Fact Sheet: Pathways to Protection for Afghans at Risk

On August 31, President Biden announced the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the conclusion of “the largest airlift in U.S. history,” a 17-day evacuation of approximately 120,000 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. In addition to U.S. citizens and citizens of other allied nations, among those evacuated were at-risk Afghans who assisted the U.S. military effort or who were otherwise under threat. The U.S. has announced three different immigration pathways that are being used to evacuate and resettle vulnerable Afghans: Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) status, the Priority 2 (P2) Refugee Program, and Humanitarian Parole.

This explainer will explore the eligibility requirements, application processes, and vetting procedures for each of these three paths to protection. It will also compare the benefits provided to those resettled under each status and the approximate number of SIVs, refugees, and parolees who have been evacuated.

SIV STATUS

P2 DIRECT ACCESS REFUGEE PROGRAM

HUMANITARIAN PAROLE

Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Status

SIV status provides lawful permanent residence (green cards) for interpreters, embassy workers, and others who have directly supported U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan for a significant period.

Eligibility:
  • Afghan citizens who have worked directly with the U.S. Armed Forces as a translator or interpreter for a period of at least one year, or 
  • Afghan citizens who have worked as an employee of the U.S. embassy or the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for a period of at least two years 
  • Afghans must be experiencing an ongoing, serious threat as a consequence of their employment in order to apply. Spouses and minor children of principle applicants are also eligible.  
Application Timeline and Vetting Procedures:

The SIV process includes the following steps, which take approximately two to three years from start to finish. (SIVs are legally required to be processed within nine months, but a lack of resources and visa slots have caused significant delays and backlogs). 

1. The SIV applicant submits packet of initial petition documents to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). These include a copy of applicant’s passport; proof of work in support of U.S. efforts; proof of screening and background check by U.S. Armed Forces; and a letter of recommendation from Chief of Command, General, or Flag officer in the chain of command of the unit aided by the applicant.

2. The applicant emails National Visa Center (NVC) to provide additional family records. These include copies of family members passports, copies of birth certificates and marriage certificates, and extensive additional personal information. 

3. USCIS approves the initial petition 

4. The applicant attends visa interview in person at U.S. embassy, where applicant and family provide original identification documents and recent photographs for additional biographic security checks and fingerprint samples for additional biometric security checks. 

5. Final claims are approved and the applicants receive Special Immigrant Visas 

Benefits:

Upon resettlement, Afghan SIVs are eligible for the same federal benefits as refugees. These benefits, which are largely provided through refugee resettlement agencies, include: 

  • Lawful permanent residence (green card status) 
  • Work authorization 
  • Refugee Support Services, including employment services, English language classes, transportation support, and childcare 
  • Healthcare via Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) 
  • Federal financial assistance including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Refugee Cash Assistance if ineligible for SSI or TANF 
  • Nutritional assistance through Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) 
Population Resettled:

An estimated 7,000 Afghans with SIV status have been resettled in the U.S. since the evacuation began. 

There are also approximately 80,000-100,000 in the SIV backlog, some of whom were evacuated and are being allowed into the U.S. under Humanitarian Parole. It remains unclear how many of those in the backlog were left behind in Afghanistan when the U.S. concluded evacuation efforts on August 31, and how many are currently waiting in third countries.

Priority 2 (P2) Direct Access Refugee Program 

The P2 Direct Access Program provides special access to the U.S. refugee resettlement process to vulnerable Afghans who worked for U.S. military contractors or U.S.-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) but who do not qualify for SIV status.

Eligibility:
  • Afghan citizens who do not meet time-in-service or other eligibility requirements for SIV status but who worked as employees or contractors for the U.S. military, the U.S. government, or ISAF.  
  • Afghan citizens who worked for a U.S.-funded program or project in Afghanistan or who were employed by a U.S.-based NGO or media organization.  
  • Spouses and minor children of principle applicants are also eligible. 
  • Afghans who worked for sub-contractors and sub-grantees of the U.S. military do not qualify for the P-2 program. 
Application Timeline and Vetting Procedures:

The P2 refugee process includes the following steps, which can take over two years from start to finish. 

