State Dept. seeks exit from plan pushing faster processing of Afghan visas
The State Department is asking to be relieved from a court ordered plan requiring it to speed processing of visas for those who aided the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
The motion, filed by the department on Tuesday, cites changing circumstances in Afghanistan in an effort to exit the 2020 agreement.
“Since the Court last addressed substantive issues in this case, the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan and the United States suspended operations at its embassy in Kabul, rendering it impossible to provide visa services in Afghanistan. The Taliban takeover also precipitated a humanitarian crisis that has exponentially increased inquiries and submissions to the Defendant agencies from those attempting to flee the country,” the State Department wrote in its filing requesting the ability to propose a new plan.
The State Department has long struggled to quickly adjudicate what are known as Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), a special class for translators and others who assisted the military.
The lengthy verification process and requirement to get approval from high-ranking embassy officials in Afghanistan stalled processing even before deteriorating conditions stemming from the U.S. withdrawal made swift action even more paramount.
The filing also cites delays due to COVID-19.
“The confluence of global events, process changes, and resource investments made by the political branches have placed the SIV program in a materially different posture as compared to two years ago,” State wrote.
The motion sparked irritation from advocates who filed the class action suit to push the department to speed its SIV processing in 2018.
“In the face of continuing mismanagement and persistent delays, and at a time of waning public attention, the Biden administration is trying to get out of its court-ordered obligations to promptly process the applications of thousands of Afghan and Iraqi SIV applicants who are still waiting for their safe passage to the United States,” Katie Austin, a litigator with the International Refugee Assistance Project, said in a statement.
The State Department said in its filing it cannot keep pace with the uptick in SIV applications that landed as the U.S. withdrawal neared.
It received 352,476 SIV-related inquiries in August and September of last year alone, “more than it received over the course of almost six years from March 2015 to December 2020.”
The department boasts of speeds in processing time, pointing to how it has “already reduced the total average processing time for an Afghan SIV application to 587 days in the most recent quarter of the fiscal year.”
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