The head of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, admitted that out of the 60,000 afghan evacuees the United States evacuated from Afghanistan, only three percent have been approved for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV).
According to Mayorkas during a congressional hearing, approximately 7% out of the 60,000 evacuees are American citizens, 6% are lawful permanent residents, and only 3% are “in receipt of the special immigrant visas”. Mayorkas said, however, that within that remaining population (approximately 84% of the evacuees) there are individuals who had applied for a Special Immigrant Visa but whose application was still incomplete when the evacuation ended.
All of the Afghan refugees have been sent to third countries to await their security screening process before coming to the United States, where those who pass the security checks will be relocated across the country. Those Afghans that are neither SIV applicants nor have an SIV application will most surely be admitted into the country via an immigration tool called “humanitarian parole”.
A few weeks ago, Politico reported that government officials believed that a majority of SIV holders were left behind in Afghanistan. The latest statements by Mayorkas would certainly bring more questions about who did the U.S. actually managed to evacuate during its final chaotic days in Afghanistan, as the stories of Afghan allies who played a key role for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan (with one even saving Biden in 2008) left stranded in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan continue to trickle.
Afghan evacuees faced a broken system and a chaotic evacuation
Most of the Afghan translators and allies who have been relocated to the United States before 2021 have applied for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), a program aimed at giving a legal path to come to the United States to Afghans who were of help to the international forces and who were probably being targeted and persecuted by the Taliban.
The fear of Taliban retaliation to America’s Afghan allies is not an empty threat, with a story dated as recent as June reporting that Taliban fighters decapitated a former translator who was found in a checkpoint in the countryside of Afghanistan.
However, the SIV application process is a painstakingly slow process. According to the most recent quarterly report, published by the State Department in April, the U.S. government lasted a total average of 703 calendar days processing an SIV visa. To make matters even worst, during the second quarter of 2021 only 131 applicants had been scheduled for an interview at the Kabul Embassy, although those interviews were only to applicants who had their previous appointments canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to that same report, during the entire fiscal year of 2021 (up until March) only 2,035 SIV for afghans had been issued.
The evident backlog in the SIV system was evident for many lawmakers who warned the administration, earlier this year, that the lack of progress at issuing SIV Visas to Afghan allies was troubling. With Democratic Representative Seth Moulton (MA) blasting Biden by saying that “this administration does not seem to have a plan”.
Despite lawmakers warning the President of the imminent risk these allies were facing and the blistering offensives the Taliban were conducting after the announcement of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the President still maintained that the situation on the ground was not as bad, infamously saying that “it was highly unlikely” that the Taliban would overrun everything and take the entire country.
Even if Congress finally approved a bill aimed at strengthening the SIV process and providing relief for Afghan allies and translators, the legislation was only passed on July 30th, a few weeks before the stunning collapse of the Afghan government in August.
Once the evacuation started, even afghans who managed to either apply or get an SIV visa found it almost impossible to reach the airport and leave the country, as the airfield was surrounded by thousands of desperate afghans trying to flee their country and Taliban terrorists harassing the people who tried to get to the airport.
One of those who could not leave the country was Muhamad, a translator contacted by the Wall Street Journal, who rescued then-Senator Joe Biden when his helicopter made an emergency landing in the Afghan countryside who was not able to leave the country as U.S. officials told him that he would have to leave his family behind if he wanted to come to the United States.