U.S. to accept thousands more Afghan refugees ahead of military pullout
U.S. expands program for Afghans who worked with groups getting U.S. funds
U.S. President Joe Biden's administration is expanding efforts to get at-risk Afghan citizens out of Afghanistan as Taliban violence increases ahead of the U.S. military pullout at the end of this month.
The move comes on the heels of Ottawa's promise to resettle more Afghan interpreters and other workers who helped the Canadian Armed Forces during the war and are now in danger of being killed by a resurgent Taliban.
On Monday, the State Department said it is widening the scope of Afghans eligible for refugee status in the United States to include current and former employees of U.S.-based news organizations, U.S.-based aid and development agencies and other relief groups that receive funding from Washington.
Also covered under the plan are current and former U.S. government employees and the NATO military operation who don't meet the criteria for a dedicated program for such workers.
Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino and cabinet colleagues announced July 23 the launch of a new resettlement program for interpreters who worked with the Armed Forces, cooks, drivers, cleaners, construction workers, security guards and locally engaged staff employed at the Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan, as well as their families.
During the war, Afghan interpreters helped Canadian troops connect with local leaders, translate conversations and build trust on the ground.
U.S. objective a 'peaceful' Afghanistan
In the U.S., the State Department said "many thousands" of Afghans and their immediate families will now have the opportunity to be permanently resettled as refugees. It did not give a specific number of those who might be eligible for the program.
However, the move comes with a major caveat that may severely limit the number of people who can benefit: Applicants must leave Afghanistan to begin the adjudication process, which could take 12 to 14 months in a third country, and the U.S. does not intend to support their departures or stays there.
"The U.S. objective remains a peaceful, secure Afghanistan," the department said in a statement. "However, in light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the U.S. government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States."
The creation of a Priority 2 category for Afghans within the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is intended to help those who "may be at risk due to their U.S. affiliation" but aren't able to get a Special Immigrant Visa because they did not work directly for the U.S. government or hold government jobs long enough.
Roughly 20,000 Afghans have expressed interest in the program.
With files from CBC News