Congress recently extended and reformed the Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs. Here’s an update on what reforms were made and what more needs to be done to ensure that all those whose lives are danger because of their association with U.S. missions can live out their lives in safety.
On December 19, 2013, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, or H.R. 3304), which included reforms for both the Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs. This legislation includes a critical 9-month extension of the Iraqi SIV program and improvements to the effectiveness of both the Iraqi and Afghan programs.
Under this legislation, the State Department can continue to process and issue visas for Iraqis until the 2,500-visa threshold is reached. Some of the essential reforms to both programs include greater transparency, authorization for applicants to have legal counsel present during their interviews, appointment of senior embassy staff to oversee the reform process, and a requirement for all applications to be completed within nine months, with an exception for national security concerns.
In a previous post on these programs, we highlighted the story of Janis Shenwary, an Afghan man who risked his life by working as a translator for U.S. troops and recently received an Afghan SIV. People like Janis who welcomed us in their home countries and whose own lives and the lives of their families are in danger as a result of their service deserve a lifeline to seek safety and start new lives here.
More must be done to ensure that all those whose lives are now at risk because of their association to U.S. missions have a way to seek safety for themselves and their families. While Congress extended the deadline for the Iraqi SIV program to expire at the same time as the Afghan SIV program, it did it not expand the visa program to include vulnerable Iraqis and Afghans who served as translators for U.S. media and nonprofit groups. However, LIRS applauds this action to stand for welcome for those who welcomed us in their home countries and looks forward to continuing improving protections like these for vulnerable migrants seeking safety.