Spending bill includes 2,500 new visas for Afghans

The spending bill being negotiated in Congress includes 2,500 new visas for Afghans who helped U.S. troops, averting a potential lapse in a program offering support for people who act as interpreters or otherwise support the American mission there.

The bill would have to be passed for the new visas to be authorized, but it is expected that Congress will have the votes to win approval of the broad package, which would prevent the government from shutting down at the end of this week.

“This is potentially a life-saving development,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said in a statement Monday.

{mosads}”I’m tremendously relieved that this bipartisan agreement includes additional visas for Afghan interpreters and support staff. Allowing this program to lapse would send the message to our allies in Afghanistan that the United States has abandoned them. It’s both a moral and practical imperative that Congress approve additional visas.”

In March, the State Department announced that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul had stopped interviewing applicants for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program due to a lack of available visas. The department said it didn’t expect to restart interviews until Congress acts.

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

As of March 5, just 1,437 visas remained, and the number of applicants in the final stage of the process is enough to use all those, the State Department said that month.

The program is expected to officially run out of visas by June 1, and more than 15,000 Afghans are at some stage in the application process.

Shaheen and others had pushed for 4,000 additional visas in last year’s annual defense policy bill, but just 1,500 were included.

After the State Department announced the interviews had stopped, Shaheen and others pushed for the 2,500 visas now included in the spending bill.

“Going forward, it’s critical that Congress overcome obstruction to this program and regularly replenish the number of visas available to avoid future brinkmanship,” Shaheen said Monday. “The lives of Afghan interpreters and support staff literally hang in the balance.”

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