More visas for Afghans who helped US included in new spending bill
A provision to provide 4,000 more visas for Afghans who worked with the United States was included in a massive government spending bill unveiled on Monday, along with an extension of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program until 2024.
SIVs are available to many Afghans who aided US forces as interpreters and translators, as well as in other roles, and who fear reprisals by the Taliban, the Islamist militant group that swiftly seized the country when US forces withdrew in August 2021.
But while thousands have come to the United States under the program, many thousands more remain in the country, delayed by a complicated vetting process that can move at a snail's pace. Advocates estimate there could be 60,000 left who worked with Americans during the 20-year occupation.
The program's inclusion in the omnibus means it will not expire next year, which was a risk after it was not extended in the annual National Defense Authorization Act passed this month.
Backers of the SIV program have pushed for its expansion for years, despite stiff opposition from opponents who insist an influx of Afghans could pose a security threat.
"This is about upholding the vow we made to the brave individuals who risked their lives and the safety of their families for the US mission," Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a leader of the fight for the provision, said in a statement.
Another bill that would have let Afghans apply for permanent residence in the United States, the Afghan Adjustment Act, was not included in the omnibus. More than 70,000 were admitted to the United States after the US withdrawal from their country, but only under "humanitarian parole," which means they must apply for asylum or risk deportation when their temporary status expires next year.