Summary: Three programs exist for immigration to the United States of Iraqis and Afghans who worked with U.S. forces:
- Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for Iraqi and Afghan Translators/Interpreters, or the Translators program, for short (remains active for both countries);
- Special Immigrant Visas program for Iraqi and Afghan nationals who were employed by/on behalf of the U.S. government, or the Allies program (which was discontinued for Iraqis, but continues for Afghans); and
- Direct Access P-2 Program under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (P-2 for short) for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis and Afghans who are not eligible for an SIV.
The P-2 program for Iraqis was suspended earlier this year because of widespread fraud, raising doubts about the integrity of this program for Afghans (who were only recently designated for P-2 admissions) weeks before the collapse of the U.S.-backed Kabul government.
News about cases of fraud within the Iraqi refugee program was reported by Reuters in June.1 According to the news outlet, U.S. authorities are investigating some 4,000 Iraqis suspected of filing fraudulent applications for refugee resettlement in the United States and are re-assessing cases involving more than 104,000 others. Over 500 Iraqis already admitted as refugees could be deported or stripped of their U.S citizenship. This probe described by Reuters as “one of the biggest into refugee program fraud in recent history” is raising doubts about giving similar access to the United States to Afghan nationals in the wake of the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
Thousands of Iraqi and Afghan nationals who worked as translators or interpreters or who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan were admitted into the United States under the “Special Immigrant Visas” (SIV) program. In response to concerns about the dangers Iraqis and Afghans who assisted the U.S. government faced in their own countries, a series of legislative provisions enacted by Congress since 2006 allowed Iraqi and Afghan nationals to come to the United States with an SIV and become U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPRs, more commonly known as green card holders). Iraqi and Afghan “special immigrants” are eligible “for the same resettlement assistance and federal public benefits as refugees”.2
There are two special immigrant classifications for nationals of Iraq and Afghanistan. One is for individuals who worked as translators or interpreters for the U.S. military or under chief of mission authority (i.e., directly for the embassy), and the other for those employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq or in Afghanistan.
The “Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) program for Iraqi nationals who were employed by/on behalf of the U.S. government”3 stopped accepting applications as of September 30, 2014, while the “Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan nationals who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government”4 continues to offer protection to Afghan allies. The “Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqi and Afghan Translators/Interpreters” remain active.5
With the termination of the SIV Allies program for Iraqi nationals, those (other than translators/interpreters) who face security threats because of their direct or indirect collaboration with the U.S. government could still, until recently, use the Direct Access Program (or P-2 category) available under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for an opportunity to resettle in the United States. This Direct Access Program was suspended indefinitely at the beginning of 2021.6
U.S. officials announced in January the 90-day suspension of the Direct Access Program for U.S.-Affiliated Iraqis to address fraud vulnerabilities:
As the result of a joint investigation by the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, the Department of Justice is prosecuting individuals for stealing U.S. government records from the Department of State’s Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System to take advantage of the Direct Access Program for U.S.-Affiliated Iraqis. This scheme specifically targeted applications for direct access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program made possible by the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007.7
According to Reuters, the suspension, which “followed the unsealing of an indictment accusing three foreign nationals of fraud, records theft and money laundering”, was extended indefinitely in April by the State Department.8 Despite this suspension and the ongoing fraud investigation, similar protection access was recently offered to Afghan nationals.
The Department of State announced on August 2 a Priority 2 designation granting U.S. Refugee Admissions Program access for certain Afghan nationals and their family members (spouse and children of any age, whether married or unmarried) who could face risks following the withdrawal of U.S. troops but who are not eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa.9
This report offers an overview of the Special Immigrant Visa programs available to Iraqi and Afghan nationals who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government (the Allies program, distinct from the SIV program for translators); and the “Direct Access Program-P-2 Category” under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for U.S.-Affiliated Iraqis and recently added Afghans. It calculates the number of Iraqi admissions under the SIV and the Refugee Resettlement Programs. It describes fraud vulnerabilities in the UN refugee agency and other Resettlement Support Centers the U.S. State Department relies on for processing and screening purposes of potential refugees. It elaborates on President Biden’s order of a complete review of the Allies SIV program to implement anti-fraud measures and ensure program integrity; and it also looks at identifying whether additional populations (not just Iraqis and Afghans) should be covered under this program and evaluates whether to seek legislation to create SIV programs regardless of nationality. It considers, as well, ways to ease application requirements and expedite procedures. The review report is supposed to be released this month, hence this final commentary: Why not wait for the report’s recommendations before applying a similar protection to U.S.-Affiliated Afghan nationals as U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan?
