With all that is going on now in Afghanistan and the U.S Armed forces have withdrawn there is a lot of talk about increasing the number of SI Visa for those foreign Afghan Nationals who worked for the U.S government. I
What is a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV)?
What is SIV's?
SIV's is a special class of visa that is available to individuals who have worked as translators, interpreters, journalists, and other key personnel including professionals who were employed by or on behalf of the United States Government in Afghanistan or Iraq or under Chief of Mission (COM) authority at U.S. Embassy Baghdad or U.S. Embassy Kabul. The folks who are eligible for these visas and their dependents can apply through one of two SIV programs. This is a special immigrant category that was designed to benefit or allies by providing a direct pathway to a green card.
2 Afghanistan SIV Programs
There are two SIV programs available to these folks in Afghanistan.
- SI Visa category is designed specifically for translators or interpreters who worked directly with the U.S Military forces.
- SQ Visa category is available to any other Afghan National who was employed by or on behalf of the United States government in the region.
Both of these SIV programs were created by Congress and are managed by the U.S State of Department.
There is a set number of SIV's available to people in Afghanistan that is determined by a Congressional statute. For the SI visa category, Section 1059 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) only allots 50 visa's annually for “SI” translators/interpreters. For the SQ visa category, amendments are made regularly by Congress to Section 602(b) of the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009 which increased the number of visas by 4,000. This number of SIV is now totally 26,500 visas as per The Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2021. In June 2021, House passes bill to expand and accelerate visa process for Afghans who helped Americans have increased by an additional 8,000. This is coming on the heels of the HOPE for Afghan SIV Act, passed by the House last month, which focuses on clearing medical examination requirements. Both the SI and SQ visa categories have similar requirements for eligibility and an extensive application process, which are described below.
Only Nationals of Afghans are eligible to apply who has the following requirements:
- A person who has worked directly with the U.S Armed Forces or under Chief of Mission (COM) authority as a translator or interpreter for a period of at least 12 months (SI category), or
- A person who has been an employee of the U.S government or Internation Security Assitance Force (ISAF) for at least 2 years between 2001 and 2021 (SQ category).
This is in addition to the candidate who must obtain a favorable written recommendation from a General or Flag Officer in the chain of command of the U.S Armed Forces unit that was supported by the individual or from the COM at the U.S Embassy in Kabul.
Approximately 16,000 and 18,000 individuals along with 45,000 immediate family members from Afghanistan have received SIVs since 2009 when these programs were originally created.
What and how long is the Process?
In 2013, an amendment to the Afghan Allies Protection Act required that the Department of State's review of an SIV application be completed within 9 months, from the time of submission to the final notice of approval. However, the timing of how long the process has taken has varied over time. It is believed that in some instances it can take an average of 658 days while others have stated that it can take up to 996 days to process an SIV application. If you add the time an individual who is applying, including collecting the required documents, filling out the application, and visa interviews, it can take anywhere between 2.5 years to 3.5 years for the process to complete. With the new Bills in place, the hope is to reduce the amount of time it takes to process the visa applications.
There is a lot of paperwork involved in collecting the documentation and this can be divided into 3 sections:
- Initial Petition Documents
- Collecting Additional Family Records
- Scheduling a Visa Interview
In the case of the SQ Visa category, there is an additional step involved which is applying for Chief of Mission approval with the Department of State. Once that is complete, it will follow similar steps as the SI visa category.
Required SIV Packet of Initial Petition to the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will include:
- Form I-360
- Copy of Applicant's passport
- Proof of his or her work as a translator or employee.
- Proof of screening and background checks by U.S Armed Forces or the COM
- A letter of recommendation giving approval from the COM or his or her designee at the embassy, or a General or Flag Officer in the chain of command of the Armed Forces unit aided by the applicant.
Once the packet has been submitted to the USCIS, the applicant will communicate via email with the National Visa Center (NVC) to deliver additional family records. These will include:
- Copies of the biographical information pages from the passports of the applicants and family members who will be covered by the SIV
- Copies of birth certificates and marriage certificates.
- Official forms like DS-260
- If any required documents are not in English, the applicant will need to include a certified English translation of those documents.
The NVC will notify the applicant once USCIS has approved the initial petition and help the applicant schedule a visa interview. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has suspended operations on August 31, 2021. Consular services, including visa services, remain available outside Afghanistan. Once the NVC has notified the applicant, the applicant can determine which closeby country he may wish to schedule an interview with. If for some reason, the applicant needs to change host country for the interview. The applicant may request their case to be transferred to another immigrant visa-issuing post. To request a case transfer, the applicant will need to contact the post where the applicant's case is currently scheduled for an interview. The U.S. government will do its best to contact the beneficiary with further instructions and is trying its best to assist individuals residing in Afghanistan to depart the country if USCIS has conditionally approved their application for humanitarian parole. Circumstances on the ground are changing rapidly and even this can change. Parole beneficiaries may experience delays in processing their cases and may need to arrange travel to a U.S. embassy outside of Afghanistan to continue processing their parole request.
As the application process is quite lengthy in nature, it could be a while before the interview is scheduled. WIth Covid-19 precautions and the suspension of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has made the wait times longer since early 2020. It has delayed or even in some cases stopped in-person visa proceedings.
The interviews at the Embassy of your choosing are conducted in English and the applicants and their accompanying family members are fingerprinted. All family members will need to be present along with all the original records that were submitted to NVC along with recent photographs for identification purposes. The SIV applicant will also need to provide written descriptions of their qualifying positions for the U.S government. If they are still employed in qualifying positions at the time of the interview, the applicant should be ready to give a written statement of his or her intent to resign and emigrate upon visa approval.
Applicants sometimes receive their SIV on the day of their interviews but in some cases, it can take longer. Some SI visas can take additional time for administrative processing after the interview. If any issues arise out of the visa application, the consular's office will communicate to the applicant. If and when the SIV is finally approved and granted, the applicant will receive a packet that he will need to bring to the U.S to present to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when the applicant arrives. The SIV recipient's official Green Cards are mailed to them after they are in the United States.