The United States Department of Homeland Security on Monday ended the special status given to nearly 59,000 Haitian immigrants in the country that protects them from deportation, Reuters reported.

The Temporary Protected Status was granted to Haitian nationals in the US for 18 months after an earthquake devastated the Caribbean nation in 2010, killing more than 3 lakh people. The status, which allowed them to stay and work in the US legally even after their visas expired, was extended several times since under the Barack Obama administration.

The Haitian immigrants have 18 months to return to their country or legalise their status in the US.

“It was assessed overall that the extraordinary, but temporary conditions, that served as the basis of Haiti’s most recent designation has sufficiently improved such that they no longer prevent nationals of Haiti from returning safely,” said Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, adding that the number of displaced people in Haiti since the earthquake has dropped by 97%, according to AFP.

Last week, Haitian Ambassador Paul Altidor and Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Rodrigue met Duke to petition for an extension, Politico reported. The ambassador said nearly 40,000 Haitians still lived in camps for the displaced. Republican Senator Marco Rubio had also written an article on November 17, urging the administration to renew the special designation for another 18 months.