KABUL – An estimated 840,000 Afghan nationals who supported the U.S. war effort and have applied for special U.S. visas as part of a State Department resettlement program are still awaiting their visas within Afghanistan. This revelation comes from a State Department inspector general report released on Thursday.
The report highlights that more than 840,000 Afghans have applied for the special visa program created in 2009 to aid those who assisted U.S. forces during the war against the Taliban and faced significant risks. However, it is anticipated that only around half of these applicants will ultimately receive the necessary documents.
It’s worth noting that the number of program applicants has surged from less than 30,000 in October 2021 to a staggering 155,000 by December 2022. This surge follows the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, marking the end of a two-decade-long mission initiated in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The report reveals that between January 2021 and August 1, approximately 34,000 visas were issued for program applicants and their family members. Despite efforts to manage the increased volume of applications, there have been challenges, including frequent turnover in a key position overseeing the visa program’s processing.
The State Department has extended the program through the end of 2024 and implemented measures to streamline the application process. Additionally, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, passed in December 2022, allocates an additional 4,000 visas for principal Afghan applicants.
This program is open to Afghans who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. for at least one year between October 7, 2001, and December 31, 2023, and have demonstrated “faithful and valuable service to the U.S. government” while facing threats due to their employment.
Advocates emphasize the urgency of processing these applications promptly, as the lives of these Afghan allies remain in extreme peril. According to reports, the average processing time for an application in this program is 628 days.