Senators propose visa increase for Afghan civilians

A bipartisan pair of senators has introduced legislation that would grant additional visas to Afghan civilians who work alongside U.S. military forces.

The measure, put forward last week by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), would allot 1,000 additional visas for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which is set to expire in September.

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The program provides 3,000 visas every fiscal year to Afghanis who help the U.S. government by serving as interpreters and guides, but Secretary of State John Kerry has warned that his agency will soon hit the cap.

Kerry wrote that as the U.S. prepares to draw down its forces in Afghanistan by 2016, Washington is “in danger of sending the wrong message to Afghan interpreters and others who risked their lives helping our troops and diplomats do their jobs in Afghanistan over the last decade.”

In a statement, Shaheen said the U.S. must “make good” on promises to Afghanis “who are now living in fear of retribution because they believed in our mission enough to risk their lives for it.”

“They cannot wait; it is essential Congress pass this bipartisan bill so we can come one step closer to keeping that promise for all who served,” she added.

McCain said that the local assistance has been a “critical resource to our troops throughout the past decade and it would be unconscionable to abandon these brave individuals who are now in danger for their service to the United States’ mission in Afghanistan."

In May, Shaheen and McCain, along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), unveiled a billl that would extend the SIV program for another fiscal year and expand the program to allow Afghans who aided the International Security Assistance Force, media outlets and non-profit organizations to apply for visas.

The measure has since been incorporated into the Senate’s version of the 2015 defense authorization bill. Senior lawmakers are still working on an agreement for floor amendments to the policy bill, which was voted out of committee in May.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.