The State Department said on Aug. 2 that it’s expanding the scope of Afghans eligible for refugee status in the United States “to many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members who may be at risk due to their U.S. affiliation,” but who are ineligible for a special immigrant visa (SIV) because they didn’t work directly for the U.S. government or didn’t hold their government jobs long enough.
By creating a “Priority 2” category for certain Afghan nationals and their family members within the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), the State Department is expanding eligibility to include current and former employees of U.S.-based aid and development agencies, along with other relief groups that receive U.S. funding.
Also eligible are Afghans who are or were employed in Afghanistan by a U.S.-based news or nongovernmental organization, as are current and former employees of the U.S. government and the NATO military operation who don’t meet the minimum time-in-service criteria for an SIV.
“Access to the USRAP is a critical mechanism to provide protection for these individuals,” the State Department said in the statement.
The expanded eligibility occurs amid a surge in violence in Afghanistan by the Taliban, who are now trying to seize provincial capitals after taking large swaths of land and scores of districts in more rural areas.
Meanwhile, the first group of Afghan SIV applicants—most of whom served as translators or did other work for U.S. troops or diplomats—began arriving in the United States last week. The first planeload of some 200 evacuees arrived at Fort Lee, a military base in Virginia, on July 30, where they were expected to remain for up to seven days for processing.
“These arrivals are just the first of many as we work quickly to relocate SIV-eligible Afghans out of harm’s way—to the United States, to U.S. facilities abroad, or to third countries—so that they can wait in safety while they finish their visa applications,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.
The newly arrived refugees are among 2,500 SIV applicants who will be brought to the United States in the coming days, according to Russ Travers, Biden’s deputy homeland security adviser.
As many as 50,000 or more people ultimately could be evacuated in “Operation Allies Refuge,” the Biden administration’s program to support the relocation of at-risk Afghans.