Report reveals dilemma of 840,000 Afghans awaiting resettlement assistance in US

WASHINGTON: A recent report by the State Department’s inspector general has shed light on the plight of over 840,000 Afghans who have applied for a resettlement program aimed at assisting those who supported the US war effort in Afghanistan.

This revelation underscores the challenges and complexities of a program intended to provide refuge for America’s allies in the war-torn nation, even as the Taliban regained control following the US withdrawal two years ago.

The special immigrant visa program, initiated in 2009, was designed to aid Afghans who worked closely with American forces, often at great personal risk. A similar program exists for Iraqis. However, both programs have faced criticism for their sluggish processing, leaving applicants in a perilous state of uncertainty.

The situation has become more dire since the US left Afghanistan, with a staggering increase in visa applications. In October 2021, there were fewer than 30,000 applicants. By December 2022, this number had surged to approximately 155,000, excluding family members who can resettle with approved applicants.

As of April this year, the State Department estimates that over 840,000 applicants for the special visa program and their family members are still in Afghanistan, awaiting assistance. Notably, only around 50 percent of applicants qualify after the initial review.

Since President Biden took office in January 2021, the State Department has issued nearly 34,000 visas for applicants and their families, marking a significant increase compared to previous years.

Efforts to improve the program have included hiring additional staff, collaborating with the Pentagon to verify applicants’ employment, and streamlining certain application requirements.

However, the inspector general’s report suggests that more can be done. It highlights issues related to frequent turnover and vacancies in key positions overseeing the special immigrant visa process, emphasizing the need for continuity and efficient management.

The report underscores the urgency of addressing these challenges to fulfill the United States’ commitment to its Afghan allies and expedite the resettlement process for those who stood by American forces during the two-decade-long conflict.

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