Policy Update: Protecting Afghan Allies in the Aftermath of the Longest War in American History

Policy Update: Protecting Afghan Allies in the Aftermath of the Longest War in American History

On August 31, 2021, President Joe Biden announced the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. By the end of August, the United States completed one of the biggest airlifts to date, evacuating more than 120,000 people out of Afghanistan, including US citizens and permanent residents. As of September 14, 2021, approximately 64,000 Afghan evacuees have arrived in the United States.

The United States and 97 other countries issued a joint statement on August 29, 2021 pledging to allow Afghans to travel to their countries and secured an agreement with the Taliban to allow safe passage for them. The United States is continuing efforts to help vulnerable Afghans leave Afghanistan and provide programs for them to come to the United States. Amid Operation Allies Refuge, a Biden administration effort to evacuate thousands of Afghans who worked for the United States, some Afghans are arriving to the United States with pending immigration applications. Some have yet to apply. To accommodate these Afghans, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is granting them parole to temporarily enter the country on a case-by-case basis. This will allow Afghan nationals who are part of this operation to remain in the United States for two years following security vetting procedures.

On August 29, 2021, President Biden directed DHS to lead an interagency Unified Coordination Group to manage Operation Allies Welcome, an ongoing domestic initiative to resettle vulnerable Afghans in United States. DHS is collaborating with partners in state and local governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector on this operation. Initial processing of Afghans arriving in the United States is taking place at pre-designated US military bases. After they are processed, these new arrivals will be connected with resettlement organizations for placement into communities. The initiative is providing operational support services including vetting and screening processes in the United States and abroad, a 24/7 processing site near the Dulles Airport in Virginia to welcome and process new arrivals, COVID-19 testing, quarantine for COVID-positive individuals, immigration application support, refugee resettlement processing, and integration support. As of September 14, 2021, approximately 49,000 Afghans are currently living on eight domestic military bases, waiting to be resettled in the United States.

Most Afghans arriving in the United States, as well as some who remain abroad, are eligible for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program or the Priority 2 (P-2) designation refugee resettlement program. Since 2007, approximately 75,700 Afghans, including 21,500 applicants and their 54,200 family members have been granted SIVs as of June 2021. An estimated 118,000 additional Afghans are eligible for admission to the United States under this program. The Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, enacted on July 30, 2021, authorized 8,000 additional SIVs for Afghan principal applicants for a total of 34,500 visas offered by the government for principal applicants, of which only 13,000 are yet to be claimed. However, approximately 18,000 applicants plus their 53,000 additional family members have applications currently pending. To be eligible for a SIV, an Afghan national must:

  • Have been employed for a minimum of two years by the US government or International Security Assistance Force;
  • Prove faithful and valuable service through a recommendation letter from a supervisor; and
  • Provide evidence of an ongoing serious threat because of the employment.

On August 2, 2021, the Department of State (DOS) announced a P-2 designation granting certain Afghan nationals and their eligible family members access to the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). This designation will give thousands of Afghans, who may be at risk due to their US affiliation but are not eligible for a SIV, the opportunity to permanently resettle in the United States. The following individuals are eligible for the P-2 Program:

  • Afghans who do not meet the minimum time-in-service for a SIV, but who work or worked as employees of contractors, locally-employed staff, or interpreters/translators for the US government, US Forces Afghanistan, International Security Assistance Forces, or Resolute Support;
  • Afghans who work or worked for a US government-funded program or project in Afghanistan supported through a US government grant or cooperative agreement; or
  • Afghans who are or were employed in Afghanistan by a US-based media organization or non-government organization.

There are still hundreds of thousands of Afghans who worked with the United States and are eligible for the SIV or P-2 programs that have not been evacuated from Afghanistan. This does not include many more Afghans who are not eligible for these visas but may be targeted by the Taliban due to their roles in the Afghan government or military or because they are activists or religious minorities. On August 30, 2021, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution memorializing its expectations of the Taliban to stand by their statements to allow Afghans as well as foreign nationals to leave Afghanistan any time they want. It is imperative for the United States and other nations to continue efforts to evacuate and ensure freedom of travel for Afghans, especially those who worked with the United States during the past two decades.

This policy update also appears in the September 22nd, 2021, Special Issue of CMS Migration Update on Protecting Afghan Refugees.