The Biden administration on Monday announced that it’s expanding refugee eligibility for Afghans and their family members, opening a pathway to safety for allies affiliated with media or non-governmental organizations but who didn’t qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) due to previous criteria, The New York Times reports.
“This designation expands the opportunity to permanently resettle in the United States to many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members who may be at risk due to their U.S. affiliation,” the State Department said. “Refugee resettlement organizations have advocated for such a designation for weeks,” Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) said.
In an announcement on Monday, the State Department said it was expanding access to “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,” “Afghans who are or were employed in Afghanistan by a U.S.-based media organization or non-governmental organization,” as well as others who “have not met the time-in-service requirement to become eligible.”
It comes as Afghanistan is seeing “increased levels of Taliban violence,” the Biden administration said. LIRS President Krish O’Mara Vignarajah called the expansion “another vital step in the right direction,” saying “it recognizes that the danger of affiliation with America extends well beyond those who served as military interpreters.”
“There are countless journalists, teachers, women’s rights activists, and other civil society leaders who believe deeply in the ideals we fought for, and whose lives are in jeopardy because of it,” O’Mara Vignarajah said. “It is our moral duty to offer a pathway to protection for them, especially as the security situation rapidly deteriorates. We simply cannot let those who befriended the U.S. be beheaded by the Taliban.”
O’Mara Vignarajah applauded recent steps taken by the Biden administration to aide Afghan allies, including the evacuation of hundreds of special visa applicants and their families to a U.S. base in Virginia, and the president signing into law legislation increasing special visas by 8,000. She urged the continued evacuation of all allies and their families to either the U.S. or a U.S. territory, saying the “administration has set an important precedent in where it has moved these first allies, proving the easiest and safest way to relocate others is by bringing them to U.S. soil.”
A coalition of media organizations had also called on the Biden administration to evacuate Afghan journalists and staff, who “fear retaliation from the Taliban for having courageously associated themselves with the American press.”
“Much attention has been given in recent weeks to the plight of Afghans who worked for the U.S.,” more than two dozen media organizations wrote. “The SIV program does not reach those Afghans who have served U.S. news organizations. Yet they and their families face the same threat of retaliation from the Taliban, which views the American press as a legitimate target. The Taliban has long conducted a campaign of threatening and killing journalists.”
The organizations said in that letter that they believed about 1,000 of their colleagues have been at risk due to Taliban forces. “The need for action is urgent,” they continued. “Without the assistance of the U.S. Government, many of these Afghans face grievous harm and death for having done nothing more than lent their labor and skills to making certain the world knew what was going on in their country while U.S. troops were there for the past twenty years.”