Findings. A number of the report’s important takeaways are highlighted here:
- The Allies SIV program for Iraqis was terminated, while the Afghan program continues to accept new applications.
- The P-2 Program for Iraqis has been suspended indefinitely by the Biden administration to address fraud vulnerabilities.
- Fraud is not uncommon within the refugee resettlement program. In fact, resettlement is a “target for abuse” by the UN refugee agency’s own admission, and resettlement places are “valuable commodities, particularly in countries with acute poverty”.
- The Department of State recently announced a P-2 program for certain Afghan nationals and their family members.
- Some 100,000 Iraqis admitted under the P-2 program are being reassessed for possible fraudulent applications, most of whom were admitted under the Obama administration.
- State Department-funded Resettlement Support Centers that act as overseas processing entities for Iraqis who apply directly for consideration in the P2 Program are vulnerable to fraud (including staff fraud), according to Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviews.
- The Obama administration expanded the available processing locations of Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs) to countries that had, for most, a high corruption index according to Transparency International.
- The Trump administration was criticized for lowering refugee admissions, “turning its back on Iraqis who risked their lives working for U.S. entities” and was urged to admit more Iraqi nationals under the P-2 program.
- President Biden ordered a complete review of the “Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqi and Afghan Allies”. The review report, aimed at “implementing anti-fraud measures to ensure program integrity”, should be released in August.
- The review will also address situations where an applicant is unable to provide proof of employment and will provide for other forms of verification and revise requirements to facilitate the ability of applicants to demonstrate the existence of a qualifying contract with the United States government.
- This review aims at identifying as well whether “additional populations” (other than Iraqis and Afghans) should be covered under this SIV program. It is to evaluate whether “it would be appropriate to seek legislation that would create SIV programs for individuals, regardless of nationality, for those who assisted the United States government in conflict areas.”
- The Priority 2 designation granting refugee resettlement access for certain Afghan nationals before the release of the review report of the SIV program for Iraqi and Afghans could be a repeat scenario of fraudulent claims filed by Iraqi nationals under a similar designation.
- Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation to increase the number of Special Immigrant Visas available to certain Afghans and ease eligibility requirements.
- Despite the recent developments in Afghanistan, are these the right measures to take? Won’t the chaos on the ground risk generating more fraud within programs (SIV and P-2) that are already under investigation for fraud?
Special Immigrant Visas Programs for Iraqi and Afghan Nationals
The special immigrant visa category was added to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in 1965. In its original 1952 version, the INA included a category of “nonquota immigrants” who were admitted into the United States outside the numerical limitations.10 The 1965 immigration law renamed the “nonquota immigrants” as “special immigrants” and changed some of its classifications.
The Immigration Act of 1990 added to those changes; it placed this category under permanent employment-based immigration and imposed annual numerical limitations. This special immigration visa was available, for example, to Panama Canal Act immigrants; ministers of religion and other religious workers, and their spouses and children; certain foreign medical school graduates, and their spouses and children; certain retired employees of international organizations, and their spouses and children; and certain employees and former employees of the U.S. government abroad, and their spouses and children.
The special immigrant visa programs for nationals of Iraq and Afghanistan fall under this last category. SIVs for Iraqis and Afghans “apply to individuals who performed U.S. government-related service, with one requiring the presence of a serious threat to the individual as a result of that U.S. government employment”.11
The “Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) program for Iraqi nationals who were employed by/on behalf of the U.S. government”12 stopped accepting applications as of September 30, 2014, while the “Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan nationals who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government”13 continues to offer protection to Afghan allies.
