Senators call for more visas for Afghans who aided US troops

US forces standing in front of a crowd that is waiting for their evacuation at Kabul airport on August 16, 2021.

Bipartisan senators are pressing for an increase in visas for Afghans who supported U.S. forces, urging congressional leaders to act before the opportunity for these individuals to seek safety in the United States ends.

The Associated Press cited a letter shared with the news organization as saying that a group of Republican and Democratic senators highlighted the necessity of adding 20,000 special immigrant visas (SIV) by the fiscal year’s end in September. Led by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., the lawmakers emphasized the program’s role in saving lives of Afghans who served with U.S. troops and diplomats in Afghanistan. “We must uphold our commitment to these individuals,” they wrote to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The call for congressional action aligns with the Biden administration’s stance. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby emphasized the enduring commitment to Afghan allies post-war, highlighting the ongoing need for support.

The urgency of increasing the visa cap was included in last year’s funding bill, yet its fate in the final legislative package remains uncertain as lawmakers work against a March 22 deadline.

The SIV program, established in 2009, caters to Afghans at risk due to their assistance to the U.S., including interpreters and embassy staff. Following the 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, application numbers surged, with many applicants now at risk under Taliban rule.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., alongside Shaheen, underscored the pressing need for legislative action, citing the daily risks faced by Afghan allies.

Since its inception, the State Department has issued tens of thousands of visas through the SIV program, with a significant spike in applications post-withdrawal. However, the processing speed has drawn criticism, with many applicants left in jeopardy.

Kirby reiterated the administration’s dedication to supporting Afghan allies, calling on Congress to expedite the allocation of additional visas. “Our war in Afghanistan has concluded, but our dedication to Afghans, particularly those who assisted us, has not,” Kirby stated, advocating for measures to ensure their safety.