More than 122,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan, each with a different legal status and set of needs as they arrive in the United States.
Some are US citizens, others are Afghan interpreters who assisted US troops and were granted a special visa as a result, and still others are refugees fleeing for their lives.
The focus is shifting to those arriving in the United States and what assistance will be provided to those who were left with few to no belongings following a frantic evacuation effort.
Some are US citizens or have green cards. Others, on the other hand, have been granted visas or other forms of humanitarian assistance. The most notable exception is the special immigrant visa, or SIV, which is intended to provide a path to the United States for Afghans who have been employed by or worked for the US government.
SIV applicants must go through a lengthy multi-step process to apply for visas to the United States. Due to a massive backlog, the process, which also includes extensive vetting, can take months, if not years.
The Biden administration announced in early August that it would also expand access to the refugee program for Afghans who do not qualify for SIVs. These Afghans, including those who worked for US-based media companies or non-governmental organizations, are now eligible for “Priority 2” or “P2” status, which grants access to the program to “groups of special concern designated by the Department of State as having access to the program by virtue of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement.” Under the US Refugee Admissions Program, there was also a “Priority 1” designation.
Then there are those who do not have visas. In order to accommodate them, US Customs and Border Protection, the agency in charge of screening arriving Afghans, has granted parole on a case-by-case basis. According to refugee advocates, Afghans paroled into the US could be interpreters who worked alongside US troops and are still going through the special immigrant visa process, or people who could’ve come in through the traditional refugee resettlement program if not for the emergency nature of the evacuation and the lengthy time it takes to get approvals.
The US is relying on third countries, such as Kuwait and Qatar, as a temporary stop before Afghans fly to the US, and is housing evacuees at a series of military bases in the US while they are processed.
The Pentagon has said those bases will include Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia; Fort Pickett, Virginia; Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; Fort Lee, Virginia; Fort Bliss, Texas; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; and Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.
According to US NORTHCOM commander Gen. Glen VanHerck, US military installations housing Afghan refugees are providing culturally appropriate halal meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and most locations have or will have culturally appropriate 24-hour “grab and go” food available as well.
Refugees and special immigrant visa holders have access to a variety of short and long-term services to help them get back on their feet, including assistance with housing and employment as well as cash and medical assistance.
However, while parole provides some relief, it does not allow refugees to access services, raising concerns among refugee advocates who argue that a lack of resources could leave thousands of Afghans in the United States vulnerable in the coming months.
According to the document, the State Department issued a funding opportunity last Monday for a so-called Afghan Parolee Support Program, which would provide relocation support services for 30 to 90 days after arrival. This could include, for example, assisting in the acquisition of housing. According to the document, groups that reach an agreement with the federal government will receive $2,275 for each Afghan parolee they serve.
Behind the scenes, refugee organizations are pleading with the administration and Congress to provide additional services to those who do not qualify for refugee status. In mid-August, President Joe Biden authorized the use of additional funds from the United States Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund, not to exceed $500 million, to meet unexpected and urgent needs of people at risk as a result of the situation in Afghanistan.
However, Congress would need to make Afghan parolees eligible for long-term services, such as public benefits, that are provided to refugees, as well as authorize the funds to provide those resources. Otherwise, refugee organizations are constrained in what they can offer.