1. The applicant is referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) by a U.S. government official or the senior-most U.S. citizen employee of the organization where the individual worked. The referrer will submit a packet of initial documents that includes: Proof of employment; copies of passports or other identification documents; and copies of marriage, divorce, death, or birth certificates.

2. The Department of State approves the initial petition and notifies applicant of successful referral. 

3. The applicant and family must escape Afghanistan on their own and reach a third country, where they can contact the Department of State to begin the refugee resettlement process. Refugee processing is not available “in-country” in Afghanistan or in Iran.  

4. The resettlement Support Center conducts in-depth pre-screening interview with the applicant, including collection of biographic information

5. USCIS conducts additional screening interviews to determine eligibility of individual for resettlement.  

6. The applicant undergoes medical screening and numerous additional biometric and biographic security checks, matching data with national and international databases. 

7. Sponsorship assurance is provided by a refugee resettlement agency in the U.S., travel arrangements are coordinated by the International Organization for Migration, and applicants are resettled to the U.S. with refugee status.  

Benefits:

Upon resettlement, P2 refugees are eligible for numerous public benefits, including: 

  • Lawful permanent residence (green card status) after one year of residence in the U.S. 
  • Work authorization 
  • Refugee Support Services, including employment services, English language classes, transportation support, and childcare 
  • Healthcare via Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) 
  • Federal financial assistance including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Refugee Cash Assistance if ineligible for SSI or TANF 
  • Nutritional assistance through Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) 
Population Resettled: 

Zero Afghans have thus far been resettled to the U.S. under P2 refugee status.  

While hundreds of thousands are eligible for P2 status, the P2 program was only created on August 2, 2021, and the procedure requires applicants to escape to a third country and to go through years of processing and security checks.  

Humanitarian Parole 

Humanitarian Parole allows entrance to the U.S. to vulnerable Afghans who may otherwise be eligible for either SIV or refugee status but have not yet completed their visas processing. Parole does not automatically confer immigration status or benefits. 

Eligibility:
  • Applicants must demonstrate the need to enter the U.S. for urgent humanitarian reasons or because their entrance will be a significant public benefit.  
Application Timeline and Vetting Procedures:

The parole process includes the following steps. For some, the parole process takes just days. Others may be waiting for weeks or months in third countries while they undergo security screens and additional processing. 

1. Eligible individuals undergo rapid processing at Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul 

2. Individuals are evacuated to military bases in third countries for additional processing (locations include Qatar, Bahrain, Germany, Kuwait, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates) 

3. Applicants who are far along in SIV process and have already passed associated security screenings are given medical screenings and sent to the U.S. Others must undergo robust security processing and vetting procedures in third countries, including multiple rounds of biometric and biographic screening matching results to a variety of law enforcement and intelligence agency watchlists.  

4. Upon passing vetting procedures and medical screenings, applicants are sent to the U.S. where they arrive at the airport with conditional parole.  

5. Additional rounds of screening and vetting are conducted by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the FBI at the airport.  

6. Individuals are granted full parole and are sent to military bases for additional immigration processing, where they also have access to COVID-19 tests, vaccines, and additional medical care.  

Benefits:

Upon resettlement, parolees are not provided legal status or any of the federally funded benefits associated with refugee status. However, they are provided some basic benefits, including:   

  • Protection from deportation for two years (and opportunity to apply for re-parole) 
  • Access to work authorization 
  • Ability to continue SIV process or apply for asylum status from within the U.S.  
Population Resettled:

The U.S. reportedly plans to use parole to welcome up to 50,000 Afghans. 

It remains unclear how many of these 50,000 have already been evacuated, how many have been paroled in, and how many remain in third countries waiting to undergo security checks.  

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