Mitochondrial functions are essential for cell viability and rely on protein import into the organelle. Various disease and stress conditions can lead to mitochondrial import defects. We found that inhibition of mitochondrial import in budding yeast activated a surveillance mechanism, mitoCPR, that improved mitochondrial import and protected mitochondria during import stress. mitoCPR induced expression of Cis1, which associated with the mitochondrial translocase to reduce the accumulation of mitochondrial precursor proteins at the mitochondrial translocase. Clearance of precursor proteins depended on the Cis1-interacting AAA+ adenosine triphosphatase Msp1 and the proteasome, suggesting that Cis1 facilitates degradation of unimported proteins. mitoCPR was required for maintaining mitochondrial functions when protein import was compromised, demonstrating the importance of mitoCPR in protecting the mitochondrial compartment.