Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today applauded members of the Senate Appropriations Committee for including 4,000 visas for the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program and extending the program for another year in the FY17 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that passed out of the Appropriations Committee today. The SIV program was previously reauthorized in the annual National Defense Authorization Act but was blocked this year for procedural reasons.
“We commend Chairman Lindsay Graham and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy for their bipartisan leadership to include 4,000 additional visas in the appropriations bill. If passed, this extension of the SIV program will ensure that Afghans who put their lives on the line to support the U.S. armed forces will be able to seek protection in the United States,” said Human Rights First’s Scott Cooper. “Continuation of this program represents the best of American ideals and supports America’s great tradition and history of providing protection to the most vulnerable refugees.”
The SIV program allows Afghans who provided crucial support to the U.S. armed forces and other U.S. government agencies operating in Afghanistan to be eligible for visas. Many linguists, contractors, and security guards who worked with the U.S. military have come under well-documented threats from the Taliban and other groups hostile to the United States. Currently, 10,000 Afghan applicants are waiting in the SIV application backlog, and the State Department has fewer than 4,000 visas remaining—a shortfall of more than 6,000 visas. Inclusion of the additional visas and extension of the program is the first step. The full Senate will now need to pass the bill and conference with the House who has yet to markup their version of the FY17 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.
Last week, to mark World Refugee Day, more than 30 of the nation’s most prominent national security leaders, retired military leaders, and former government officials publicly called on the United States to reaffirm its commitment to protecting refugees. The call came through a signed statement of principles
organized by Human Rights First, affirming the importance of refugee resettlement for advancing U.S. national security interests and upholding American values. “As we ensure the safety of our own citizens, we should recognize that refugees serve as a source of national renewal. Fleeing horrors today, they will tomorrow emerge as patriotic citizens who give back to the country that welcomed them in their time of desperation,” wrote the signers of the statement.