Congress will consider legislation Friday that could ease the way for thousands of Iraqis and Afghans to resettle in the United States to escape the dangers that come with their work for the U.S. military, news outlets and nonprofit groups.
The current version of the government’s “special immigrant visa” program expires next fall, and refugee advocates are pushing hard not only for an extension but also for sweeping changes to a process that’s been widely criticized as too slow, too narrow in eligibility and unreasonably complicated.
Since 2008, Congress has authorized 25,000 special immigrant visas for Iraqis who worked with the U.S. military, news media or nonprofits, but the State Department has issued fewer than 5,000, according to government figures.
Eligibility is even narrower for Afghans – only those who work for the military qualify, leaving media personnel and civil society workers out of luck even though they face the same insurgent threats. From 2008 to 2012, 1,051 visas were issued to Afghans – just 12 percent of the 8,500 that were available, according to the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, a nonprofit organization that offers free legal services to refugee and special immigrant visa applicants.