Tens of Thousands of Afghans Applying for US Visas Still Face Significant Delays
By Jennifer Hansler, Kylie Atwood and Priscilla Alvarez, CNN
There are tens of thousands of Afghans who have applied for special immigrant visas (SIVs) whose applications are still being processed nearly a year after the botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan, said a senior administration official on Monday, adding that the process will now be fully supervised. by the State Department.
According to the official, as of last week, 74,274 principal applicants were waiting for the SIV, a visa intended for those who worked for the US government during its two decades of involvement in the war in Afghanistan. This number includes those who have not yet passed the Head of Mission (COM) phase of the application – a critical point in whether the visa is approved or not – and the senior administration official said that 40 to 50% of those in the pre-COM stage are denied “for not having the correct documentation or for not being eligible for various reasons”.
There are about 10,000 principal applicants who have the Head of Mission’s approval “and are basically preparing to get their documents so they can be relocated,” the official said in a call with reporters. This number does not include approximately 40,000 to 50,000 family members.
The SIV program for Afghan nationals was plagued with management problems and low annual caps for years before the withdrawal of US forces. It is often a cumbersome and meticulous process that can take years.
The official said the processing of SIV is progressing faster than before, noting that the State Department has increased its resources to handle the processing.
Senior administration officials also announced they are eliminating one of two forms for most new applicants — a process change they say will “cut the screening time by about a month.” Removing this form means processing will be done entirely by the Department of State, and no longer by USCIS. However, it will still be a very rigorous process.
During the US withdrawal from the country last year, the Biden administration was harshly criticized for its handling of SIVs that struggled to get out of the country quickly amid the chaos of the Taliban takeover. Secretary of State Antony Blinken launched a 90-day review of the State Department’s role in the Afghan withdrawal late last year. This report is complete, but none of its findings have been made public.
“We don’t currently have an update to provide, but, as we said, we will be as transparent as possible with the final report, consistent with classification and other considerations,” a doorman said. State Department spokesman to CNN.
Blinken and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the change in a statement Monday, saying it will “simplify and streamline the application process for Afghan applicants.”
“Starting this week, new Afghan applicants to the SIV program will only need to file one form, a revised Form DS-157, as an SIV application. New applicants will no longer need to file Form I-360, Application for Special Immigrant Status, with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at DHS,” they said. “This new streamlined process, part of our ongoing efforts to make the program more efficient, will help remove barriers for applicants and reduce application times.”
“This change does not reduce or remove any of the robust security screening processes required before the benefit is granted,” they added, calling it “one of the many steps we have taken to improve the process SIV while preserving national security”.
“Since administration began, we have increased resources for this vital program and reviewed every step of the legally required application process to streamline where possible,” Blinken and Mayorkas said.
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