U.S. to streamline application process for Afghan special immigrant visas

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U.S. officials on Monday announced a change to the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process for Afghans in which applicants will only need to fill out a single form so that applications can go through a single government agency, said senior officials to journalists.

Starting July 20, new applicants – some in the SIV pipeline – will no longer need to submit a separate petition to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for special immigrant status, meaning the entire process is now overseen by the State Department.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a joint statement, “This new streamlined process, part of our ongoing efforts to make the program more efficient, will help break down barriers for applicants and reduce application times.

After nearly 20 years of war, the United States and its allies left Afghanistan in August 2021, helping to evacuate more than 130,000 Afghans in the past chaotic weeks in Kabul.

Many of these Afghans were hoping for a life in the United States card, also called a green card.

On a call with reporters, Biden administration officials said the changes could cut processing times “by about a month.”

“We anticipate that, at a minimum, this process change will reduce the decision time by about a month, but more importantly, I think, will alleviate a significant administrative burden for the visa applicant. Thus, the process in the United States government side can be alleviated by a month or potentially more. … It will also be much easier for candidates,” a senior government official said.

The call took place in the background, and Biden officials asked to attribute answers to senior administration officials. Representatives from the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services answered questions from members of the media.

Biden officials said there are 74,274 candidates in the SIV pipeline, excluding spouses and children. Of these, 10,096 lead applicants have already received Head of Mission approval – a crucial milestone in the SIV application. Including family members of those who received this approval, a senior government official said they estimate between 45,000 and 50,000 beneficiaries of the SIV.

SIV applications typically go through a lengthy 14-step application process, which requires specific criteria to be met. The process, including decision-making and approval, takes an average of three years. The applicant must receive the visa before entering the United States.

On the call, Biden officials said that while all new Afghan SIV applicants — and most applicants already in process — are no longer required to submit a separate 19-page form to USCIS , the “essential” is that the United States will. still need all the necessary and required information to process someone’s SIV request.

“But it will be one form instead of two, and I think the new revised form that will be submitted to the State Department, although it still has all the essential information, I think it’s a shorter form to fill,” said a senior official.

Various US agencies have been involved in determining the type of information an applicant must submit in the new form.

“There were a lot of layoffs in the previous process that will be eliminated here,” a senior official said on the call.

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