The U.S. government has eased some of the stringent requirements that Afghans must navigate while applying to relocate to the United States.
Until now, Afghans who held civilian positions under the Taliban regime or paid for public services such as obtaining a passport were not eligible for a US visa on the grounds that they had ties to a terrorist group. not. The Biden administration says this is no longer the case.
“[T]the Secretary of Homeland Security and Secretary of State exercised their authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow the U.S. government on a case-by-case basis to grant exemption to otherwise qualified visa applicants and certain other immigration benefits that would otherwise not qualify due to the law’s broad grounds of inadmissibility, ”a State Department spokesman told VOA.
“This action will enable the US government to meet the protection needs of qualifying Afghans who do not pose a national security or public security risk and give them the ability to gain access to a lasting immigration status in the United States. , ”The spokesman said, adding. that Afghans who served as civil servants during the first Taliban regime in Afghanistan from September 1996 to December 2001, and after 15 August 2021, are eligible under the policy.
Since 2006, the U.S. government, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has applied this release authority more than 30 times to protect U.S. allies from unintentional terrorist-related blockades.
“Doctors, teachers, engineers and other Afghans, including those who bravely and loyally supported US forces on the ground in Afghanistan at great risk to their security, should not be denied humanitarian protection and other immigration benefits because of their inevitable proximity to war or their work as civil servants, ”said the spokesman for the state department.
Some requirements unclear
Afghans applying for admission to the United States through special immigrant visas (SIVs), a program introduced by Congress in 2009, must submit, among other things, a letter of recommendation from a U.S. project supervisor in Afghanistan.
For years, applicants were asked to have a U.S. citizen verified and sign the letter of recommendation or to have a U.S. citizen as a co-signatory if the supervisor was a foreign citizen, according to International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a U.S. -based non-governmental organization.
It remains unclear whether that requirement was abandoned. According to IRAP policy expert Adam Bates, although the State Department is asking applicants for the signed letters, Congress has never given that required mandate.
“The statute governing the SIV program never contained this requirement in the first place; Congress never intended for Afghan allies to delay or reject their applications due to a lack of a letter from a U.S. citizen,” “Bates told VOA.
However, the State Department said applicants should still try to obtain such a letter and did not confirm that the requirement had been dropped altogether.
Applicants “should try to get this letter from a U.S. citizen supervisor they know personally, but if that is not possible, they should try to provide a letter of recommendation signed by a non-U.S. citizen supervisor and co. “Signed by the American citizen responsible for the contract,” the State Department spokesman told VOA, referring to guidelines for SIV application requirements.
IRAP says the requirement creates unjustified obstacles and problems for applicants who, for various reasons, cannot find a U.S. citizen to sign or co-sign a letter of recommendation, an increasingly difficult task since the withdrawal of U.S. forces and personnel from August 2021, especially for Afghans. who have been forced or forced to change their contact information from their jobs.
More visas required
Since 2014, Congress has approved 34,500 main visas for the Afghan SIV program, excluding visas issued to dependents, of which about 16,000 are visas.
Evacuate Our Allies, a coalition of human rights and refugee organizations, including IRAP, has called on Congress to approve 25,000 additional SIV visas for Afghans.
“It would be unscrupulous for SIV-qualified Afghans who risked their lives on behalf of the US mission in Afghanistan to check all the bureaucratic boxes and invest the years of their lives needed to get through the SIV process just for “Congress for not giving enough authority. Visas to ensure they have a path to safety,” Bates said.
Currently, there are at least 50,000 major applications awaiting screening and approval.
“[W]e processes more initial applications than ever before, ”said the State Department spokesperson.
The US embassy in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, has remained closed since August last year, but the State Department says it has increased staff in third-country embassies and consulates to improve and expedite SIV applications.