Senate authorizes 1K more Afghan visas

The Senate on Friday passed legislation that would grant 1,000 more visas to Afghan civilians who assisted the U.S.

The chamber approved by voice vote legislation expanding the U.S. State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa program, which is due to expire at the end of the fiscal year.

“The bipartisan bill we are sending the president makes good on our promise to our Afghan allies and will help them find safe haven in the face of threats from the Taliban,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said in a joint statement with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the bill’s co-sponsor.

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The House on Wednesday approved similar legislation by a voice vote. The measure now goes to President Obama for his signature.

“I hope the President signs this into law right away,” Shaheen said.

McCain said the U.S. has a “responsibility to honor the promises we made to the Afghan men and women who risked their lives and those of their families to assist American forces.”

The 2009 effort issues 3,000 visas annually to Afghans and their family members who help the U.S. government, primarily as interpreters and guides. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this year warned his agency would exhaust its visas before the end of fiscal 2014.

In May, Shaheen and McCain, along with Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) rolled out legislation to extend the program for another fiscal year and widen the program to allow Afghans who helped the International Security Assistance Force, media outlets and nonprofit organizations apply for visas as well.

The measure has since been rolled into the Senate’s draft of the 2015 Defense authorization bill.
 
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich) this week said he hopes the defense spending blueprint will be called up when lawmakers return from their August recess.

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