Visa interviews halted for Afghans who helped US troops

Visa interviews halted for Afghans who helped US troops
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The State Department confirmed Friday that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has stopped interviewing Afghans applying for visas under a program for individuals who helped U.S. troops.

In a statement, a department official said it did so because the number of Afghans in the final state of the process is enough to use all the remaining visas approved by Congress.

“We do not expect to resume scheduling appointments unless new SIV [special immigrant visa] numbers are allocated by Congress,” the official said. “We will continue to process existing SIV applications and issue SIVs to those who qualify until we have exhausted the number of SIVs allocated by Congress.”

The program is meant to help Afghan facing threats to their lives for serving as interpreters or otherwise assisting U.S. troops.

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Advocates of the program first reported the stoppage Thursday, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: Trump gets briefing at Pentagon on ISIS, Afghanistan | Senate panel approves five defense picks | Senators want Syria study in defense bill Gore wishes Mikulski a happy birthday at 'Inconvenient Sequel' premiere Senators ask for Syria policy study in defense bill MORE (D-N.H.) followed with a statement later that day saying she too had been informed that interviews were halted.

The National Defense Authorization Act passed in December added 1,500 visas to the 3,500 visas that were left at that point and reauthorized the program for four years. It also tightened requirements for who could get visas to those considered in the most danger.

In its Friday statement, the State Department said that just 1,437 visas remain, but that there are more than 15,000 Afghans in some stage of the application process.

The department said all remaining visas are expected to be allocated by June 1.

“We are committed to supporting those who — at great personal risk — have helped U.S. military and other government personnel perform their duties,” the official said.

Shaheen has been an ardent supporter of the program, leading a failed effort last year with Sen. John McCainJohn McCainSenate healthcare bill appears headed for failure Trump backers eye GOP primary challenges for Flake, Heller Manchin bashes GOP candidate for pushing McCain to resign MORE (R-Ariz.) to add 4,000 visas to the program.

In her statement Thursday, Shaheen pledged to introduce legislation to immediately add more visas to the program.

“Breaking our promise to keep them safe would be a stain on our nation’s honor and jeopardizes local support in both this, and future, missions,” she said. “I will soon introduce legislation that will provide additional visas for the Afghan SIV program and will use every available opportunity to move this through Congress.”