Posted on March 14, 2017
Afghans Who Worked for U.S. Are Told Not to Apply for Visas, Advocates Say
Afghans who worked for the American military and government are being told that they cannot apply for special visas to the United States, even though Afghanistan is not among the countries listed in President Trump’s new travel ban, according to advocates for Afghan refugees.
As of Thursday, Afghans seeking to apply for what are known as Special Immigrant Visas were being told by the American Embassy in Kabul, the capital, that applications would no longer be accepted, according to Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire.
Officials at the embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It was unclear if the visa suspension was related to the president’s new ban, which, in addition to denying visas to citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries, also orders that the number of refugees allowed into America be cut by more than half, to 50,000 this year, from 110,000 in 2016.
Ms. Shaheen, along with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, has been a strong advocate of the Special Immigrant Visa program, meant for Afghans who face the threat of reprisal for their work with Americans. Its apparent suspension could affect as many as 10,000 applicants. “Allowing this program to lapse sends the message to our allies in Afghanistan that the United States has abandoned them,” Ms. Shaheen said in a statement.
Officials at the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York said they had learned that as of Thursday, Afghans were being told that applications were no longer being accepted, though the suspension had taken place on March 1. “Our worst fears are proving true,” said Betsy Fisher, the group’s policy director.
Mac McEachin, another official at the organization, said the decision could affect the 2,500 soldiers of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division who might be deployed to Syria. “Now that the world has seen how we turn our backs on our Afghan allies, there is almost no chance that local allies in Syria will be inclined to work with us,” he said.
American military officials are also requesting an increase in troops deployed to Afghanistan.
One of those affected by the shut-off of special visas is Mohammad Nasim Hashimyar, who worked for three years as an interpreter for American Special Forces in Oruzgan Province, and later for the American Embassy. He lives in hiding in Kabul as he waits for his visa interview, which now appears unlikely to happen.
“It will force me to go through an illegal way to Europe because my life is in danger in Kabul,” he said. “I always have a gun with me even though I don’t have a license for it.”
Ms. Shaheen said she would press Congress to renew the visa program and provide more places for Afghan applicants.
Congress recently reauthorized the Special Immigrant Visa program for four more years but allocated only 1,500 additional visas. Advocates estimate that up to 10,000 are needed. Mr. McCain and Ms. Shaheen tried unsuccessfully to get Congress to authorize 4,000 more such visas.
It is unclear whether the reported suspension of new applications was related to the number of available visas or to the president’s order reducing refugee intake generally, or to a combination of the two factors.
The president’s new travel ban, issued Monday, ordered a 90-day suspension of visas to citizens of six largely Muslim countries: Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Yemen and Libya. Unlike his earlier order, which was blocked by the courts, it did not include Iraq; there had been complaints that doing so would leave Iraqis who supported American forces vulnerable to reprisals. It also removed an exemption for religious minorities in the affected countries, a provision that had been widely seen as discriminating against Muslims.
Afghanistan was not included in either of the president’s travel bans, but his decision to reduce the overall number of refugees accepted by the United States would affect Afghans as well. Afghans are the second-largest group of refugees worldwide, after Syrians.