There are three Special Immigrant Visas programs designed for certain Iraqi and Afghan nationals.
The first is a permanent program authorizing SIVs for certain Iraqi and Afghan nationals who worked directly with U.S. Armed Forces or under chief of mission authority as translators or interpreters (the Translators program). The “Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqi and Afghan Translators/Interpreters”, which offers visas to up to 50 persons a year (the cap excludes family members such as spouses and children) remains active.14
The other two programs — the Allies programs — are temporary. One is the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) program for certain Iraqi nationals who were employed in Iraq by or on behalf of the U.S. government. The program stopped accepting applications as of September 30, 2014.15
The second is the Special Immigrant Visas program for Afghan nationals who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government. The program was capped at 1,500 principal applicants per year for FY 2009 through FY 2013. Here, too, any unused numbers could be carried forward from one fiscal year to the next. No more than 26,500 visas can be issued to principal applicants after December 19, 2014. This program remains open for new applications.16 For more on the SIV program and resettlement options for Afghan nationals, read my colleague’s extensive report on the subject.17
SIVs for Iraqi Allies
The Iraqi Allies SIV program operated until 2014. It was available to “Iraqi employees and contractors who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq on or after March 20, 2003, and prior to September 30, 2013, for a period of one year or more, and who have experienced or are experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of that employment.”18
Section 1244 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008 authorized the issuance of up to 5,000 Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) per year during FY 2008-2012. Any unused numbers could be carried forward to the next fiscal year. The program expired at the end of FY 2013, but was later revived. It was extended through subsequent legislation from October 1 until December 31, 2013, and again effective January 1, 2014. As of January 1, 2014, 2,500 visas were authorized to principal applicants under this program; the program was to end when all visas had been issued.19
These yearly numerical limits were for “principal applicants” only. SIVs issued to the spouses and children of principal applicants did not count toward the numerical limit.
Principal applicants for this program had to meet all of the following requirements:
Must be a national of Iraq; and
- Must have been employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government in Iraq on or after March 20, 2003 and prior to September 30, 2013, for a period of one year or more; and
- Must have provided faithful and valuable service to the U.S. government, which is documented in a letter of recommendation from your supervisor; and
- Must have experienced or be experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of your employment by the U.S. government.20
Special Immigrant Visas Statistics
|SIVs for Iraqi Allies:|
|SIVs for Iraqi Translators:|
As detailed in the June 2021 Congressional Research Service report on Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Programs, “Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Programs”, Congressional Research Service, Updated June 21, 2021.
* Through March 31, 2021.
Iraqi Admissions under the Refugee Resettlement Program
As of the end of July 2018, according to U.S. government data seen by Reuters, “there were more than 100,000 Iraqis who had applied to the special refugee [P-2] program and were at various stages of the admission process.”21
The number of Iraqis admitted under the Refugee Resettlement Program during FY 2010-FY 2020 totals 102,729 (data retrieved from the Refugee Processing Center):
- Under the Trump administration, FY 2018-FY 2020: 1,143; and
- Under the Obama administration, FY 2010-FY 2017: 101,586.22
Most of these admissions then (over 100,000) took place under the Obama administration. These numbers correspond to the over 100,000 cases under investigation for fraud according to Reuters.
