Citing Taleban violence, US expands Afghan refugee programme
Applicants must leave Afghanistan to begin the adjudication process that may take 12-14 months in a third country
The Biden administration on Monday expanded its efforts to evacuate at-risk Afghan citizens from Afghanistan as Taleban violence increases ahead of the US military pullout at the end of the month.
The State Department said it is widening the scope of Afghans eligible for refugee status in the United States to include current and former employees of US-based news organisations, US-based aid and development agencies and other relief groups that receive US funding. Current and former employees of the US government and the NATO military operation who don’t meet the criteria for a dedicated programme for such workers are also covered.
However, the move comes with a major caveat: applicants must leave Afghanistan to begin the adjudication process that may take 12-14 months in a third country, and the US does not intend to support their departures or stays there.
Nevertheless, the State Department said the move will mean that “many thousands” of Afghans and their immediate families will now have the opportunity to be permanently resettled in the US as refugees. It did not offer a more specific number of those who might be eligible for the program.
“The US objective remains a peaceful, secure Afghanistan,” it said in a statement. “However, in light of increased levels of Taleban violence, the US government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States.”
The creation of a “Priority 2” category for Afghans within the US Refugee Admissions Program is intended for Afghans and their immediate families who “may be at risk due to their US affiliation” but aren’t able to get a Special Immigrant Visa because they did not work directly for the US government or didn’t hold their government jobs long enough.
To qualify for the Priority 2 category, Afghans must be nominated by a US government agency or by the most senior civilian US citizen employee of a US-based media outlet or nongovernmental organisation.
The first group of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants — most of whom served as translators or did other work for US troops or diplomats — who have cleared security vetting arrived in the US on Friday. That group of 221 people are among 2,500 who will be brought to the US in the coming days.
Another 4,000 SIV applicants, plus their families, who have not yet cleared the security screening are expected to be relocated to third countries ahead of the completion of the US withdrawal. Roughly 20,000 Afghans have expressed interest in the programme.
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