US speeds up visas for vulnerable Afghans
As the U.S. military completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan in the coming weeks, the Biden administration says it is adding staff to hurry up the visa process for Afghans who worked for the U.S. government and want to flee to avoid Taliban reprisals, Reuters reported.
Afghan Voice Agency (AVA)_Afghans who worked for the United States during America’s longest war fear the insurgency will target them and their families, retribution for helping foreign forces, Reuters reported.
With the final pullout expected as early as mid-July, there appears to be a mismatch between the expectations of refugee advocates and what the administration says is realistic given the legal and practical requirements to process special immigrant visas.
The administration says it has already doubled the number of staff processing cases in Kabul and tripled personnel reviewing petitions at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
It also plans a five-fold increase in the number of staff in the State Department working on the visas in Washington, a senior administration official told Reuters.
“All of these changes have resulted in, over the last couple of months, the largest number of cases processed in the history of the program in any 60-day period,” the official said, speaking about the plans on condition of anonymity.
The plan is to process at least 1,000-1,400 visa applications for Afghans who worked for the United States, not including their families, every month. By contrast, the U.S. government says, it issued only 237 such in the last three months of 2020.
But even with the new effort, the administration says there’s a limit to how fast a 14-step, multiple-agency process can move without changes to legislation. If all goes well, a visa could be processed in nine to 12 months, Reuters reported.
The administration supports legislation in Congress that would allow Afghans to do a medical check upon arriving in the United States, instead of in Afghanistan. It is also supports legislation eliminating the requirement for a specific petition at the Department of Homeland Security.
“That would be another two months that we could shave off,” the first official said.
But as the clock ticks down, Afghans who have applied for visas are becoming increasingly concerned.
Leahy, recalling the chaos in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975 when he was a junior senator, said the matter was urgent.
“They’re going to have a target on their back,” Leahy said.