President Joe Biden's administration is halting the temporary relocation of Afghans to the US as it pivots to a long-term programme that would focus on providing a pathway to permanent legal status for refugees.
The White House last year announced a programme, called Operation Allies Welcome, to allow Afghans to quickly enter the US by bypassing a years-long visa application. More than 80,000 refugees have entered the US through this programme, authorities said in July.
The revised policy, dubbed Enduring Welcome, begins on October 1 as part of Washington's newest phase to resettle evacuees after Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Taliban last year, US media reported on Thursday.
The administration’s “commitment to our Afghan allies is enduring,” a senior administration official said while briefing reporters on changes to the relocation policy. “This commitment does not have an end date.”
Under the latest policy, the US has established three categories through which Afghans can be resettled.
Applicants can qualify by being an immediate family member of either a US citizen, permanent resident or an evacuee settled within the last 12 months. Others can qualify via a Special Immigration Visa because of their efforts to assist during the war.
The final category is reserved for those at risk of retaliation from the Taliban, the official said.
Family members admitted from those categories will have “durable, long-term immigration status,” allowing them to “more quickly settle and integrate into their new communities,” the official said.
“We know family reunification remains a really high priority for Afghans themselves and for the communities who care about them and for advocates across the country, veterans groups as well,” said the official.
More than 74,000 applications were in the SIV pipeline as of July, the White House said. Administration officials previously said one or two forms for new SIV applicants would be eliminated to streamline the process.
The US government earlier this year reached an agreement with The National Conference Centre in Loudon County, Virginia, to serve as a "safe haven" to temporarily house Afghan evacuees. The operation was expected to end no later than September 2022, the county said.
Reuters contributed to this report