All Haitians living in the United States under temporary protected status since their country’s devastating earthquake would have been forced to return this July, despite Haiti’s ongoing political, social and physical battles.

But the Department of Homeland Security stepped in on May 17 and announced that eligible Haitians will be granted an 18-month extension to remain in the U.S. until Jan. 22, 2013.

The temporary protected status program allows foreign nationals to reside in the U.S. legally if their homeland is in crisis. The status is often extended multiple times if the climate in their home country remains unsafe.

Many Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Somalis and Sudanese who received the status dating back to the late 1990s were granted extensions to remain in the U.S., according to The Washington Post.

Approximately 48,000 Haitians were granted the status for 18 months after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.

The Washington Post reported that Homeland Security officials will also extend the eligibility to Haitians who arrived one year after the quake to seek medical help or escape conditions in Haiti.

Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, commended the extension, saying it will save thousands of lives as Haiti has experienced “additional unwanted challenges” following the earthquake, including a potent cholera outbreak.

“This…extension and re-designation further solidifies U.S. commitment to uphold our responsibility to assist the country of Haiti as they continue to recover from last year’s tragedy,” Conyers said in a statement. “We believe such re-designation is warranted given the scale of the devastation in Haiti, the slow pace of recovery, and the new challenges that have arisen in Haiti over the past year.”

Although thousands of Haitians are protected under the status, many others who escaped to the U.S. did not apply for it because of fear of immigration authorities or an inability to afford the pricey $470 application fee.