The Biden administration announced plans Monday to streamline the application process for Afghan allies who assisted the U.S. war effort and who are seeking a special visa to live in the U.S., eliminating one of the forms that used to be required.
Afghans now only need to file their form with the State Department, rather than fill out a second form for Homeland Security, the two departments said.
That could cut weeks out of the current processing time, which stood at roughly two years according to the latest data.
“This new streamlined process, which is part of our ongoing efforts to make the program more efficient, will help to eliminate barriers for applicants and reduce application times,” the two departments said. “This change does not reduce or remove any of the robust security vetting processes required before the benefit is granted.”
The treatment of Afghan allies has been a black eye for the Biden administration, which a year ago promised a surge of resources to get them out of Afghanistan as the Taliban moved to take over that country’s government.
Instead, analysts say the chaotic airlift last summer brought out much of Kabul’s middle class, who had little connection to the U.S. war effort, and left thousands of authentic allies stranded.
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The allies are eligible for what’s known as the Special Immigrant Visa which is available to those who served alongside U.S. troops for a length of time, working as guides, translators or other support staff, and whose lives are in danger because of it.
SIVs are available to those outside the country. Those who already made it to the U.S. have other avenues of protection, such as claims of asylum.
The difficulty in getting an SIV is that it requires an in-person interview, and the State Department no longer has a presence in Afghanistan.
SIV hopefuls who have been stranded in the country say they’ve been told to try to make it to a neighboring nation like Pakistan for an interview. Afghans say crossing borders is fraught with peril under the Taliban and finding a way to make ends meet while waiting in a foreign country is tricky.
The current total processing time for an SIV is 734 days, according to the latest State Department data dating back to the start of this year.
Homeland Security’s filing and processing account for 33 of those days, according to the data.