More than 12k Afghans waiting for U.S. visas

More than 12,000 applications for U.S. visas have been filed, the U.S. State Department estimates. However, there are only 2,500 visas left to be issued.

Since 2009, the war in Afghanistan has been a ticket into the land of opportunity for thousands of Afghans who have agreed to work for the U.S.

The U.S. State Department estimates there are about 12,600 applications with pending petitions and only about 2,500 visas left to be issued.

That means the U.S. could be breaking more than 10,000 promises because of red tape and Washington bureaucracy.

Mohammad Sabir immigrated to Southwest Houston after serving as a translator on the front lines of the Helmand Province for five years.

“My family was very poor so I had to support them because my father passed away,” said Sabir.

Between 2009 and 2014, the United States has employed thousands of people like Sabir overseas, and has promised a stable job and a visa into the U.S.

“I was scared like someone’s going to shoot a rocket or RPG through the truck so I was scared,” recalled Sabir. 

Sabir’s commanding officer, Captain Shay Finley, confirmed Sabir’s service to the United States.

“Absolutely trustworthy. I mean, I would definitely let him carry a weapon in combat,” said Finley. “I mean, he saw combat with us every day.”

In July, an amendment was left out of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have extended the Special Immigrant Visa program through 2017. It also would have authorized 4,000 new visas for Afghans, who like Sabir, supported U.S. service members in Afghanistan.

Last week, New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D), called on military leadership and diplomats to urge Congress to approve additional visas.

Among those testifying, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley, advocated adding more Special Immigrant Visas.

“There are men and women, American men and women in uniform that are alive today because a lot of those Afghans put their life on the line - for their own country sure - but with us,” said General Milley.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the additional 4,000 visas would cost $446 million over the next 10 years.

The cost worries fiscal conservatives, who said it is not clear more visas are needed when so many haven’t been used.

The programs' critics also said allowing many Afghans to exit the country will drain Afghanistan of much needed talent.

Sabir says, if the U.S. doesn’t get former interpreters and Afghan aides out of the country, they will be hunted by the Taliban.

“That’s very important for the U.S government to get them over here so otherwise their life is unsafe,” said Sabir.

It’s not too late for Congress to approve additional visas. Last-minute maneuvers like adding visas on a separate piece of legislation are still a possibility.

Ultimately, the SIV program needs support in Washington. To get involved you can write your local senator and representative.


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