The State Department announced Monday that it will expand access to the US refugee program for certain Afghans amid fears of reprisal by the Taliban as the US military withdrawal nears completion.
The new designation creates a pathway to the US for Afghans who do not qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which Congress created to allow Afghans and Iraqis targeted because of their work for the United States to relocate to safety in the US.
“The U.S. objective remains a peaceful, secure Afghanistan,” a fact sheet from the agency said. “However, in light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the U.S. government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States.”
“This designation expands the opportunity to permanently resettle in the United States to many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members who may be at risk due to their U.S. affiliation but who are not eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) because they did not have qualifying employment, or because they have not met the time-in-service requirement to become eligible,” the State Department said.
Monday’s announcement comes days after the first group of SIV applicants were relocated to the US and as violence in Afghanistan has escalated, leading lawmakers, advocates, and non-profit groups to raise concerns that the Biden administration would not be able to relocate Afghans who helped American troops and diplomats quickly enough.
The State Department said Monday that Afghans who did not meet the minimum “time in service” eligibility requirement for the SIV program but “work or worked as employees of contractors, locally-employed staff, interpreters/translators” for the US government, US or NATO forces, those “who work or worked for a U.S. government-funded program or project in Afghanistan supported through a U.S. government grant or cooperative agreement,” and those “who are or were employed in Afghanistan by a U.S.-based media organization or non-governmental organization” as well as their eligible family members will be given Priority 2 designation, making them eligible for the refugee program.
According to the department, Priority 2 designation applies to “groups of special concern designated by the Department of State as having access to the program by virtue of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement.”
“Once cases receive access to the (US Refugee Admissions Program), they undergo the same processing steps, including extensive security vetting,” the fact sheet said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will address the matter Monday afternoon at the State Department.
As violence surges in Afghanistan and the US military finishes its withdrawal, thousands of Afghans who worked for the US government fear for their lives.
After a CNN report about the brutal beheading of an Afghan interpreter by Taliban forces at a checkpoint in May, the State Department condemned the rising violence against those who helped the US. “While the Taliban has stated they will not harm former interpreters or others who worked for foreign forces, recent reports of violence and atrocities against interpreters and other Afghans indicate local Taliban forces are showing little regard for pursuing human life and human rights on the ground,” principal deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter said.
On Friday, the first flight of SIV applicants — about 200 people, including those who worked with the US and their families — landed in the US, part of a priority group of 700 Afghan SIV applicants who have completed most of the background process required to get a visa. Along with their families, they number about 2,500.
However, the process of applying for the Special Immigrant Visa program to come to the United States can take years, and of the 20,000 people in the SIV pipeline, about 10,000 have only just begun the process, the State Department said in recent weeks.
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