Lawmakers say they've reached deal with White House to ramp up Afghan visas

Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2024 - 4:02pm

Several thousand additional visas will be made available to Afghan nationals who worked alongside the U.S. military in their country, according to a new agreement between Congressional leaders and President Joe Biden. 

The Biden administration evacuated more than 70,000 Afghans from their country following the U.S. military withdrawal in August 2021. But others who worked alongside the U.S. were left behind. Now, they’re still stuck inside Afghanistan. 

The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing this week in which lawmakers questioned retired generals on the handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent risks Afghans still there face today.

Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, who serves as the committee's chair, said a new State Department funding bill includes more visas for Afghans.

"The White House and Congressional leaders have agreed to grant 12,000 Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan nationals who assisted the United States," he said, 

Special Immigrant Visas, or SIVs, are available in limited numbers to Iraqis and Afghans who worked with the U.S. — but the program was backlogged even before 2021. 

An anonymous state department official told Reuters there are currently more than 80,00 Afghans in the visa process. 

Meanwhile, the majority of Afghans evacuated from their country in 2021 came to the U.S. on what's called humanitarian parole — a temporary immigration status that offers no path to permanent residency — and many are in legal limbo. A bill that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for evacuees has been introduced several times, but is so far stalled in Congress.