WASHINGTON – Rushing to help Afghans who face retaliation for working alongside U.S. troops in their home countries, the House voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to speed up the process that would allow them to immigrate to the states -United.
With the US military in the final stages of withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, more than 18,000 Afghans who worked for the United States as interpreters, drivers, engineers, security guards and embassy clerks are stranded in a bureaucratic quagmire after applying for Special Immigrant Visas, available to those at risk due to their work for the US government.
“I can say for sure that I might not be here today without these men and women,” said Rep. Jason Crow, Colorado Democrat and former Army Ranger who is the bill’s main sponsor.
The measure, passed from 366 to 46, would remove the requirement for applicants to undergo medical examinations in Afghanistan before qualifying, instead allowing them to do so after entering the United States. The first in a series of bipartisan bills intended to ease the visa process, it aims to shorten the long waiting period, which can be as long as six or seven years for some applicants.
Mr Crow said lifting the medical examination requirement would save the average applicant about a month on visa processing. The bill requires applicants to complete their exams within 30 days of arriving in the United States.
“In combat and in a war zone, every hour counts,” Crow said. “One month will save many, many lives. “
Some of the “Afghan allies” awaiting visas have denounced the threats they face from the Taliban.
Since 2014, the association No one is left behind followed the murders of more than 300 translators or their family members, many of whom died while waiting for their visas to be processed, according to James Miervaldis, the group’s chairman and Army Reserve NCO.
“It’s a life and death situation,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, Republican of Ohio. “It will be a black eye on the United States if we don’t do everything in our power to protect these allies.”
Mr Crow and Rep. Cliff Bentz, Republican of Oregon, said staff members had worked tirelessly over the past few weeks to allay the concerns of some House Republicans who feared the elimination of the The medical examination did not lead to the spread of the disease once the applicants entered the United States. They added the 30-day deadline to address these fears.
The measure is one of many pushes by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, many of whom are military or veterans who have worked with translators, drivers and repairers in Afghanistan and other combat zones.
The group also lobbied the Biden administration to carry out a massive evacuation of Afghans awaiting their visas, an idea President Biden adopted last week, saying: “Those who helped us will not be not left behind “.
But first, Afghans must qualify for visas. Only one clinic in the country – a German facility in Kabul – performs the exams, forcing some people to travel long distances in unsafe conditions. And the exams are expensive, Crow said.
A separate bill introduced by the group would expand the universe of eligible Afghans by removing what its supporters call “cumbersome” application requirements, including a “credible affidavit” of a specific threat and proof of “sensitive and trustworthy” work. Instead, it would in effect stipulate that any Afghan who has helped the US government by definition faces reprisal and should be able to apply for a visa. The bill would also increase the number of visas available.
Officials in the Biden administration have said they plan to relocate Afghan allies out of Afghanistan, possibly to Guam, pending processing of their visa applications.