US curtails one immigration pathway for Afghan evacuees, shifting to long-term strategy

The U.S. government will curtail its practice of temporarily waiving immigration requirements for vulnerable Afghans entering the country, instead focusing on more enduring pathways as the evacuation enters a new phase.

The government will largely cease its use of humanitarian parole to allow at-risk Afghans to enter the country after Oct. 1, requiring remaining evacuees to demonstrate family ties in the U.S., a connection with the U.S. military, or that they are among the most vulnerable applicants to the U.S. refugee program.

The change is a sign of a new phase in the U.S. evacuation effort as the nation marks one year since the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The move will ensure that those who arrive in the U.S. come with a more stable immigration status.

But it also means a sharp reduction in the method used to welcome the vast majority of Afghans who entered during the evacuation.

Those who are given humanitarian parole at ports of entry are given just two years to secure another immigration pathway — a detail that has left many of the 85,000 Afghans who arrived during the evacuation uncertain about their future.

“Moving forward, Afghan arrivals will enter the United States with a durable, long-term immigration status that will facilitate their ability to more quickly settle and integrate into their new communities, and they will also travel directly to their new destination community without the need for a stop-over at a safe haven in the U.S.,” a senior administration official told reporters.

But it could also complicate matters for an untold number of Afghans still hopeful of reaching the U.S. who must now return to immigration pathways that require years of processing.

As the government shifts from Operation Allies Welcome to a new program they are calling Operation Enduring Welcome, it has pledged to speed up processing of those hopeful of getting a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) due to their service to the U.S. military — a years-long process that requires high-level State Department approval. Refugee applications similarly take years to process.

“Our hope is that the Biden administration will recognize the urgency of this moment, just as it has for displaced Ukrainians. Far too many of our allies remain in harm’s way, and far too many families remain separated by bureaucratic hurdles,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) said in a statement.

“As the administration largely discontinues its use of humanitarian parole, it must commit to meaningful and efficient processing under the refugee and SIV programs. While our nation’s commitment to them has no end date, our Afghan allies deserve more than backlogs and red tape.”

Immigration groups including LIRS have called on Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would help provide a pathway to citizenship to those who were paroled into the U.S. during the evacuation.

Thousands of Afghans remain at processing facilities overseas, however, including in both the United Arab Emirates and in Qatar.

And since March, which the government deemed the second phase of the evacuation, only roughly 5,000 Afghans made it from such centers to the U.S. 

Still, many more remain in Afghanistan who are eager to come to the U.S., but with few pathways to do so. Many are applying to the U.S. refugee program or a separate humanitarian parole program, but face daunting odds.

The 49,000 humanitarian parole applications have overwhelmed the Department of Homeland Security, which has ramped up processing, but typically gets only 2,000 such applications per year. It’s not designed to replace the refugee program, the agency has stressed.

Of the applications that have been reviewed, 9,000 have been denied parole, while just 380 have been granted conditional approval, a roughly 4 percent approval rate.

The State Department has also received some 44,000 referrals between the priority refugee programs for Afghans, a figure that does not include the main applicants’ family members. But of those, only 23,000 have been accepted for review after being “determined to be complete.”

Updated: 5:34 p.m.

Tags Afghan evacuees Afghan refugees Department of Homeland Security immigration Joe Biden Taliban US evacuation from Afghanistan

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