Afghans Who Worked With U.S. Forces Told They Can No Longer Apply For Special Visas

Afghans Who Worked With U.S. Forces Told They Can No Longer Apply For Special Visas

Rebecca Hersher, NPR, Mar. 10, 2017 - "The State Department is running out of visas for Afghans who are in danger because they worked with the U.S. government in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced that it expected the visas to be depleted by June 1 and that "No further interviews for Afghan principal applicants ... will be scheduled after March 1, 2017."

NPR's Quil Lawrence reported, "The Special Immigrant Visa program was designed to reward Iraqis and Afghans who help U.S. forces at war, but it's been plagued by a lengthy vetting process and changing politics in Washington."

A State Department official told NPR in an email on Thursday that more than 15,000 Afghans are currently "at some stage of the [special visa] application process" and that as of March 5, only 1,437 visas remain to be given out.

Last fall, military leaders, refugee advocates and some members of Congress warned that the program would run out of visas by the end of the year, and the Obama administration requested that Congress approve 4,000 more.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost of adding that many visas under the program would be $446 million over the next decade.

In December, Congress approved 1,500 new Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans.

At the time, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said in a statement that "It is no exaggeration to say that this is a matter of life and death as Afghans who served the U.S. mission continue to be systematically hunted down by the Taliban. The number of visas needed for those in danger far surpasses what's provided in this bill."

Shaheen, a Democrat, has partnered with Sen. John McCain, a Republican, to push for the program to continue, and both have condemned what they see as a shortsighted policy of limiting visas, making it more difficult for the U.S. government to persuade local allies to work with them.

"It's not just a quid pro quo, 'Hey you help me out [and] I'll help you get to America,' " Marine veteran Zach Iscol told Quil. "It's taking care of those who took care of us when we were in their country."

Last month the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan asked Congress to send more troops to Afghanistan, where American soldiers have been assisting Afghan security forces since the U.S. formally ended its combat mission in 2014 and are increasingly drawn into battle there.

There are currently 8,400 U.S. service members deployed to Afghanistan.