According to a senior US official, the Biden administration will stop using a humanitarian process known as parole to admit at-risk Afghans next month and will instead focus on resettling certain Afghan evacuees who qualify for immigration programs that provide permanent legal status.
Starting Oct. 1, the United States will no longer allow Afghans to enter the country under humanitarian parole authority, which bypasses the years-long visa or refugee process, unless a “very small number of cases” present “exigent circumstances,” according to a senior official during a conference call with reporters.
The date marks the beginning of a new phase in the Biden administration’s massive operation to evacuate and resettle Afghans after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021. According to Department of Homeland Security statistics, the United States has resettled approximately 86,000 Afghans during the current phase, dubbed Operation Allies Welcome.
However, during the upcoming phase, dubbed Operation Enduring Welcome, the United States will only resettle Afghans who fall into three categories: immediate family members of U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and evacuees resettled in the previous year; those who qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa due to their assistance to the United States’ war effort; and the “most vulnerable” refugee program applicants, according to a senior administration official.
The goal of eliminating the use of parole, according to the official, is to ensure that future Afghan arrivals have a direct path to permanent legal status in the United States without having to go through additional processing at a domestic government-operated housing facility. While parole allows beneficiaries to legally live and work in the United States for a period of two years, it does not grant them permanent residency.
Those who qualify for family reunification will be processed through the immigrant visa and refugee programs, which allow beneficiaries to gain permanent residency, according to the official. Because the United States does not have an embassy or consulate in Afghanistan, all applicants will still need to go through visa processing in a third country.
The main overseas processing hub for future Afghan arrivals will be at Camp As Sayliyah, a US Army base in Qatar where the Biden administration has been attempting to speed up the refugee and special visa processes, which typically take years. According to an administration official, some Afghans are being processed in less than 30 days.
When Enduring Welcome begins next month, the United States will close the last domestic Afghan evacuee facility. The location, a repurposed convention center in Virginia, is housing the final group of Afghans who were paroled into the United States after spending months in an apartment complex in the United Arab Emirates.
Several thousand Afghans, including families with young children, have been stranded in the apartment complex known as the Emirates Humanitarian City for months, with no guarantee of resettlement in the United States.
According to a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, the US has resettled over 10,000 Afghans from the Emirates Humanitarian City and will continue to process evacuees who are eligible for a visa or refugee status.
While the Biden administration has attempted to streamline the refugee and visa processes for Afghans, including recently removing one step from the special visa program, admissions of Afghan refugees and visa holders have remained slow and pale in comparison to the tens of thousands paroled into the United States.
According to State Department data, the United States received fewer than 6,000 special immigrant visa holders and 971 refugees from Afghanistan during the first ten months of fiscal year 2022, which ends at the end of September.
The decision to phase out the use of parole will ensure that future Afghan arrivals are not trapped in the same legal limbo that tens of thousands of evacuees brought to the United States over the last year have been, unless they win asylum or Congress passes the Afghan Adjustment Act, a bipartisan proposal that would allow them to apply for permanent residency.
However, the policy change will most likely make US resettlement more difficult for Afghans who believe they will be harmed by the Taliban but do not fall into one of the three Enduring Welcome categories. Among them could be the tens of thousands of Afghans who have applied for parole from abroad.