Evacuations from Afghanistan: What is the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program?

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The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program was created to protect Afghan allies who risked their lives assisting US troops in Afghanistan. Despite its promises, the program has suffered delays since its launch in 2009, leaving tens of thousands of Afghans in dire need of support.

The Biden administration recently took steps to expedite the processing of SIV, fulfilling the United States’ commitment to assist its vulnerable allies. Beginning in late July and in the weeks to come, thousands of SIV applicants will be evacuated from Afghanistan and housed at a US government facility in Virginia, where they will receive services to help them rebuild their lives in the United States. .

Read on to find out more about what the SIV program entails and how it will support those in need.

Children walk through a camp in Afghanistan for people displaced by drought. The country is becoming an increasingly dangerous place for civilians. In addition, nearly 200,000 people were internally displaced in the first half of 2021 and displacement levels are likely to skyrocket due to natural disasters such as drought.

Photo: CRI

What is the SIV program?

The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program was created by Congress to provide ongoing protection to Afghans affiliated with US missions, such as translators and interpreters. Eligible persons can apply for a visa for themselves, as well as for their spouse and any unmarried child under the age of 21.

There is also a special immigrant visa program for people in similar situations in Iraq.

How many people has the SIV program helped?

At least 263,000 Afghan civilians have been affiliated with the US mission and tens of thousands are eligible for SIV. Yet only 16,000 Afghan SIVs have been issued since 2014. There are currently over 18,000 pending applications, as well as thousands of Afghans not eligible for this program who are in urgent need of protection.

How is the SIV program evolving?

Afghans eligible for this visa have historically had to endure application and approval processes of several years. With this new legislation, those who qualify can come to the United States faster and complete their approval processes within 30 days of arrival.

The administration also recently announced a new “Priority 2” designation for Afghans affiliated with the United States who are not eligible for the SIV program. However, major questions regarding this change remain, as this group must first leave Afghanistan for a third country before being eligible.

Why is the SIV program so important?

Afghanistan is becoming an increasingly dangerous place for civilians, especially those who have helped the United States during decades of war. Many have said they feared for their lives, and the violence has only increased since the United States announced it was withdrawing all remaining troops in the country by September.

A mother sits against a wall next to her 7 year old son.

Dunya, IRC client and mother, with her son Juma. Tens of thousands of Afghans, including women and children, are currently in need of humanitarian protection.

Photo: CRI

The crisis in Afghanistan also continues to worsen. Almost 200,000 people were internally displaced in the first half of this year and displacement levels are likely to skyrocket due to natural disasters such as drought. A recent IRC assessment showed that families are likely to turn to extreme survival measures, such as child marriage, selling assets or sending children to work, as prices food is rising to unattainable levels.

Robin Dunn Marcos, Senior Director of Resettlement, Asylum and Integration at IRC, said: “With the increasing humanitarian and protection needs in Afghanistan, sustained aid and diplomatic support are essential. . There is also no doubt that the protection of the SIV population must be an integral part of a strong refugee resettlement program that also protects the millions of refugees in Afghanistan and beyond who are in need of resettlement. The US refugee admissions program is truly changing and saving lives.

With desert mountains in the distance, a man looks at the crops on his farm.

Abdul Baqi, 30, working on his farm in Badghis, Afghanistan. In addition to the drought, food prices in the country have increased dramatically.

Photo: CRI

How many people will the SIV program help?

The total number of evacuees eligible for this new fast-track process ranges from 1,250 to 3,000. They will arrive in groups of 250 every three to four days.

These Afghans will arrive as “parolees” (meaning that their resettlement case is pending final approval) and will receive services from the International Rescue Committee and partner agencies. This includes reception, medical care, case management and assignment to a sponsoring relocation agency for onward travel.

What still needs to be done?

In front of a house, Muska Haseeb holds a baby and poses with her family, a man, two other women and two babies.
Muska Haseeb (far left) fled Afghanistan and lived as a refugee in Pakistan for five years before relocating in 2012 to Phoenix, Arizona. Today, she is a pre-med student and an entrepreneur. When refugees like Muska are welcomed to the United States, they thrive and strengthen their communities. Photo: Andrew Oberstadt / IRC

The IRC is committed to ensuring that Afghan SIVs have the opportunity to seek safety and rebuild their lives in the United States. Nevertheless, swift investments and legislation are needed to properly deal with this emergency.

The Biden administration must continue to take immediate action to expedite processing and reduce the visa backlog. It must also help protect the many vulnerable Afghans who are not eligible for these specialized visas, including family members who have remained behind and those who cannot evacuate due to extenuating circumstances such as medical emergencies and restrictions. of travel. There are currently tens of thousands of other Afghans, including women and girls, in need of humanitarian protection.

As IRC Director for Afghanistan, Vicki Aken, said: “It is vital that the Biden administration is fully committed to keeping its promises to continue providing humanitarian aid and diplomatic support which are so desperately needed.


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