Published: May 17, 2011 5:07 PM EDT
Updated: May 17, 2011 5:07 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) - The government is giving Haitian immigrants who fled their island nation after last year's devastating earthquake more time to live and work in the U.S. legally while their country rebuilds.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday it was extending a temporary protective status for qualified Haitian immigrants for another 18 months. It was due to expire in July.

Homeland Security officials said in a statement that Haitian immigrants who have "continuously resided" in the U.S. since Jan. 12, 2011, will also be eligible for the protection. The rule had previously applied only to immigrants who arrived in the immediate aftermath of the devastating earthquake.

So far, at least 48,000 Haitians have been granted protected status.

(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)