7 for a permanent solution."
As of October 2018, there were over 263,000 TPS beneficiaries from El Salvador, court documents show.