Senate Bill Would Help Bring Afghan Interpreters to the U.S.
A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill last week that would improve the special immigrant visa (SIV) program for Afghan interpreters who assisted U.S. troops. With the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan dwindling by the day, many politicians are recognizing the need to get interpreters out of the country quickly.
Interpreters put themselves at great risk to assist American troops. The U.S. government established the SIV program in 2009 to reward interpreters for this “faithful and valuable service.” But due to stringent qualifications, a massive application backlog, and administrative errors, many interpreters have found it nearly impossible to access the visas supposedly afforded to them. The average application processing period is now almost three years long.
Lawmakers hope to change that as U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan, which is scheduled to be finished by September 11. If passed, the bill would allocate an additional 20,000 visas. That’s a significant increase—26,500 SIVs have been allocated since December 2014. The new bill would also change certain eligibility requirements. While interpreters are currently only eligible for SIVs if they served U.S. forces for at least two years, that qualification would be reduced to one year. It would also broaden eligibility to some spouses and dependents of applicants who have been killed.
Though officials stress the importance of quick action, it will take time for the bill to be put to a vote, let alone reach President Joe Biden’s desk. Meanwhile, conditions on the ground are making the situation worse. Beginning June 13, the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan suspended visa operations due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases. Calls for alternative means of processing interpreters—including a massive evacuation to Guam, humanitarian par
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