Afghan nationals that are in danger for helping U.S. troops in that country could soon have an easier time escaping to America.
Amid reports of danger heading the way of Afghan citizens that aided U.S. troops, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Friday that would add 20,000 visas and lower obstacles for the Afghan nationals to come to the United States as it draws down troops in the region, The Hill reported Friday.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and would almost double the number of authorized visas in the Special Immigrant Program since 2014.
''The U.S. cannot renege on its commitment to the Afghans who’ve risked their lives to support U.S. efforts in Afghanistan,'' Shaheen said in a statement. ''The Special Immigrant Visa is a proven and well-vetted pathway to safety for these Afghans, but serious improvements are needed to uphold the integrity and improve the efficiency of the program. Increasing the number of authorized visas and removing cumbersome requirements that leave folks in limbo are essential to provide for those who’ve worked alongside our troops.''
The bill also makes the application process easier by reducing the employment requirement from two years to one, postpones a required medical exam for applicants and their families until they reach the United States, and removing a required statement regarding the threat the applicant faces, according to The Hill’s story.
The issue of Afghans that helped troops being in danger has already prompted top military officials to prepare a plan to get them out of the country as soon as President Joe Biden orders it, The Hill reported on May 29.
Lawmakers want a more definite plan.
''We are aware and appreciate that the National Security Council, the Department of Defense and the State Department are very rapidly planning to figure out how to best help these allies, but with only six to eight weeks left before potential full withdrawal, it's really time for action,'' Elizabeth Neumann, a former Homeland Security Department official in the Trump administration, said on a call with reporters this week.
According to officials, a complete withdrawal could come as soon as next month.
The Special Immigrant Visa program, lawmakers worry, takes too long as it currently is structured and could leave those Afghans vulnerable to retaliation in that country as they try and navigate the system to get to America.
According to the report, more than 18,000 Afghans are already awaiting a decision on their applications in the program, taking four years on average instead of the planned nine-month turnaround.
The House is also working on a version of the bill that would increase visas to 26,000 and would also waive the medical exam until the applicant reaches the U.S.
''While we may have differing opinions on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, we can all agree that it would be wrong to abandon the Afghan men and women who supported the US mission for nearly two decades — doing so would essentially hand them a death sentence,'' sponsor Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said in a statement on the House bill.
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