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A recent executive order issued by President Biden has given the go ahead for a review of the US special immigrant visa (SIV) that’s issued to Afghan and Iraqi citizens who have helped the US military. The SIV program currently faces a backlog of tens of thousands of applications.
A press release issued by the White House stated: “The executive order will review practices to ensure the US is honoring its commitment to helpful allies in war-torn countries, to expand the program and enhance access for those vulnerable to persecution, including women, children and those who could be discriminated against for gender or sexual orientation.”
US representative for Florida’s 6th congressional district and combat veteran who works closely with SIV requests, Michael Waltz, welcomed the order. He said: “It just sends such an important signal if you stand with us and you stand against extremism we'll be there for you. We will honor that commitment.”
Merit-based US immigration
“I am, as are many conservatives, in favor of merit-based immigration to the US, and I can’t think of anyone more meritorious than those who have stood and fought with us rather than random lottery systems,” Waltz added.
Mr Waltz said that he is hoping to expand the SIV program to Kurdish interpreters, highlighting that both the Obama and Trump administrations faced challenges speeding up what is a long and arduous process for SIV applicants.
The Florida representative said that Biden’s executive order would require all US federal departments to get involved and report back to the White House on how they can improve the efficiency of the SIV scheme.
Waltz said: “These people are coming from countries where you can’t just look up their credit check or their background check. Those who travel to the embassy for interviews for the special US visa must carry all of their documentation and risk being killed if they are stopped by the Taliban on the way.”
Mr Waltz referred to a case whereby this exact thing happened to an interpreter he had worked with, saying that while the individual was on the waiting list for an SIV, he was caught with his documents. He was followed home by extremists, dragged out of his home and killed, along with several of his cousins.
17,000 Afghans await SIV
According to official data, around 17,000 Afghan interpreters who have helped the US military overseas are currently waiting for a decision on an SIV application – rising to approximately 70,000 if eligible family members are included. Many live in fear of retaliation from the Taliban back in their home country.
Meanwhile, 100,000 Iraqis are also on the waiting list, according to non-profit organization, No One Left Behind.
It’s understood that the average wait time for an SIV applicant to make it through a strict 14-step eligibility program is three years. In December, more than 1,000 Afghan and Iraqi interpreters urged Joe Biden to simplify the process.
Khaliqdad H., who is currently back in Afghanistan, wrote: “I am so scared can’t go anywhere. Even when I am going to my workplace I feel today is my last day because every day target killing is going on.”
Abdullah A., in Iraq wrote: “I was sufferd to much from being Interputer with the US army (and my family).”
4,000 SIV families to be resettled in 2021
No One Left Behind said that it has identified at least 300 foreign translators, and their family members, who have been killed having worked for the US. The group said it is expecting nearly 4,000 SIV families to be resettled in the US in 2021.
A press release issued by the organization said: “We are humbled and incredibly grateful for President Biden and Vice President Harris’ bold action. This will save the lives of thousands of our partners and will have a profound impact on US national security.”
Approximately 30,000 SIV families currently live in the US, the majority of which earn their living by driving for Uber or Lyft. However, their incomes have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with No One Left Behind working to support SIV families amid the public health crisis.
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