U.S. expands refugee program for Afghans as Taliban escalates violence


People stand in a queue to submit their passport applications at an office in Kabul on July 25, 2021.

Sajjad Hussain | AFP | Getty Images

The Biden administration announced Monday that it will expand refugee eligibility for Afghans as the United States withdraws troops and the Taliban escalates violence in the war-torn country. 

Afghans who do not qualify for the existing special immigrant visa program but are at risk due to their U.S. affiliation will be able to apply to the U.S. refugee program to under a new “Priority 2” designation, the State Department said in a statement Monday.

The designation will allow thousands of other Afghans to permanently resettle in the U.S.

This includes Afghans who are current or former employees of U.S. government-funded programs, U.S.-based media organizations and U.S.-based NGOs in Afghanistan. Their spouses and children will also be eligible for the refugee program, the statement said.

Afghans who worked for U.S. and NATO military operations but do not meet the minimum time-in-service requirement for a special immigrant visa, or SIV, will also be able to apply. 

“The U.S. objective remains a peaceful, secure Afghanistan,” the State Department said in the statement. “However, in light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the U.S. government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to deliver remarks on the new designation Monday afternoon. 

The announcement comes as U.S. and coalition forces approach the end of their withdrawal from Afghanistan, and as Taliban fighters continue to seize more territory in the country at the risk of Afghan civilians. Thousands of Afghans and their families who aided the U.S. fear for their lives as they may face retribution from the Taliban. 

The Priority 2 designation allows “groups of special concern” designated by the State Department to have access to the U.S. refugee program, according to the statement. To qualify for the designation, Afghans must be nominated by a U.S. government agency. 

Afghans who are not eligible for the Priority 2 designation can be nominated for a “Priority 1” designation that deals with individual cases for resettlement under the refugee program, the statement said. They must be nominated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a U.S. Embassy or a designated NGO. 

A limited group of Afghans have been eligible for resettlement under the existing SIV program first established in 2009, which only considers Afghans who worked directly for the U.S. government and NATO coalition forces. 

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