US senators urge agencies to rush visas for Afghan allies left behind

Bipartisan amendment to National Defence Authorisation Act calls on State Department, others to fly potential Special Immigrant Visa recipients out of Afghanistan immediately

Afghan Abdul Aman Sediqi, a Special Immigrant Visa recipient, holds his son as he and his family prepare to sign a lease on a new apartment in Houston, Texas. Reuters
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US senators are pressing federal agencies to work faster to fly Afghans holding Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) out of the country, more than two months after the last C-17 carrying US troops left Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

In addition, thousands more Afghans who are likely eligible for SIVs because of their previous work with the US government are languishing in limbo, not knowing when or if they will be able to escape Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

From August 14 to August 30, the US managed to lift more than 120,000 people out of Afghanistan in the largest airlift operation in US history. But many were left behind.

New legislation in the US Congress is calling on the State Department to do more to bring these Afghans to safety.

The bipartisan amendment to the National Defence Authorisation Act filed by Democrat Richard Blumenthal and Republicans Lindsey Graham and Joni Ernst calls on the State Department, Homeland Security and other federal agencies to speed up processing times for SIVs.

The amendment lists seven steps the administration of US President Joe Biden should take to meet the “immediate needs of Afghan allies and Afghan Americans who remain in Afghanistan as well as those who have been able to evacuate to third countries".

Among the seven steps is the prioritisation of enabling SIV recipients' “rapid” departure from Afghanistan.

How Kentucky is welcoming Afghan refugees

How Kentucky is welcoming Afghan refugees

The fear of reprisals by the Taliban against Afghans who were employed by the US or its Nato allies has grown over the past two months.

Agencies are also working to fly Afghans out of neighbouring countries.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed on Tuesday that a group of 191 Afghans who had escaped from Afghanistan to Tajikistan — including some Afghan air force pilots who flew to the country as Kabul fell — may be flown out from that nation soon.

"Our embassy there is working to expedite their departure," Mr Kirby said. "We expect that they'll be able to depart Tajikistan soon, but we are not in control of the timeline."

The amendment is welcome news to resettlement agencies across the US that have been working around the clock to find Afghans new homes.

“Now, even, people are having trouble getting passports or having trouble processing any kind of paperwork, and so this, we hope, will expedite the process and get more people out,” said Sarah Jessup, of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven, Connecticut.

“They're facing winter, starvation, extermination by the Taliban - things there are bad and getting worse.”

Simply bringing SIV recipients out of Afghanistan is not the only problem, however: as of the end of October, there were more than 53,000 Afghan evacuees living on eight military bases across the US.

Ms Jessup said her organisation has resettled more than 200 Afghan refugees this year but was capable of more.

“It is a lot of work for our case managers and our legal team and everybody but it’s what we want to do. That's why we're here,” she told The National.

Updated: November 09, 2021, 10:46 PM