US to halt rapid humanitarian entry for Afghans

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Next month, the Biden administration will end the use of a humanitarian process known as parole to admit at-risk Afghans and instead focus on resettling selected Afghan evacuees who qualify for programs. immigration programs that offer permanent legal status, a senior US official said.

Starting Oct. 1, the United States will no longer allow Afghans to enter the country quickly under the authority of humanitarian parole, which bypasses the years-long visa or refugee process, in the absence of a “very small number of cases” that present “demanding circumstances,” the senior official said in a call with reporters.

The date will mark the start of a new phase in the Biden administration’s massive operation to evacuate and resettle Afghans following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021. Under the current phase, Dubbed Operation Allies Welcome, the United States resettled approximately 86,000 Afghans, 90 percent of whom were admitted through the parole process, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics.

But during the upcoming phase, dubbed Operation Enduring Welcome, the United States will resettle Afghans who fall into three categories: immediate family members of U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and evacuees resettled during the past year; those who qualify for a special immigrant visa because of their assistance to the American war effort; and applicants to the “most vulnerable” refugee program, the senior administration official said.

The goal behind phasing out the use of parole, the official added, is to ensure that future Afghan arrivals have a direct path to permanent legal status in the United States and do not need to undergo a further treatment in a government-run national housing facility. Although parole allows recipients to legally live and work in the United States, usually for two years, it does not grant them permanent residency.

“Going forward, Afghan newcomers will enter the United States with durable, long-term immigration status that will facilitate their ability to settle and integrate more quickly into their new communities, and they will also travel directly to their new destination community without the need for a stopover in a safe haven in the United States,” the administration official said.

Those eligible for the family class will be processed through the immigrant and refugee visa programs, which allow beneficiaries to obtain permanent residency, the official said. All applicants will still need to undergo visa processing in a third country since the United States does not have an embassy or consulate in Afghanistan.

“We don’t have a platform in Afghanistan yet,” the administration official said. “It’s hard to say when that would be possible again.”

The main overseas processing center for prospective Afghan arrivals will be at Camp As Sayliyah, a U.S. military base in Qatar where the Biden administration has tried to fast-track the refugee and special visa process, which usually takes years. The administration official said some Afghans were being processed in less than 30 days.

When Enduring Welcome begins next month, the United States will close the last shelter for Afghan evacuees. The site, a converted convention center in Virginia, is home to the latest group of Afghans who have been paroled in the United States after spending months in an apartment complex in the United Arab Emirates.

For months, several thousand Afghans, including families with young children, have been stuck in the apartment complex, known as Emirates Humanitarian City, with no guarantees of resettlement in the United States.

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council said the United States had resettled more than 10,000 Afghans from the humanitarian city in the Emirates and would continue to process evacuees eligible for visas or refugee status. refugee.

“The U.S. government, in partnership with the UAE government, is working with the international community to identify resettlement options outside of the United States for individuals who are ultimately deemed ineligible for U.S. resettlement, and those conversations are already producing results,” the spokesperson added.

While the Biden administration has sought to streamline asylum and visa processes for Afghans, including recently removing a step from the special visa program, admissions of refugees and visa holders from Afghanistan have remained slow and pale in comparison to the tens of thousands of people on parole in the United States

In the first 10 months of fiscal year 2022, which ends in late September, the United States received fewer than 6,000 special immigrant visa holders and 971 refugees from Afghanistan, according to State Department data. .

The decision to phase out the use of parole will ensure that future Afghan arrivals will not be stuck in the same legal limbo that tens of thousands of evacuees brought to the United States over the past year will find themselves in. unless they get asylum or Congress passes the Afghan Adjustment Act. , a bipartisan proposal that would allow them to apply for permanent residency.

“It’s a big deal because it creates a permanent pathway for these people. It gives Afghans who arrive here a permanent and more lasting sense of belonging. And they can start engaging in their communities and working faster.” , said Shawn VanDiver, President. of the AfghanEvac coalition, which works to evacuate and resettle Afghans at risk.

But the change in policy could also make US resettlement more difficult for Afghans who believe they could be harmed by the Taliban but who do not fall into the three categories of durable reception. Among them could be the tens of thousands of Afghans who have submitted applications for parole from places abroad.

Since July 2021, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has received nearly 50,000 applications for humanitarian parole from Afghans overseas. But the agency has ruled on fewer than 10,000 of those requests, denying 9,000, or 95% of them, according to USCIS statistics as of Aug. 17.

Asked if the policy change starting in October would affect pending parole applications for Afghans overseas, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said, “USCIS will continue to adjudicate on applications for humanitarian parole.”

The massive rejections of Afghan parole cases have alarmed refugee advocates, who have juxtaposed the high rejection rate with the rapid processing of tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have been paroled in the United States since the administration Biden launched a private sponsorship program in April for those fleeing the Russian invasion.

First published September 1, 2022 / 09:00

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