Trump Criticized for Lowering Refugee Admissions and Urged to Admit More Iraqi Nationals
The Trump administration was criticized for lowering refugee admissions (including of Iraqi nationals); and consequently, according to a letter from several Democratic members of the House of Representatives, “turning its back on Iraqis who risked their lives working for U.S. entities.”23 They sent the letter to Kenneth T. Cuccinelli (then acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) and Michael R. Pompeo (then secretary of State) following the Trump administration’s decision to lower FY 2021 refugee ceiling to 15,000:
[T]he Administration has turned its back on Iraqis who risked their lives working for U.S. entities — including Iraqis who assisted U.S. military forces and certain family members of such employees eligible under Section 1243(a) of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007 (“Iraqi P2s”). While the Administration reserved 4,000 of the total 18,000 available resettlement slots for Iraqi P2s in FY 2020, it shamefully admitted just 161 individuals in this category. In FY 2018 and 2019, only 140 and 465 Iraqi P2s were resettled in the United States, respectively, compared to the 9,880 Iraqi P2s admitted in FY 2016.24
A year earlier, in September 2019, a number of retired generals and flag officers of the U.S. military wrote President Trump about their “concern about recent reports that the administration may further reduce refugee admissions for FY 2020” (FY 2020 was ultimately lowered to 18,000 from FY 2019’s 30,000):
U.S. military, diplomatic, and intelligence operations abroad rely on the support of thousands of interpreters, translators, advisors, engineers, and others to fulfill their objectives. When their lives and those of their families are threatened because of this support, the U.S. refugee resettlement program provides a critical lifeline.
The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) and Iraqi direct access (P-2) programs were created to uphold our nation’s commitment to leave no one behind, providing safety to those partners and their families who risk retribution for their support.
For these reasons, we urge you to protect this vital program and ensure that the refugee admissions goal is robust.25
Another “plea to resettle Iraqi refugees” was made by General James Mattis after he left the Trump administration in 2019.26 Mattis had previously addressed the issue of Iraqi admissions into the United States as the secretary of Defense under the Trump administration. In a 2018 memorandum, he asked for the FY 2019 refugee ceiling to remain at 45,000, assuring that his team was “working closely with interagency partners to help streamline the screening and vetting process” for resettlement candidates.27 Mattis’s message focused on Iraqi nationals:
Over the last 17 years of war, numerous Iraqi nationals have risked their own lives and their families’ lives by aligning with our diplomats and warfighters providing essential mission support. We owe them support for their commitment. When the authorization of the Special Immigrant Visa Program for Iraq expired in 2014, the United States Refugee Assistance Program Priority 2 program became the means for the USG to provide safe passage for these Iraqis.28
The P-2 refugee program might be a means for a “safe passage” to certain Iraqis, but can also be a convenient terrain for fraud to others. In a hearing on refugee admissions in 2017, USCIS Director at the time, L. Francis Cissna, explained the need to limit refugee admissions in order to implement enhanced security and integrity measures.29 Recent developments tend to prove him right.
P-2 Program for Iraqis
With the termination of the SIV Allies program for Iraqis, those (other than translators) who faced threats because of their direct or indirect collaboration with the U.S. government could apply for refugee status with their families and obtain visas and ultimately citizenship in the United States under the P-2 “Direct Access Program” available within the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.30
The “Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act” was passed by Congress in December 2007 and signed into law by President George W. Bush in January 2008.31 It created the P-2 program to allow certain categories of Iraqis with U.S. affiliations to directly apply for resettlement into the United States without the need for a referral by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN's refugee agency, as it is the norm with other resettlement applicants. Certain categories of Iraqis (listed below) who believed they were at risk or had experienced harm because of their association with the U.S. government since March 20, 2003, could start their resettlement process by contacting directly the relevant Department of State Resettlement Support Center.32
The following categories of individuals and their derivatives (spouses and unmarried children under age 21) could seek access through the P-2 program:
- Iraqis who work/worked on a full-time basis as interpreters/translators for the U.S. Government (USG) or Multi-National Forces (MNF-I) in Iraq;
- Iraqis who are/were employed by the USG in Iraq;
- Iraqis who are/were employees of an organization or entity closely associated with the U.S. mission in Iraq that has received USG funding through an official and documented contract, award, grant or cooperative agreement;
- Iraqis who are/were employed in Iraq by a U.S.-based media organization or nongovernmental organization;
- Spouses, sons, daughters, parents and siblings of individuals described in the four categories above, or of an individual eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa as a result of his/her employment by or on behalf of the USG in Iraq, including if the individual is no longer alive, provided that the relationship is verified;
- Iraqis who are beneficiaries of an approved I-130 Petition for Alien Relative 33
The program, in effect since 2007, waived two resettlement requirements: 1) that refugees needed to apply outside their country, and 2) that UN referrals were necessary. Until 2008, Iraqis who were eligible under this program had to apply in Jordan, Syria, or Egypt. The trip was expensive and some were even unable to get visas to enter these countries.
