USCIS Streamlines and Expands Afghan and Iraqi Visa Program

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced that it is transferring processing of initial Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) classifications to the Department of State (DOS) and making changes to its policy manual that expanded eligibility requirements for Afghan and Iraqi SIVs. .

USCIS’s announcement that it is moving the adjudication of petition for special classification of immigrants to DOS is a significant change, which the agency hopes will promote efficiency by streamlining the process. Previously, applying for an Afghan SIV for those already in the U.S. was a three-step process: the applicant sought “Chief of Mission” (COM) approval from DOS, then filed Form I-360 with USCIS, then later filed Form I-485 Application to Adjust Status to receive a green card.

Under the new process, applicants will file a Special Immigrant Classification Application for Afghan SIV Applicants on Form DS-157 with DOS at the same time they file for COM approval. Once the applicant has received approval from the COM, they can proceed directly to apply for their green card with USCIS. This process removes the step of filing Form I-360 with USCIS, although some applicants will still need to file Form I-360 under certain conditions.

USCIS also announced changes to its policy manual to reflect changes made to the SIV program in July 2021 by the Emergency Security Supplementary Appropriations Act of 2021. surviving relatives of eligible SIVs, removing time limits on converting petition types to expedite the process, and generally clarifying legal requirements regarding the provision of “faithful and valuable services to the U.S. government.”

The updates to the SIV system come as thousands of Afghans languish in the process of applying for SIV and humanitarian parole, although thousands of Ukrainians can obtain visas and travel authorizations to the United States. These reports have prompted some to accuse the US government of discriminating against Afghan and Iraqi nationals.

It’s been nearly a year since the Taliban invaded Kabul, Afghanistan, driving at least half a million people from their homes. The United Nations estimated that 2.2 million Afghans had already fled the country before the fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021; An additional 3.5 million people were also internally displaced during this period.

Although the United States attempted to evacuate Afghans who had assisted the United States military in its efforts in the country, the final number of people airlifted from Kabul was approximately 80,000 civilians (including approximately 5 500 were Americans). However, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), up to 300,000 Afghans have been affiliated with US operations in the country since 2001. This means that the US has only evacuated about 24% of Afghans who have helped the government and who could now be in danger.

Even so, reports earlier this summer show that USCIS rejected more than 90% of humanitarian parole applications filed by Afghans hoping to escape the Taliban and enter the United States through the parole process.

USCIS has received more than 46,000 applications for humanitarian parole from Afghans since July 2021, the majority of which are in a backlog awaiting processing. However, according to data obtained by CBS News, of the less than 5,000 requests processed by the US government, more than 90% were denied.

As noted above, not all Afghans potentially eligible for US resettlement were evacuated when the Afghan government collapsed. The majority of those evacuated were people who already had approved SIVs — visas that grant entry to the United States and permanent residency to people who have assisted the U.S. government overseas.

However, many Afghan refugees who enter the country with SIVs and humanitarian parole, or are granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and later attempt to apply for a green card often run into the extremely broad terrorism-related restrictions of the US immigration law, which prohibits entry or adjustment. for immigrants who have done things like provide food, water, or medical care to a Taliban member. Although there are exceptions for duress, they can be difficult to obtain, leaving many Afghans who fought under the Taliban for decades in a precarious situation.

In June, the Biden administration announced that to help Afghan citizens who have otherwise undergone security and background checks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and DOS have updated their guidelines in the Federal Register. creating new exceptions for eligible Afghan evacuees who assisted the United States against the Taliban, to prevent the application of “overly broad terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds in [U.S.] immigration law.”

These exemptions included Afghans who supported U.S. military interests, government officials like teachers and postal workers who continued to work in their roles during Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 or after August 2021, and individuals who “provided a insignificant material support” to a terrorist organization. , such as paying a fee to receive a passport or go through a checkpoint. Previously, this would have prevented someone from getting a US visa, parole, or green card.

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