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December 12, 2016

The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program

The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program


What is the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program?

  • In 2009, Congress passed the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009. The act provides special immigrant visas (SIVs) to Afghans who have worked as translators or interpreters, or who were employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government in Afghanistan, and whose lives are now threatened because of their work in support of the U.S. mission. These visas allow these wartime allies to resettle in the United States. A similar program was enacted in 2006 for Iraqi translators, interpreters, and workers, but that program expired in 2014.
  • The Afghan program was designed to provide 7,500 visas over five years. Extensions were passed in 2014 and 2015 that made 7,000 more visas available. More than 13,000 Afghans and their families are waiting for a special immigrant visa, according to the State Department, but as of early October 2016, only 1,632 visas remained.

Why is the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program Important?

  • U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is ongoing. We cannot complete our mission there without the Afghan translators, engineers, security guards, embassy clerks, logisticians, cultural advisors, and soldiers who stand by us. Many of these allies and their families now face death threats for their service to the United States We gave our word to protect these allies—a promise that we have kept since 2009. That promise is now in jeopardy.
  • The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program represents a promise that we made to our allies. Following through on that promise is not only vital to maintaining support of the Afghan people, it is vital to completing our mission there and to U.S. national security.
  • Likewise, as the United States continues to protect its interests elsewhere around the world, it will need the continued assistance of those willing to stand with us. We must ensure that the United States is known as a country that keeps its promises and never forgets its allies. Reauthorizing the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program and increasing the number of visas to accommodate the need of our allies sends the message that the United States never leaves anyone behind.

How is the SIV Program Authorized Each Year?

  • Since 2009, funding for the Afghan SIV program has been authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
  • The Fiscal Year 2017 NDAA legislation was agreed to by a conference committee of House and Senate Armed Services Committees. In December 2016, both the House and Senate passed the final version of the FY17 NDAA, sending the bill to the president, who may either sign it into law or veto the bill.
  • In 2015, the president vetoed FY16’s NDAA over issues unrelated to the Special Immigrant Visa Program. While the White House has issued a similar veto threats to earlier versions of the FY2017 NDAA, the president is expected to sign the final version into law. In addition, the final version of the FY2017 NDAA is supported by a veto-proof majority of Congress.

FY2017 NDAA Provisions for the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program

The FY2017 NDAA includes:

  • An extension of the SIV program for an additional four years until December 31, 2020;
  • An additional 1,500 available visas;
  • Applicants for a Special Immigrant Visa must be Afghan nationals who:
  • were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan for a period of at least two years;
  • served as an interpreter or translator for United States military personnel, the State Department, or USAID in Afghanistan, particularly while traveling off-base or away from U.S. Embassies with such personnel;
  • performed sensitive and trusted activities for the U.S. government in Afghanistan;
  • provided faithful and valuable service to the U.S. government, which is documented in a positive recommendation or evaluation from a senior supervisor; and
  • have experienced or are experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of the alien’s employment by the U.S. government.

The Path Forward for the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program

  • The FY2017 NDAA’s authorization of only 1,500 additional visas is insufficient. The legislation represents a stopgap measure to keep the program operational in the short term, as these visas will likely run out in the first months of 2017.
  • Congress and the president must work toward an expanded Special Immigrant Visa program in early 2017 which provides enough visas for every Afghan ally currently waiting for relief.