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Sluggish visa program imperils Afghan partners as US withdraws

Caroline Simon, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

“We see so many applications that go into what’s called the interagency checks that just languish there,” Bates said. “They’re not even being rejected, they’re just sitting in processing for years and years.”

A State Department spokesperson said that the government is “engaged at the highest levels to ensure we are serving SIV applicants as promptly as possible.”

“The Biden Administration is committed to supporting those who have helped U.S. military and other government personnel perform their duties, often at great personal risk to themselves and their families,” the spokesperson said. “Everyone involved in the Special Immigrant Visa process, whether in Washington or at our embassy in Kabul, is aware of the threats our Afghan colleagues face.”

Beyond SIVs

Lawmakers and advocates also worry about Afghans who wouldn’t qualify for special immigrant visas but could still face threats in an unstable Afghanistan after the U.S. withdraws.

“There are an awful lot of civic leaders, community leaders, women’s rights leaders and others who have done amazing work, but whose lives will be in great danger after our withdrawal,” Crow said.

 

They’re hoping the Biden administration will expand the refugee admissions program to help that population. Biden initially promised a raise to the historically low Trump-era refugee cap of 15,000 to 62,500, but later announced he would maintain that level. After receiving blowback from Democrats and advocates, he’s expected to increase the cap in the coming weeks.

If that’s not sufficient, advocates say, it’s time for the government to consider more drastic moves, such as military evacuations of vulnerable Afghans. It wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. has conducted such an operation when leaving a war zone: after the Vietnam War ended, the U.S. evacuated thousands of Vietnamese refugees to Guam, where they were processed for resettlement.

“It’s not a question of whether the U.S. has the resources to do this,” Bates said. “It’s just a question of the will — the political will of the Biden administration and Congress to do the right thing.”

‘Heartbreaking’ consequences

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