A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced legislation on Wednesday that would allot 2,500 more visas for Afghan citizens that supported American efforts in the war on terror. If passed, the visas will be available to Afghans who served as interpreters or in other support functions.
Last week, the American State Department announced that they would soon run out of visas for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. SIV visas were designed specifically to aid our international allies in coming to the United States after supporting war efforts overseas. Those eligible for the SIV program often faced extreme danger in the execution of their duties, as well as the potential for reprisal against them and their families by local hostile factions. As a result of the shortage, the U.S. embassy in Kabul has currently stopped scheduling all interviews for applicants seeking a visa through the program.
The visas allotted through the special program are not only available to those who worked directly with U.S. forces, but to family members as well, allowing those who served alongside American soldiers to bring their families with them to the United States. There are currently more than 15,000 Afghans going through some stage of the extensive vetting process required to obtain a visa through the program, with only 1,437 spots left available as of March 5th. The State Department anticipates exhausting their existing supply by June 1st.
The total number of visas available to the program was increased by 1,500 in December. At the time, Senator Jeanne Shaheen released a statement indicating her support for the increase:
It is no exaggeration to say that this is a matter of life and death as Afghans who served the U.S. mission continue to be systematically hunted down by the Taliban. The number of visas needed for those in danger far surpasses what’s provided in this bill.”
Wednesday’s bill, which was introduced by Republican Senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, John McCain, along with Thom Tillis and Democrats Jack Reed and Jeanne Shaheen, would add 2,500 more visas to the program.
This legislation would ensure the continuation of this vital Special Immigrant Visa program, and send a clear message that America will not turn its back on those — who at great personal risk — stand with us in the fight against terror,” McCain said in a statement.
President Trump’s recent executive order that temporarily bans the admission of refugees from six Muslim majority countries does not include Afghanistan, but a number of members of Congress have resisted adding support to the SIV program due to concern that extremists could enter the United States using visas provided through it. As a result, the 1,500 visas added in December came with added restrictions intended to prevent such a possibility.
“It’s not just a quid pro quo, ‘Hey you help me out [and] I’ll help you get to America,'” Marine veteran Zach Iscol told NPR. “It’s taking care of those who took care of us when we were in their country.”
There are currently 8,400 American troops deployed to Afghanistan in a fight John W. Nicholson, commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Forces committee recently has reached a “stalemate.” McCain has since been seeking to increase American forces to turn the tides of the sixteen year conflict.
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