Afghans who have helped the US military and were evacuated from Afghanistan to escape the Taliban, will not have to pay application fees for US green cards and work permits. The Biden administration has announced that fees will be waived for Afghans arriving in the US after July 30 under a humanitarian US immigration process known as ‘parole’.
It’s understood that fees will also be waived for permanent residency petitions made by Afghans seeking a US Special Immigrant Visa, due to their work with US armed forces. US immigration advocates had been urging the Biden administration to scrap these fees for weeks, claiming that most Afghan arrivals don’t have the means to pay.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) typically charges $495 for a work permit application and biometric data collection. Meanwhile, fees to adjudicate a petition for permanent residency status – more commonly known as a green card – can cost as much as $1,225.
Demonstration of commitment
Announcing that fees for green cards and work permits would be waived for Afghan evacuees, Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, said: “These actions demonstrate our ongoing commitment to Afghan nationals who provided valuable assistance to the United States over the past two decades as well as other Afghans at risk.”
The announcement has been widely welcomed by those who advocate for immigrants. President of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, said: “This policy decision is an economic win-win; we can get these families on the road to self-sufficiency.”
“We can unleash their potential for employers desperate for talented workers amid a labor shortage,” she added.
According to the most recent available data from the US government, approximately 70,000 Afghan nationals have arrived in the US after the Taliban quickly re-established power in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops.
The majority of those relocated to the US are those who assisted armed forces, their families, family members of US citizens and green card holders, plus any other people deemed to be at risk of Taliban persecution, such as journalists, aid workers and activists.
Around 50,000 of those evacuated are living across eight domestic US military sites while their legal paperwork is completed, according to the latest Department of Homeland Security (DHS) figures. Many have also received the COVID-19 vaccination and additional jabs for measles and other transferable diseases.
Recently, 14,000 of the 50,000 living inside military compounds were resettled in communities across the US. Meanwhile, many non-profit organizations have been instrumental in helping to resettle evacuees.
Afghan family sponsorship
In October, the Biden administration launched an initiative that allowed groups of private US citizens to sponsor Afghan families.
In addition to the some 70,000 Afghans that have already arrived in the US, a further 2,000 remain at bases in the Middle East and across Europe, where US officials continue to run security screenings and background checks, according to the DHS.
While the parole scheme does allow for the entry of individuals, giving them permission to work in the US legally, it does not offer a pathway to apply for permanent legal status.
According to the DHS, an estimated 40% of Afghans relocated to the US since the summer, qualify for Special Immigrant Visas because of their assistance to the US during the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
Special Immigrant Visa holders, plus their spouses and any children, automatically qualify for permanent residency in the US.
For many months, refugee advocates have urged the US government to create a legalization program for Afghans, particularly those who aren’t eligible for Special Immigrant Visas – such as activists and journalists. However, Congress has yet to approve any such plan.
Instead, back in September, Congress introduced what was supposed to be an expedited asylum process for Afghans who entered the US under the parole process. Congress directed USCIS to interview Afghan refugees no later than 45 days after an asylum petition was filed and to issue a final decision within 150 days.
It’s understood that USCIS is currently reviewing more than 400,000 pending asylum applications, sparking concerns among advocates that Afghans may get stuck in the backlogged process unless a legalization program is established.
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