In a complex operation fraught with delays, difficulties, and risk, the U.S. government is evacuating groups of Afghans eligible for Special Immigrant Visas based on their work for the United States, such as serving as translators and interpreters for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Among other obstacles, the Taliban have been expanding across the country and setting up checkpoints on various roads, and airport operations are threatened by violence. Although the situation is fluid and the numbers are somewhat unclear, below are reported highlights of the evacuations under “Operation Allies Refuge”:
- About 200 Afghans were flown to Fort Lee, Virginia, for processing before resettlement in the United States. They are among a larger group of about 2,500 eligible for Special Immigrant Visas who are further along in processing.
- About 4,000 Afghans and their relatives who are earlier in the visa application process will be flown to other countries for lengthier processing.
- There are roughly 20,000 applicants in the pipeline, along with family members. It is unclear whether all of them will be evacuated safely or what will happen to applicants who were deemed not qualified. The Department of State and the Pentagon reportedly are working together on relocation options at U.S. military installations in the country and elsewhere, possibly to include Qatar and Kuwait, with a goal of evacuating eligible Afghans by August 31, 2021, when the U.S. combat presence is targeted to end.
- Approximately 74,000 Afghans under the program have already been resettled since 2008.
- A bill passed the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives last week to provide more than $1 billion to pay for the evacuations, related transportation and housing, and resettlement costs. The bill also provides 8,000 additional visas over the 26,500 allocated currently. President Biden said he will sign the bill.