The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to allow immigrants who’ve been allowed to stay in the USA on humanitarian grounds apply to become permanent residents if they entered the country illegally, siding with President Joe Biden’s administration.

The justices, acting in an appeal with a married couple from El Salvador who had been granted so-called Temporary Protected Status, unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that barred their applications for permanent residency, also known as a green card, due to their criminal entry.

The case could affect thousands of immigrants, many of whom have lived in the USA for years.

A federal law called the Immigration and Nationality Act generally requires that people seeking to become permanent residents are”inspected and admitted” to the USA. At issue in the case was whether a grant of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), that gives the recipient”legal status,” satisfies those requirements.

Writing for the court, liberal Justice Elena Kagan said that”since a grant of TPS doesn’t include a ticket of admission, it does not eliminate the disqualifying effect of an unlawful entry.”

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Foreign nationals could be granted Temporary Protected Status in case a humanitarian crisis in their home country, like a natural disaster or armed struggle, could create their return dangerous. There are approximately 400,000 people in the USA with protected status, which prevents deportation and lets them operate lawfully.

The case involves Jose Sanchez and Sonia Gonzalez, who live in New Jersey and also have four children.