Visa program for Afghans suffers backlog

September 1, 2023

The State Department Inspector General released an August report warning of a backlog in visa applications for Afghan citizens who assisted the U.S. military in its 20-year war.

According to the report, there is a “significant and growing Afghan [Special Immigrant Visas] applicant backlog,” despite improvements to staffing and some streamlining of the application process.

In May, the Biden Administration extended by another two years the stay of tens of thousands of Afghans who fled the Taliban amid the 2021 U.S. military withdrawal, making Afghan refugees eligible this summer to renew their temporary work permits and protections from deportation.

The measure was aimed at a temporary fix for more than 78,000 Afghans who worked for the U.S. and have applied for special visas, according to a nongovernmental organization (NGO) report by the Association of Wartime Allies (AWA).

Amid the August 2021 withdrawal, a suicide bombing at Kabul airport killed 13 U.S. service members among the more than 95 total of people killed and 150 wounded.

That incident, along with the rapid collapse of Afghanistan’s government and military, led to a refugee crisis amid the Taliban’s takeover. 

Legislation to create a path to residency for these Afghans, including translators, interpreters and other strategic partners, was stalled during the lame duck session of the 117th Congress in December. Bipartisan lawmakers had hoped to add the Afghan Adjustment Act, ensuring the Afghans’ legal residency, to the end of the year omnibus spending bill. However, supporters of the bill believe their efforts were forestalled by a singular lawmaker: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration issues.

Grassley had argued that the bill went too far by including evacuees beyond those “who were our partners over the last 20 years,” and that it provides a road to residency without the proper screening required.

According to the AWA, there are altogether some 150,000 Afghan applicants for the visa program, not including their families—a tally that would take 31 years to process at current rates.

That’s after the State Department said it had received more than 350,000 inquiries about the visa program in the two months following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.

Meanwhile, the AWA says that some 100,000 Afghans who helped the U.S. military but were left behind in the withdrawal are at serious risk of retribution from the Taliban.

Read more exclusive news from Political IQ.

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