Reports by rights organizations such as the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and Human Rights First have established that much of the backlog is attributable to the complexity of the SIV application process and the time it takes to clear each bureaucratic stage. The visa process includes pages-long application documents, references from the U.S. personnel Afghans and Iraqis served under and several levels of background checks. In fact, most applicants fail to get through the process without help from a lawyer.
A report by the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project from 2010 noted that many Iraqis faced trouble locating their former employers once they had finished a tour. Applicants were also denied because of bureaucratic reasons. Embassy staff mistranslated names out of Arabic or used different transliterations on different forms. Staff confused applicants with people carrying similar names. Reviewers had even shoved aside pages-long applications because they preferred the blank spaces in the form to be filled with “None,” “N/A,” or just left blank. The IRAP report noted that there was no standard request — different reviewers had requested different responses.
“It should be possible to complete the current program within a year, but mostly it takes two or three,” says IRAP’s national policy director Katherine Reisner, explaining the backlogs at the U.S. embassies in Kabul and Baghdad. She notes that there are three agencies currently responsible for the program, but there is no central oversight. And while Congress should be credited for developing the SIV program, the agencies in charge have not executed the program in accordance with legislation. “They only successfully dispersed a fraction of the number of visas that were set aside,” she says.