With Afghans helping the US military deal with threats from the Taliban as US troops withdraw from the country, the House was due to expand a visa program on Thursday to allow them to immigrate to the United States more quickly.
The bill would increase the number of special immigrant visas available to Afghans to 19,000 from 11,000 and expand the universe of eligible people by removing certain application requirements.
“Many of us have expressed serious concerns about the challenges our allies face in navigating the candidacy process,” said Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and chair of the board of directors. “The Afghans have stepped forward to serve our brave soldiers. ”
Under the law, applicants would no longer have to provide an affidavit stating that they faced a specific threat or proof that they were in a “sensitive and trustworthy” job. Instead, the measure would in effect stipulate that any Afghan who assisted the US government by definition faces retaliation and should be able to apply for a visa.
The legislation, led by Rep. Jason Crow, Democrat of Colorado and former Army Ranger, enjoys broad bipartisan support.
Its review comes as the Biden administration announced plans to evacuate a group of Afghans who assisted the United States during the 20-Year War to a military base in Virginia in the coming days. Approximately 2,500 interpreters, drivers and other Afghan people who worked with U.S. forces, along with their families, will be sent in stages to Fort Lee, Va., South of Richmond, to await final processing of the official entry into the United States, according to officials mentioned.
With the US military in the final stages of withdrawal from Afghanistan, the White House has come under great pressure to protect the Afghan allies who have assisted the United States and to expedite the process of providing them with special immigrant visas.
Rep. Michael McCaul, Republican from Texas, said the Afghans had “a target on their back.”
“They will be killed if we don’t get them out of there,” McCaul said. “Please, Mr. President, get them out before they are killed.” ”
The House has already approved the first of a set of bills that would ease the visa process by waiving the requirement for applicants to undergo medical examinations in Afghanistan before qualifying. It aims to shorten the long waiting period for permission to enter the United States, which can be as long as six or seven years for some applicants.
The bills face an uncertain future in the Senate, where there is bipartisan support for the Afghan visa program, but funding for its expansion has been entangled with a broader struggle over Capitol Hill security spending.
Some of the “Afghan allies” awaiting visas have denounced the threats they face from the Taliban.
Since 2014, the nonprofit No One Left Behind has tracked the murders of more than 300 translators or their family members, many of whom have died while waiting for their visas to be processed, according to James Miervaldis, chairman of the group and under – Army Reserve officer. officer.
More than 18,000 Afghans who worked as interpreters, drivers, engineers, security guards, fixers and embassy clerks for the United States during the war were caught in bureaucratic limbo after applying for special immigrant visas, which are available to people who face threats because of working for the US government. The applicants have 53,000 family members, US officials said.