US expands refugee aid program for Afghans following rise in Taliban violence

The U.S. will expand eligibility for Afghans seeking admission to the U.S. as refugees, the State Department said, citing increasing levels of Taliban violence amid the U.S. troop withdrawal.

Afghans who worked as employees of U.S. government contractors, for U.S.-funded programs, or U.S.-based media or nongovernmental organizations will be eligible for a priority designation to apply to a U.S. refugee program for the opportunity to permanently resettle in the U.S., the State Department said Monday. Their spouses and children will also be eligible.

“The U.S. objective remains a peaceful, secure Afghanistan,” the department said.

The new designation will enable thousands of Afghans who previously didn’t meet the criteria for an existing refugee program to apply for refugee status. The existing Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program established in 2009 only considered Afghans that worked directly for the U.S. government.

The decision comes as the Biden administration has come under significant bipartisan pressure to do more to help Afghans that helped the U.S. during the war.

The designation gives the eligible Afghans priority to be considered for refugee status. Even with the expanded criteria, Afghans face numerous logistical and financial hurdles applying for visas.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has decreased operations periodically due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many Afghans needing to travel to the capital from across the country risk clashes between government and Taliban forces, roadside bombs and crime. Some will need help filling out forms and may not have the resources to pay for translation or legal assistance.

Last week, the first plane carrying more than 200 Afghan interpreters and their families immigrating under the SIV program arrived in the U.S.

As many as 20,000 SIV visa applications remain in the process, according to the latest State Department quarterly report.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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