The White House is reportedly throwing its support behind an increase in the number of US Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) that can be issued to Afghans who have supported American troops. As US forces withdraw from Afghanistan, there are fears that Afghans who helped American troops will be targeted by the re-emergent Taliban.
The Biden administration is understood to be working with Congress to raise the US visa cap for Afghan nationals. The push to increase the number of US visas made available comes amid efforts to evacuate thousands of Afghani nationals to neighboring countries prior to the full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which is expected to be completed in August.
Workpermit.com recently reported that Biden is already in discussions with three countries neighboring Afghanistan as part of plans to protect those most at risk of a Taliban backlash. Plans to increase the number of SIVs made available have widespread backing, but lawmakers are reportedly split on how to fast-track it through the usually slow-moving Capitol.
Raising the cap
Jason Crow, a Democratic representative for Colorado, said that he has been in collaboration with Biden administration officials on his bill to increase the SIV cap by 8,000 visas, while also calling for the removal of some application requirements. Since 2014, the US Department of State (DoS) has issued 26,500 SIVs.
The House is expected to take up the bipartisan legislation, which reportedly has 113 co-sponsors, as soon as this week and Mr Crow is hopeful that the Senate will act soon after it is passed.
Former Army Ranger Crow, who served in Afghanistan, said: “There’s not a reason I can see why they wouldn’t want to take this up expeditiously and get it done before the August work period begins so we can send it to the President’s desk and he can sign it and we can start making it happen.”
However, moving the measure through Congress in the coming weeks will probably require a Senate agreement to take it up without the extended debate requirements that accompanies most bills, according to a report published by Bloomberg. This means that just one senator could slow down the process.
Kentucky Republican, Senator Rand Paul – a long-time critic of the war in Afghanistan – has questioned whether Congress needs to act. Paul has a reputation for blocking legislation, though he did not specify whether he would block the Afghan visa bill.
Paul said: “I think those who speak English and are our friends should stay and fight for their country. I think if they all leave we’re more likely to see the Taliban take over.”
Crow’s legislation comes as part of a sustained effort among lawmakers, particularly the veterans of America’s longest war, to help evacuate interpreters, teachers, truck drivers and other Afghans who helped the coalition war effort over the last 20 years.
Crow said: “We are outright talking lives here. Every day, every week that passes will cost people their lives in Afghanistan.”
Jen Psaki, the White House’s spokeswoman, said: “The US government has had a range of discussions with third countries to take Afghan applicants while their requests are being processed and will reveal where some evacuees will go when it won’t affect their safety.”
In the Senate, Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Appropriations committee, added a provision to an emergency spending measure on Capitol security that would raise the US visa cap and appropriate $100 million for evacuation efforts.
In an interview, Leahy said: “It’s a moral issue. We’re going to see people lined up against a wall and machine-gunned.”
“Stand-alone bills don’t often get to the President’s desk, so this needs to be attached to a must pass bill because the need is urgent and, like Capitol security, has to be addressed now,” Leahy added.
New Hampshire Democrat, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who has sponsored a bill to raise the SIV cap by 20,000, said that there is a ‘sense of urgency’ in Congress to get something done before August.
“We’re in a place where we have the potential for Congress to act before the August recess in an expedited process,” Shaheen said.
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