WASHINGTON, D.C. (EFE) – TheUnited States is extending until late 2006the Temporary Protected Status of roughly250,000 Salvadoran immigrants whoseremittances are crucial to their homeland’seconomy, a top U.S. official confirmedthis week.“We have determined that it’s necessaryto extend the protection of citizens ofEl Salvador who are in the United Stateswhile El Salvador recovers from a seriesof devastating earthquakes which affectedthat nation in early 2001,” said EduardoAguirre, head of the U.S. Bureau ofCitizenship and Immigration Services.Known as TPS, the immigration benefitmay be conferred on people fromcountries plagued by natural disasters orarmed conflicts. The status provides recipientswith U.S. work permits and protectionfrom deportation.Salvadoran President Tony Saca thisweek hailed the U.S. announcement, andsaid it was the “first step” toward permanentresidency in the United States.TPS was first granted to Salvadoranimmigrants for a period of 18 months inMarch 2001, after their homeland sufferedthrough two major earthquakes within amonth. Thursday’s extension was the thirdand is valid through September 2006.The Bureau of Citizenship andImmigration Services calculates that justover 248,000 immigrants from El Salvadorare eligible for the extension, whichcan be done online or through the mail.Acknowledging it is unable to processall of the migrants’ work permits duringthe 60-day application period, the U.S.agency said it will automatically renewSalvadorans’ existing documents throughSept. 9.Applicants must pay the usual $175fee plus an additional $70 to underwritethe cost of collecting their fingerprintsand other biometric data as part of newsecurity requirements. The benefit is notextended to people convicted in theUnited States of a felony or two misdemeanors.Three months ago, Washingtonannounced a fifth extension of TPS forHondurans and Nicaraguans who fled tothe United States as a result of thedestruction wrought in their homelands byHurricane Mitch in November 1998.The immigration bureau said thatrenewal of TPS for El Salvador was justifiedbecause that nation remains incapableof absorbing the return of the quarter-millionexpatriates now working in theUnited States under the program.According to the U.S. StateDepartment, the earthquakes in ElSalvador Jan. 13 and Feb. 13, 2001, leftmore than 1.5 million people there withoutadequate shelter – a fourth of thecountry’s population. The immigration andcitizenship bureau calculates that half ofthose who lost their dwellings in the temblorsremain homeless four years later.The TPS beneficiaries represent abouta tenth of the roughly 2.5 millionSalvadorans estimated to be living in theUnited States.El Salvador’s Central Bank said remittancesfrom mainly U.S.-based expatriatestotaled $2.3 billion between January andNovember 2004, representing the nation’slargest single source of revenue.The conservatives who have been inpower in San Salvador since 1989 maintainclose ties with Washington D.C., andthe extension of TPS was probably nothurt by El Salvador’s continued supportfor the U.S. war on Iraq.El Salvador remains the only othercountry in the Western Hemisphere,besides the United States, to still havetroops in Iraq.