Wednesday, October 27, 2021

US immigration status varies for Afghan evacuees

About 120,000 Afghan citizens evacuated after the Taliban takeover on August 15 are now in temporary camps in locations around the world, beginning a month- or year-long process to resettle overseas.

The routes of immigration for these displaced Afghans vary widely, depending on their previous jobs, their status as vulnerable Afghans under the Taliban regime, and the places they ended up being evacuated.

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On Thursday, US President Joe Biden signed a federal spending bill that included $6.3 billion to help evacuate and resettle in the United States, which the administration projects will lead to 95,000 Afghan evacuations next year.

Afghan arrival in America

An estimated 120,000 Afghans were evacuated, of whom 64,000 are already in the United States. Their first stop is at US military bases, where paperwork is being processed for their transfer, while they are provided with medical tests and vaccinations.

Tens of thousands of other Afghans are being held in temporary facilities in third countries while their applications are being processed.

And an unknown number of potential migrants remain in Afghanistan, where many are still trying to work out military and bureaucratic moves that would let them go.

Here are the different groups of Afghans in exile and how their conditions affect their immigration routes.

special immigrant visa

special immigrant visa

Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) recipients

Afghans who hold SIV status have worked in Afghanistan for at least one year for the US government or contractors. They went through a 14-step SIV application process, which may take several years to complete. The SIV status also includes the immediate relatives of the applicants.

Before traveling to the US, SIV holders will receive documents to present to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) upon arrival in the United States. After that, permanent residence cards, also known as green cards, are sent to the address provided by them.

Pending SIV Status

Under Operation Alliance Welcome, Afghans who had not completed the SIV application process at the time of their evacuation are admitted to the United States on “humanitarian parole” while their SIV applications are adjudged.

Once on parole, Afghans can also apply for a different immigration status through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

According to immigration attorney Dean Murray, other avenues of permanent residence include work or family sponsorship.

“There is a category where an employer can sponsor [a worker], but you have to complete [permanent labor] There is a requirement, which means that there must be labor certification. You don’t want to displace an American worker,” Murray said. “Or they may be beneficiaries of the family-based” [categories], and they can adjust that way. But depending on the family, you have a long wait, unless you are an immediate relative. “

The family reunion path can take one to five years or more, depending on individual circumstances.

Afghan citizens admitted as refugees

Afghan citizens admitted as refugees

human parolees

Afghans who were not SIV applicants at the time of their evacuation qualify for “humanitarian parole”. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, certain individuals may enter and remain in the US temporarily without a visa for “urgent humanitarian reasons”, but they are ineligible for permanent residency.

According to the DHS, conditions will be placed for Afghan nationals on parole in the country on their status, including medical screening, vaccination requirements and other reporting requirements to US immigration officials. If they fail to comply with the conditions, the government could deny their applications for works authorization and “potentially” have their parole terminated and deported.

Parolees can apply for asylum in the United States, the same route open to some migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border. But refugee advocates called it a “very bureaucratic and inefficient way” to help resettle Afghans because of the long timetable for completing the process.

“Going through that whole system doesn’t seem like the best way to address a population” [of evacuees] That, all of whom, will likely qualify for asylum,” said Melanie Naezer, a spokeswoman for the immigrant advocacy group HIAS.

Afghan citizens can claim asylum immediately or up to one year after their arrival in the United States. After filing, each applicant will then meet with an asylum officer who approves or denies the claim. If the asylum case is not approved, it is referred to an immigration judge.

refugees in third countries

In early August, the State Department announced the new P-2 Direct Access program for Afghans who worked for the US government, US-based non-governmental organizations or US news organizations.

FILE - Afghan refugees pick up clothes at an Afghan refugee camp at Joint Base McGuire Dix in Lakehurst, NJ, September 27, 2021.  The camp currently houses about 9,400 Afghan refugees and has a capacity of up to 13,000.

FILE – Afghan refugees pick up clothes at an Afghan refugee camp at Joint Base McGuire Dix in Lakehurst, NJ, September 27, 2021. The camp currently houses about 9,400 Afghan refugees and has a capacity of up to 13,000.

The program provides a direct route to the refugee resettlement process, but refugees must first arrive in a third country on their own where they can contact the State Department to begin the resettlement process.

According to DHS, the State Department is managing referrals to the refugee program but has no direct contact with the US government before an applicant leaves Afghanistan.

Approved applicants will then receive travel documents and resettle in the United States.

Under US immigration law, refugees can apply for a green card to become a permanent resident after one year in the United States. After five years of permanent residency, they can apply for US citizenship.

Backlog may delay the timetable

Aid groups say Afghans vulnerable to living in the United States may convey fear of persecution in their home country, but the US asylum system is heavily backlogged with applicants arriving through the US-Mexico border. Processing delays for Afghans can extend up to four to five years.

Refugee advocates are urging the Biden administration to work with Congress to ensure that a path to permanent residency exists for all Afghan citizens, regardless of their immigration status.

“Congress should pass an Afghan Adjustment Act to establish a road map to citizenship for Afghans,” Paul O’Brien, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.

According to DHS, from August 17 to September 20, approximately 64,000 Afghan evacuees arrived in the US.

Among them, about 7% are US citizens, 6% are lawful permanent residents, and 87% are Afghan citizens with SIV status or pending applications, US visa holders, and other vulnerable Afghans. Only 3% had completed the SIV procedure.

Responding to a VOA question, US Northern Command chief General Glenn VanHerk said that 14,000 Afghans remain in the United States European Command area, awaiting a visit to the US VanHerk, adding that US-bound flights will continue next week. can start.

VOA’s Carla Babb contributed to this report.

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