Advocates urge US Congress to extend Special Visa Program for Afghans

Afghan families waiting for their turn to be flown out of the country from Kabul airport on August 16, 2021.

The U.S. program for resettling former Afghan interpreters and contractors is facing a potential end as the available Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) are rapidly depleting. With fewer than 8,000 visas left and a backlog exceeding 120,000 applications, advocates are calling on Congress to authorize more visas, Voice of America reported.

Andrew Sullivan, director of advocacy at No One Left Behind, warned, “If more visas are not authorized, the program could run out by the end of summer, potentially ending it.”

Despite a record issuance of 39,000 SIVs in 2023, the demand greatly surpasses the supply. Last year, the State Department requested Congress for additional visas, receiving backing from several lawmakers. In July, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen heralded the inclusion of an amendment for 20,000 new SIVs in the State Department’s appropriations bill as a “landmark victory.”

The fate of these additional visas in the bill’s final version remains uncertain, with a deadline of March 22 to prevent a partial government shutdown.

Sen. Shaheen emphasized the importance of fulfilling the promise to protect Afghan allies, stating, “For two decades, Afghan allies stood with American troops. We promised to protect them. As the Taliban continues its hunt, we must not abandon our allies.”

State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller highlighted the urgency: “We are nearing the annual cap and need congressional approval to increase it.”

More than two years after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the evacuation of former contractors persists amidst Taliban threats, despite their claims of a general amnesty for former U.S. collaborators.

Sullivan refuted the Taliban’s claims of non-violence, citing over 200 documented cases of targeted reprisal killings.

Since 2008, nearly 120,000 SIVs have been awarded to Afghans by the U.S.