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US expands eligibility for Afghan refugee resettlement
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 03 - 08 - 2021

The United States announced on Monday that it will expand access to the US refugee program for certain Afghans amid fears of reprisal by the Taliban as the US military withdrawal nears completion.
The new designation creates a pathway to the US for Afghans who do not qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which Congress created to allow Afghans and Iraqis targeted because of their work for the United States to relocate to safety in the US.
However, the thousands of Afghans now eligible for the refugee program will be responsible for getting themselves out of Afghanistan, a senior State Department official told reporters Monday, and the processing can take more than a year.
The US State Department said that Afghans who did not meet the minimum "time in service" eligibility requirement for the SIV program but "work or worked as employees of contractors, locally-employed staff, interpreters/translators" for the US government, US or NATO forces, those "who work or worked for a US government-funded program or project in Afghanistan supported through a US government grant or cooperative agreement," and those "who are or were employed in Afghanistan by a US-based media organization or non-governmental organization" as well as their eligible family members will be given Priority 2 designation, making them eligible for the refugee program.
According to the department, Priority 2 designation applies to "groups of special concern designated by the Department of State as having access to the program by virtue of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement."
"The US objective remains a peaceful, secure Afghanistan," a fact sheet from the agency said. "However, in light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the U.S. government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States."
"This designation expands the opportunity to permanently resettle in the United States to many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members who may be at risk due to their U.S. affiliation but who are not eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) because they did not have qualifying employment, or because they have not met the time-in-service requirement to become eligible," the State Department said.
These Afghans have to be referred by their employers, the senior State Department official said, and their processing will not begin until they are out of Afghanistan. That processing can take 12 to 14 months.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will address the matter Monday afternoon at the State Department.
On Friday, the first flight of SIV applicants — about 200 people, including those who worked with the US and their families — landed in the US, part of a priority group of 700 Afghan SIV applicants who have completed most of the background process required to get a visa. Along with their families, they number about 2,500. However, the process of applying for the Special Immigrant Visa program to come to the United States can take years, and of the 20,000 people in the SIV pipeline, about 10,000 have only just begun the process, the State Department said in recent weeks.
The US government will not be offering similar flights for the refugee applicants at this point, the official said.
"This program is meant to expand the aperture of people who have an opportunity to be resettled in the United States beyond the SIVs," the official said. "So it is our attempt to try and offer an option for people."
"At this point in time, unfortunately, we do not anticipate relocating them, but we will continue to examine all the options to protect those who have served with us — for us, and we will review the situation on the ground and our planning will continue to evolve," they said.
Violence in Afghanistan has escalated, leading lawmakers, advocates, and non-profit groups to raise concerns that the Biden administration is not doing enough to assist Afghans who helped American troops and diplomats. — CNN

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