In 2016, the Obama administration expanded the available processing locations of resettlement support centers to facilitate Iraqis' access to the P-2 refugee program. Resettlement processing became available starting February 2016 in the following countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.34 Most of these countries are highly corrupt, according to Transparency International's "Corruption Perception Index 2016".35 The average corruption score of these countries is 43.4/100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. (By comparison, the United States had a score of 74/100, with Somalia coming last, scoring 10/100 and earning the spot of the most corrupt country in the world in 2016.) It's no wonder that major concerns with RSC case preparations, including staff fraud, were documented by the GAO in 2017.36
State Department-Funded Resettlement Support Centers
The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) funds and manages nine RSCs abroad, operated by international and non-governmental organizations and one U.S. interests section.37 RSCs act as overseas processing entities that pre-screen refugees abroad (refugees in general, not just those in the P-2 program) and help them build their cases to submit to U.S. officials for resettlement consideration.
The role of RSCs in the application and case processing of potential refugees under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is crucial. When a refugee is referred for resettlement by the UNHCR or occasionally by a U.S. embassy or a non-governmental organization, “the case is first received and processed by a Resettlement Support Center (RSC).”38
RSCs collaborate closely with the State Department; they conduct in-depth interviews with applicants, enter applicants’ documentation into the Department of State's Worldwide Refugee Admission Processing System (WRAPS); and verify data and send information to other U.S. agencies for background checks.39 They also request a “sponsorship assurance” from a U.S.-based resettlement agency that provides assistance to newly arrived refugees in the United States.40
RSCs have a central role in the process of vetting refugees for security threats — they collect biographic and other information from the applicants to prepare for the adjudication process and security screening:
U.S. national security agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Defense, and the Department of State, as well as the intelligence community, begin screening the applicant using the data transmitted from the RSCs. [Emphasis added.]41
Officers from the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) review all of the information that the RSC has collected and conduct in-person interviews with refugee applicants before approving resettlement in the United States.
Three RSCs — Church World Service, the International Rescue Committee, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society — are also "resettlement agencies" that get paid by the State Department per head to receive and place refugees inside the United States.42 A possible conflict of interest there.
RSC staff (who are generally citizens of the countries they are stationed in) are entrusted with an important part of the resettlement process. But we don't know much about these men and women the U.S. government believes possess the expertise and integrity needed to make such crucial determinations in case applications and processing. But we do know that most work in difficult conditions and are citizens of unsettled countries where corruption is at times deemed an acceptable, even necessary, means of survival.
Fraud Within the Refugee Resettlement Program
UNHCR's resettlement program is not impermeable to fraud. By UNHCR's own admission:
Refugee status and resettlement places are valuable commodities, particularly in countries with acute poverty, where the temptation to make money by whatever means is strong. This makes the resettlement process a target for abuse.43
A GAO review of the U.S. Refugee Admission Program's screening process and vulnerability to fraud uncovered major concerns with RSC case preparations, including staff fraud.44 GAO found that measures put in place by the State Department to monitor RSCs' performance and evaluate their key activities like pre-screening and preparation of case files for resettlement applicants were insufficient. Of the 70 Refugee Affairs Division (RAD) trip reports GAO analyzed that contained feedback on RSC activities, only 10 (14 percent) showed satisfaction with RSC case preparations; 45 (64 percent) identified major concerns. Other concerns such as staff fraud and applicant fraud were also underlined by GAO.
The Reuters story cited above about Iraqi P-2 fraud is not the first account (and probably not the last) of fraud within the refugee resettlement program. I wrote about this vulnerability in 2019 following an NBC News story about alleged corruption in refugee resettlement at the UN refugee agency.45 The seven-month investigation into refugee processing centers in five countries — Kenya, Uganda, Yemen, Ethiopia, and Libya — found widespread reports of UNHCR staffers accepting bribes from refugees in order to refer them for resettlement in a Western country.
