MIAMI – As Haiti marked six months of struggle after a catastrophic earthquake, the U.S. on Monday gave Haitians more time to apply to legally stay and work here so they can support the rebuilding efforts.

Haitians already living in the U.S. illegally when the earthquake struck Jan. 12 now have until January to apply for temporary protected status, which allows immigrants from countries experiencing armed conflict or environmental disasters to stay and work in the U.S. for 18 months.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas announced the deadline extension to immigration attorneys and Haitian community advocates who had said their clients could not pay fees totaling $470 or overcome their fears of U.S. authorities before the original July 20 due date.

“We are dealing with individuals in this country, many of whom have suffered tremendous loss in their lives as a result of the tragic earthquake — loss of family, loss of loved ones beyond family, the loss of life savings, the loss of homes — and we are ever mindful of that as we make our decisions as to what humanitarian relief we are able to provide,” Mayorkas said.

About 35,500 Haitians have been granted temporary protected status, out of about 55,000 applications — more than half of which have filed in Florida. Officials expect 70,000 to 100,000 to apply before January.

Advocates applauded Mayorkas’ announcement, saying the deadline extension gives them more time to reach immigrants who fear that alerting the U.S. government to their presence will lead to prison or deportation.

About 1,200 applicants have been denied temporary protected status because they arrived after the earthquake or had criminal records that made them ineligible, Mayorkas said.