For more than a decade, the Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs have provided a pathway to safety for Iraqis and Afghans whose service alongside U.S. forces, diplomats, and aid workers has exposed them and their families to threats, harm, and death. Tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have been safely resettled to the United States over the life of the programs, some of which continue to operate to this day.
The process has not, however, been smooth. Over the years these SIV programs have been beset by technical, practical, and political obstacles and inefficiencies that have hampered its operation and threatened the promise that the U.S. government made to these allies for their service. Providing legal assistance, whether through direct representation, policy advocacy, or litigation, has long been at the core of IRAP’s mission, and that has allowed us to gain a unique insight into the functions and dysfunctions of the Iraqi and Afghan SIV programs.
As part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020, Congress ordered the Department of State Office of the Inspector General (IG) to publish a report evaluating “the obstacles to effective protection of Afghan and Iraqi allies through the special immigrant visa programs and suggestions for improvements in future programs.” In compiling this report, the NDAA also required the IG to consult with non-governmental organizations that provide legal aid to SIV applicants, such as IRAP.
The law limited the scope of the Inspector General’s report to eight specific areas of the program. As a result, the IG report does not cover several aspects of the SIV program that are nonetheless in need of reform, such as the Department of State’s continued rejection of applicants based on a “sensitive and trusted” criterion that Congress explicitly removed.
With those limitations in mind, IRAP is releasing our own report on the SIV program, “Recommendations on the Reform of the Special Immigrant Visa Program for U.S. Wartime Partners”, to accompany the IG report. The IRAP report represents years of accumulated experience with the SIV programs and contains an exhaustive list of issues that we have encountered while representing Afghan and Iraqi SIV applicants. Together these reports provide a roadmap to fix the issues with the current SIV program and to ensure that future special immigration programs avoid the pitfalls and mistakes that have needlessly put so many U.S. allies in danger.
To access the report, click here.