More than 60,000 Afghan interpreters and other Afghan nationals who have applied for a US visa – including those who cooperated with US Armed Forces - have been left stranded in Afghanistan, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Following the withdrawal of US troops back in August, thousands of Afghan citizens have sought to flee Afghanistan.
Many fear reprisals from the Taliban who have taken reign of Afghanistan. Dozens of countries arranged flights to evacuate their citizens, diplomatic missions personnel, and associated Afghans out of the country, but tens of thousands have been left behind.
However, according to the Wall Street Journal, approximately 33,000 of some 62,000 remaining in Afghanistan have already gone through the necessary security measures and are eligible to be evacuated immediately.
Early stages of US visa application process
A further 29,000 Afghans looking to flee the country are reportedly in the ‘early stages of the US visa application and vetting process’. The process, enforced by the US Department of State (DoS), is designed to check the employment history of visa applicants and any potential connections with so-called terrorist organizations.
It’s understood that the US is currently operating seven evacuation flights a week, depending on weather conditions and other factors, from Kabul airport, which is still partly operating.
This is the first time since August that the US DoS has disclosed how many people are eligible to be evacuated from Afghanistan, according to the WSJ report.
A DoS official told the WSJ that ‘Afghans eligible for evacuations are looking forward to getting out of Afghanistan amid a worsening economic crisis’.
Speed up the US visa process
Prior to the US withdrawal in August 2021, several lawmakers had urged the Biden administration to accelerate US visa processing for Afghan interpreters who supported American troops in Afghanistan.
In a letter sent to the White House by Senator Jeanne Shaheen, signed by 19 other senators, lawmakers called for an increased number of Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to be allocated, warning of an increased Taliban threat toward America’s Afghan allies.
The letter said: “There are already reports of Taliban threats targeting those who helped the US once troops were withdrawn. These threats cannot be ignored. As Afghans face renewed security concerns due to their work with the US, we must ensure that the SIV program has the capacity to bring them to safety.”
The Special Immigrant Visa, which has a 14-step process, currently takes an average of 996 days to push through the system, according to a joint State and DHS 2021 quarterly report. One part of the process requires applicants to receive an HR letter from the Chief of Mission, a step that will become more dangerous now that US troops have withdrawn.
A US DoS spokesperson said: “We are processing applications as fast as we possibly can. We have identified process improvements and directed additional resources to the program, including by augmenting staff in Washington to process applications.”
“The Department has also approved a temporary increase in consular staffing at the US Embassy in Kabul to conduct interviews and process US visa applications,” the spokesperson added.
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