US Special Immigration Visas for Afghans May End This Year

WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES – The US government’s Special Immigration Visa (SIV) program, aimed at resettling Afghans who worked with the US government, may cease later this year, putting thousands of applicants in jeopardy of facing retribution from the Taliban.

As reported by Reuters, the  government will meet the Congress-authorized cap of 38,500 visas in a few months, around August. It appears unlikely that the divided Congress will approve the Biden administration’s request for an additional 20,000 visas.

Since the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover in August 2021, thousands of Afghan citizens, mostly those who worked with US government initiatives, find themselves in limbo, awaiting visas, primarily in neighboring Pakistan.

Thousands of the applicants who fled Taliban retaliation now live in fear of deportation from Pakistan, as they are unable to afford the costly Pakistani visa, which exceeds a thousand dollars, or to renew their visas every six months. 

During a press briefing on Wednesday, March 6th, the spokesperson for the US Department of State, Matthew Miller, announced that the department had issued over 39,000 SIV visas last year, marking a record number of visas granted for both principal applicants and their family members.

He further noted that since the passage of the Afghan Allies Protection Act in 2009, the department has issued 117,000 SIV visas, with more than 30% of that total granted in just the past 28 months.

“We have somewhere around 8,000 left that we can process this fiscal year. We have urged Congress to raise the cap and allow us to meet our obligation to those Afghans who put their lives on the line for the United States, to make sure that they are not forgotten,” he said.

In a report last year, the Associated Press (AP) revealed that there were approximately 150,000 applicants for the SIV visa, excluding their family members. AP had predicted at the time that processing all these applications would take 31 years.

In addition to the SIV programs, there are two other refugee designations open to Afghans known as PI and P2. These programs are designed for aid workers, journalists, or others who, although not directly employed by the US government, played a role in promoting goals like democracy and independent media during the two decades of US involvement in Afghanistan.

The report indicates that there are 27,400 applicants who have applied for P1 and P2 refugee protection status. Since the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US State Department has processed only 6,862 of these applications.

In its report last year, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) criticized the various resettlement programs set up for citizens of Afghanistan.

“Bureaucratic dysfunction and understaffing have undermined the US promise that these individuals would be protected in a timely manner, putting many thousands of Afghan allies at risk,” the SIGAR report said.

SIGAR also criticized the lack of transparency surrounding the refugee programs, which it said has left citizens of Afghanistan considering whether to leave their country to await processing without the “critical information” they need for such a crucial decision.

The State Department meets the SIV visa cap just ahead of the presidential election in November in which the chances of Donald Trump’s return to the White House looms large. Mr. Trump, who had applied many anti-immigration policies during his last term in office, has promised to double down if he is reelected.

The New York Times reported last year that Trump’s campaign is even considering deporting thousands of Afghans who were evacuated by the US Military in the wake of Taliban’s return to power in 2021.