How Is USCIS Dealing With Refugees Fleeing Afghanistan to Settle in the U.S.?
For people who are in Afghanistan or have fled recently, it is unclear how United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is handling these refugees. There is a process in place for special immigrant visas for Afghans who worked for the U.S. government for at least two years.
This process requires the refugee to go through the embassy in Kabul and provide proof of the work history with the U.S. Several factors are preventing this process from working: the embassy is closed, what embassy records hadn’t already been destroyed are now in the hands of the Taliban, and Afghans are unable to contact Americans that they worked with.
The Department of State has said they are going to try to streamline the process, but it sounds like it will still be a very bureaucratic process that will not work for someone in an emergency situation.
The other possibility that would relate to many, is to apply for refugee or asylee status. The qualifications are similar, to be granted either, you must demonstrate that you face persecution for your
- religious beliefs,
- political views, or
- belonging to a particular social group.
The major difference between the two statuses is the application process:
- To get asylum, you must already be in the U.S. when you apply. This includes presenting yourself at a US airport or border and asking to apply.
- To become a refugee, you must apply from overseas.
A particular social group is a vague term that can generally be used expansively by a good immigration lawyer.
For those fleeing the Taliban, there are options available to request refugee or asylee status. It is likely someone may face persecution from the Taliban for political views, religious beliefs, or belonging to particular social groups such as women or US allies.
If you are in the U.S. and seeking asylum, you can contact me to help with that process. To apply for refugee status from overseas you will need to contact the United Nations or be referred by a US government agency or certain US-based nonprofits or media organizations.
An additional option is humanitarian parole. The most realistic way to get that right now probably is through the Department of Defense (DoD) because it’s a less bureaucratic process. There is no way to apply for this status, the DoD must request it for you. If you are an Afghan who has worked with the U.S. military, you should reach out to whatever contacts you have to see if they could pass that up their chain of command and get the DoD to apply for humanitarian parole for you. You can apply to USCIS to receive humanitarian parole, but then you are going to have to go through the normal process that anyone else coming from anywhere would have to go through.
What Is a Special Immigrant Visa? Could That Apply to Afghan Refugees?
Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) are for Afghans who have worked with the U.S. government for at least two years. There has been talk regarding expanding SIV eligibility to include other categories of Afghans who might be at increased risk:
- humanitarian workers,
- political activists, and
- women and children.
So far none of these proposals have been adopted.
Are Those the Only Qualifications for an SIV Application?
The main qualification for a Special Immigrant Visa is having been working with the U.S. government for at least two years. There is a long series of secondary qualifications as well, such as
- not being a terrorist,
- not having certain kinds of criminal records,
- not having previous immigration violations, and
having experienced or are experiencing a serious threat to your safety because of your employment with the U.S. government.
You must also get a letter of recommendation from your supervisor or the person currently holding your supervisor’s position if they’ve left the job, or someone higher up their chain of command.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Special Immigration Visa?
Before recent events in Afghanistan, it typically took a year to a year-and-a-half, to receive a Special Immigration Visa. They are talking about streamlining the process, so maybe it will get faster. With the Taliban taking over Afghanistan and destroying embassy records, it could also take a lot longer because the records that are needed may be lost, destroyed, or misplaced. The process will vary for different people.
For more information on Refugees Fleeing Afghanistan to Settle in the U.S., an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (617) 297-7502 today.