The NBC investigation relayed allegations of bribery and corruption taking place not just at UNHCR, but within "companion organizations" charged with providing services to refugees. Those would be the numerous RSCs entrusted with, among other things, giving certain Iraqi nationals (as well as Afghans) “direct access” into the United States resettlement program.
A Repeat Scenario with U.S.-Affiliated Afghan Nationals?
As U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan, the Biden administration faced growing pressure from lawmakers and refugee advocates to evacuate Afghans who worked with American troops and diplomats.46 The Biden administration initially said it had no plans for evacuation, but finally changed its stance.
Over the past 15 years, some 77,000 Afghans (principal applicants and their family members) have been admitted to the United States under the SIV program. Another 18,000 Afghan SIV applicants and their 53,000 family members are still awaiting decisions due to processing delays and backlogs. Under “Operation Allies Refuge”47, launched by the Biden administration in July, those are being evacuated out of Afghanistan; some to U.S. military bases in the United States, others to U.S. military bases overseas or to third counties “where they will be safely housed until their immigration processing is complete”, according to a State Department spokesperson.48 Around 2,000 Afghans and their families have already been flown into the United States.
The Biden administration also announced earlier this month a P-2 program for certain Afghan nationals and their family members who are not eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa.49 This will give them direct access to the U.S. refugee resettlement program.
In parallel, and in an attempt to respond to the crisis unfolding as U.S. troops left Afghanistan, Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation to increase the number of special immigrant visas available to certain Afghans and ease eligibility requirements.
On July 22, the House passed the ALLIES Act with bipartisan support to authorize an additional 8,000 Special Immigrant Visas to principal Afghan applicants and ease some of the eligibility requirements (such as the “credible sworn statement” of the threats faced, which will no longer be required), while expanding eligibility to those who worked with allied forces.50
Another bill, the HOPE for Afghan SIVs Act, is set to speed up applications by allowing applicants to complete their medical examinations in the United States within 30 days of arrival. Under current law, SIV applicants were required to seek medical clearance from a clinic in Kabul.51
Both the ALLIES Act and HOPE for Afghan SIVs Act passed the House and are expected to pass in the Senate.
Furthermore, on July 29, Congress cleared a $2.1 billion emergency spending for Capitol Police funding and Afghan resettlement (the Senate voted 98-0 and the House 416-11). But the majority of the bill’s total spending is, in fact, as reported by the Washington Post, “devoted to closing out the United States’ two-decade entanglement in Afghanistan.”52 $1.1 billion will fund emergency transportation and housing for those Afghans and their families who would likely face repercussions following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The bill also includes an additional 8,000 special immigrant visas beyond the 26,500 already authorized, while easing further some of the eligibility requirements for those visas.
These bills were introduced before the Afghan government's collapse and the Taliban takeover of Kabul. So was the Biden’s administration decision to grant certain Afghan nationals a Priority 2 access to the refugee resettlement program.
In view of the developing situation, speeding admission processes and introducing new legislation for Afghan nationals is understandable. But are these the right measures to take, when the P-2 refugee program for Iraqis is under investigation for fraud and when a review of the “Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqi and Afghan Allies” to implement anti-fraud measures and ensure the program’s integrity is about to release its recommendations? And won’t the chaos and urgency on the ground risk generating more fraud?
