By CNN's Carol Cratty
Starting next week, Syrians who have been living temporarily in the United States will be able to apply for Temporary Protected Status and remain in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security announced Friday.
"Conditions in Syria have worsened to the point where Syrian nationals already in the United States would face serious threats to their personal safety if they were to return to their home country," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a written statement.
A Homeland Security official said that an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 people who now have visas will be eligible to apply to stay in the U.S. for 18 months. Approval is not automatic: Applicants must undergo full background checks, and criminals and anyone considered a national security threat will not be accepted, according to the official.
A notice will be published in the Federal Register next week, giving instructions on how to apply to stay in the U.S. under the temporary status. Homeland Security cautions that no paperwork should be submitted before the official notice is posted.
A country can be designated for Temporary Protected Status if it is in the midst of an ongoing armed conflict such as a civil war, if an epidemic or environmental disaster such as an earthquake has happened, or if some other extraordinary situation has occurred.
Seven other countries are designated for Temporary Protected Status: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.