Advocates fear special US visas for Afghans could run out despite dangers

As the United States withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in 2021, millions of Afghans faced the prospect of life once more under Taliban rule.

For thousands among them, the danger was particularly acute: They had worked with the departing Americans and could be subject to Taliban reprisals as a result.

But a long-running US programme offered the possibility of life abroad: Translators, contractors and other Afghan employees with direct ties to the US military were eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV.

Now, less than three years later, advocates fear this narrow immigration pathway — a cornerstone of Washington’s relief efforts — could quietly fall victim to deadlock in the US Congress.

The legislature must pass a set of budget appropriations bills before March 22 in order to avert a government shutdown. But critics fear the package will pass without authorisation for more Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans, leaving them with even fewer options to escape the threats they may face.

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of legislators sent a letter (PDF) to top Senate leaders urging them to include the provision for Special Immigrant Visas in the final version of the appropriations bills.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, one of the letter’s signatories, told Al Jazeera in a statement that Afghans connected to the US military remain “at grave risk, as the Taliban continue to hunt for them”.

“For two decades, the US military mission in Afghanistan relied on trusted Afghan allies who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops,” said Shaheen. “We promised to protect them — just as they did for us.”

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