P-2 Program for Afghans
The aforementioned designation of certain Afghan nationals and their family members as eligible for the P-2 program will allow for the permanent resettlement of potentially thousands of Afghans who could face risks following the withdrawal of U.S. troops, but who are not eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa “because they did not have qualifying employment, or because they have not met the time-in-service requirement to become eligible.”53
Afghan individuals eligible for the Direct Access or Priority 2 Resettlement Program include:
- Afghans who do not meet the minimum time-in-service for an SIV but who work or worked as employees of contractors, locally-employed staff, interpreters/translators for the U.S. Government, United States Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or Resolute Support;
- Afghans who work or worked for a U.S. government-funded program or project in Afghanistan supported through a U.S. government grant or cooperative agreement; and
- Afghans who are or were employed in Afghanistan by a U.S.-based media organization or non-governmental organization.54
A Complete Review of the SIV Allies Program Expected Soon
On February 4, President Biden issued an “Executive Order on Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration” in which he ordered, among other things, a complete review of the “Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqi and Afghan Allies”.55
The review aims at “implementing anti-fraud measures to ensure program integrity”, identifying whether “additional populations” (other than Iraqis and Afghans) should be covered under this program, and evaluating “whether it would be appropriate to seek legislation that would create a SIV program for individuals, regardless of nationality, who faithfully assisted the United States Government in conflict areas.” (Emphases added.)56
The review is tasked to look at ways to ease eligibility requirements as follows:
- Address situations where an applicant’s employer is unable or unwilling to provide verification of the applicant’s “faithful and valuable service”, and provide for alternative forms of verification;
- Revise requirements to facilitate the ability of applicants to demonstrate the existence of a qualifying contract with the United States Government and require that the supervisor verifying the applicant’s “faithful and valuable service” be a United States citizen or national; and
- Ensure that applicants are not prejudiced by delays in verifying their employment.57
The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall ensure that appropriate policies and procedures related to the SIV programs are publicly available on their respective agency’s websites within 180 days of the order.
This means that the review should have been completed by August and a report submitted to the president with recommendations. It is not clear what effect the rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan will have on the timeline for releasing this report.
Despite the chaotic situation in Afghanistan, any decision relating to the SIV and P-2 programs should have been, at the very least, delayed until the report was made public and its recommendations applied.
1 Jonathan Landay and Ted Hesson, “EXCLUSIVE U.S. suspects 4,000 cases of fraud in Iraqi refugee program – documents”, Reuters, June 18, 2021.
2 “Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Programs”, Congressional Research Service, Updated June 21, 2021.
3 “Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqis - Who Were Employed by/on Behalf of the U.S. Government”, U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, undated.
4 “Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans - Who Were Employed by/on Behalf of the U.S. Government”, U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, undated.
5 “Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for Iraqi and Afghan Translators/Interpreters”, U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, undated.
6 "Direct Access" means prospective refugees may apply themselves, without the need for a referral by the UN or other third party. P-2 refers to the Priority 2 in the refugee admissions program. The three priorities are described this way on the USCIS website:
- Priority 1: Cases that are identified and referred to the program by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a United States Embassy, or a designated non-governmental organization (NGO).
- Priority 2: Groups of special humanitarian concern identified by the U.S. refugee program.
- Priority 3: Family reunification cases (spouses, unmarried children under 21, and parents of persons lawfully admitted to the United States as refugees or asylees or permanent residents (green card holders) or U.S. citizens who previously had refugee or asylum status).
7 Daniel B. Smith, “Ensuring Our Safety and Security through a 90-Day Suspension of the Direct Access Program for U.S.-Affiliated Iraqis”, U.S. Department of State press release, January 22, 2021.
8 Jonathan Landay and Ted Hesson, “EXCLUSIVE U.S. suspects 4,000 cases of fraud in Iraqi refugee program – documents”, Reuters, June 18, 2021.
11 “Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Programs”, Congressional Research Service, Updated June 21, 2021.
12 “Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqis - Who Were Employed by/on Behalf of the U.S. Government”, U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, undated.
13 “Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans - Who Were Employed by/on Behalf of the U.S. Government”, U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, undated.
14 “Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for Iraqi and Afghan Translators/Interpreters”, U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, undated.
15 Jonathan Landay and Ted Hesson, “EXCLUSIVE U.S. suspects 4,000 cases of fraud in Iraqi refugee program – documents”, Reuters, June 18, 2021.
17 Dan Cadman, “Bills to Speed Resettlement of Afghan Allies Cut Corners on National Security, Fraud, and Public Health”, Center for Immigration Studies backgrounder, July 8, 2021.
