The United States’ presence in Afghanistan has relied on the life-saving assistance of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who risked danger to serve alongside U.S. troops, diplomats, and contractors. In recognition of that service, starting in 2006, Congress established several Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs that allow eligible Afghan and Iraqi applicants to resettle to safety in the United States.
SIV applicants face many hurdles when attempting to show they qualify for a visa. One of these is that, to receive a visa, SIV applicants must have been employed “by or on behalf of” the U.S. government. The State Department interprets this requirement to mean that an applicant must have been employed either by a U.S. government entity or a U.S. government contractor or subcontractor. Moreover, the State Department requires SIV applicants to submit copies of contracts or contract numbers in order to prove that their employer had a U.S. government contract or subcontract.
This requirement is extremely difficult for applicants to fulfill. The Taliban and other groups target SIV applicants because of their work, and the SIV program itself requires that applicants show that they are under ongoing threat. However, gaining contract documentation while in hiding or after having fled the country can be difficult or impossible. In addition, many companies refuse to share copies of contracts or contract information with employees, especially given that they are applying for a visa that, if granted, would mean the employee would leave the company to immigrate to the United States. Finally, the public information that exists on government websites is often incomplete, especially in key details like the duration of a contract or which subcontractors worked on a government contract, and the government makes no effort to access its own records to corroborate an applicant’s employment. One particularly egregious example of the consequences of this resulted in the denial of SIV to scores of interpreters who had worked with U.S. special operations teams. The State Department denied them on the basis that their company only had a contract with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) entity in Afghanistan rather than the U.S. government. Thankfully, IRAP was able to obtain copies of U.S. government contracts and prevail with the State Department to reopen and reverse many of these cases.
IRAP helped these interpreters as it has helped many other applicants to meet this requirement: over the last eight years, IRAP has searched and collated publicly available information from the government and filed FOIA requests to obtain contracts related to specific companies.
Most recently, IRAP, represented by lawyers at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, filed a FOIA request for documentation that would identify all contracting and subcontracting employers in Afghanistan. In response, IRAP has obtained records from the Synchronized Predeployment & Operational Tracker (SPOT) which the Department of Defense refers to as “the central data repository of contract and contractor information for DoD, DoS, and USAID.” Although these records themselves do not appear to be exhaustive of all contracts and subcontracts, SPOT includes significantly more information and details than other publicly available databases have for certain contracts.
Based on the records obtained, IRAP created a searchable database that U.S.-affiliated Afghans and their attorneys can use to prove qualifications for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). In this way, IRAP’s searchable SPOT database provides an additional tool and resource to submit robust SIV applications to the U.S. government in order to allow Afghan SIV applicants access to this vital pathway to safety. IRAP has aggregated all of the available contract data, and it is searchable and available here.