Hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, where the Ebola virus samples are tested. June 2014.
Hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, where the Ebola virus samples are tested. June 2014. (Photo: Leasmhar via Wikimedia Commons)

As the Ebola outbreak rages in West Africa, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Friday announced it would provide new options to forestall deportation for people from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone.

The agency said nationals from those countries who are in the United States on a nonimmigrant visa for a temporary stay, such as a tourist visa, can get an extension, even if the visa has already expired.

Immigrant petitions filed by people who are already in the United States and have U.S. citizen relatives will go to the front of the line for processing, as will employment authorization applications.

The relief falls short of temporary protected status, which halts all deportations to a targeted country for eligible groups and provides work authorization in the United States. Such protection, often granted because of armed conflict or a natural disaster, is in place for South Sudan, Sudan, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Syria and Somalia.

The World Health Organization on Thursday said the number of Ebola infections may be “vastly” underestimated. To date, more than 1,000 people have died in the deadliest outbreak of the virus ever.

Nigeria, which is not included on the list of countries whose citizens are eligible for immigration relief, announced another Ebola case on Thursday, bringing the total confirmed cases there to 11.

Contact Jenna Greene at jgreene@alm.com or follow on Twitter @jgreenjenna.