18 “Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqis - Who Were Employed by/on Behalf of the U.S. Government”, U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, undated.
19 “Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqis - Who Were Employed by/on Behalf of the U.S. Government”, U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, undated.
21 Yeganeh Torbati, “Exclusive: Pentagon raises alarm about sharp drop in Iraqi refugees coming to U.S.”, Reuters, August 20, 2018.
23 “Letter to Acting Director Cuccinelli and Secretary Pompeo”, October 27, 2020.
25 “27 General and Flag Officers of the U.S. military Letter to President Trump”, September 2, 2019.
26 Judith Teruya, “General James Mattis’ Plea to Resettle Iraqi Refugees”, Niskanen Center commentary, September 24, 2019.
27 James Mattis, “Memorandum for Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs”, September 14, 2018.
29 “Oversight of the United States Refugee Admissions Program”, House Committee on the Judiciary, October 26, 2017.
30 “U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) Direct Access Program for U.S.-Affiliated Iraqis”, U.S. Department of State, March 11, 2016.
32 “U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) Direct Access Program for U.S.-Affiliated Iraqis”, U.S. Department of State, March 11, 2016.
36 "Refugees: Actions Needed by State Department and DHS to Further Strengthen Applicant Screening Process and Assess Fraud Risks", United States Government Accountability Office, July 2017.
37 The RSCs are:
- RSC Africa (Nairobi, Kenya) run by Church World Service (CWS);
- RSC Austria (Vienna, Austria) run by Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS);
- RSC East Asia (Bangkok, Thailand) run by International Rescue Committee (IRC);
- RSC Eurasia (Moscow, Russia) run by International Organization for Migration (IOM);
- RSC Latin America (Quito, Ecuador) run by International Organization for Migration (IOM);
- RSC Middle East and North Africa (Amman, Jordan) run by International Organization for Migration (IOM);
- RSC South Asia (Damak, Nepal) run by International Organization for Migration (IOM);
- RSC Turkey and Middle East (Istanbul, Turkey) run by International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC); and
- RSC Cuba (Havana, Cuba) run by State Department PRM.
38 “U.S. Refugee Admissions Program: Application and Case Processing”, U.S. Department of State, undated.
39 “The Refugee Processing and Screening System (text version of infographic)”, U.S. Department of State, November 22, 2016.
43 "Policy and Procedural Guidelines: Addressing Resettlement Fraud Perpetrated by Refugees", UN High Commissioner for Refugees, March 2008.
44 "Refugees: Actions Needed by State Department and DHS to Further Strengthen Applicant Screening Process and Assess Fraud Risks", United States Government Accountability Office, July 2017.
45 Nayla Rush, “UNHCR Corruption: Resettlement Spots for a Price: Since ‘vulnerability’ is no longer the key to selecting refugees for resettlement, does that mean bribery is?”, Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder, April 23, 2019.
46 Julie Watson and Ben Fox, “Calls grow to evacuate Afghans to Guam as US troops leave”, AP News, June 23, 2021.
47 “Statement of President Joe Biden on the Arrival of the First Flight of Operation Allies Refuge”, The White House briefing room, July 30, 2021.
48 Abigail Williams, Dan De Luce and Courtney Kube, “Biden admin now plans to evacuate 2,500 Afghans directly to the U.S.”, NBC News, July 16, 2021.
49 “U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 Designation for Afghan Nationals”, U.S. Department of State Factsheet, August 2, 2021.
50 “H.R. 3985 — 117th Congress: Averting Loss of Life and Injury by Expediting SIVs Act of 2021”, GovTrack, July 30, 2021.
52 Mike DeBonis, “Congress passes $2.1 billion in emergency funding for Capitol security and Afghan resettlement”, The Washington Post, July 29, 2021.
53 “U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 Designation for Afghan Nationals”, U.S. Department of State Factsheet, August 2, 2021.
55 “Executive Order on Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration”, The White House, February 4, 2021.