Miami, Florida (CNN) -- Registration for the temporary protected status program to help Haitians living in the United States has been extended for six months, a federal official announced Monday.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas announced the extension at a town hall meeting in Miami six months after the January 12 earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people.
"Since the earthquake, [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] has maintained an ongoing dialogue with Haitian community leaders and advocates, and we have heard that many Haitians need more time to apply" for temporary protected status, Mayorkas said in a news release announcing the extension. "Extending the registration period will afford more eligible individuals a chance to remain safely in the United States at this time of crisis and devastation in Haiti."
The deadline for Haitians to register for the program, which had been July 20, has been extended to January 18, 2011, he said.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the program in January, in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. It designates Haitians for temporary protected status for an 18-month period beginning January 21, 2010.
The status allows eligible Haitians to continue living in the United States for the duration of the program and to obtain work authorization for the duration of the program.
"Providing a temporary refuge for Haitian nationals who are currently in the United States and whose personal safety would be endangered by returning to Haiti is part of this administration's continuing efforts to support Haiti's recovery," Napolitano said in a statement in January.
The designation applies to those Haitians who have lived continuously in the United States since the January 12 earthquake; those Haitian nationals who first entered the United States after that date are not eligible.
The filing fee for most people ages 14 to 64 who apply for a work permit is $470, but more than 90 percent of applications to waive registration fees are being granted, Mayorkas said.
"We and lots of other advocates had been asking for this," said Susanna Barciela, policy director at the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.
Just 44,500 applications had been filed as of April 9, according to the USCIS website. Barciela estimated the number of people eligible to file under the program at 70,000 to 100,000.
"Many are afraid that this is a trick and that once the government has their address, they will be deported," Barciela said. "Extending the application period will give advocates like us more time to reach out and talk to the community about the benefits of TPS, which will allow more Haitians to make a better-informed decision."
The program helps by allowing those who are in the United States to earn money that they can then send to their relatives in Haiti, she said.
"If you have people here who are providing remittances, it's very helpful to Haiti; it's people-to-people help."