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IRAP Shares U.S. Government Training and Guidance Documents Related to Afghan Refugee, Asylum, SIV, and Parole Processing

Through the Freedom of Information Act and other litigation, IRAP has obtained thousands of pages of training and guidance documents from the Department of State (DOS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and Department of Defense (DOD) that provide details and insight into various humanitarian immigration pathways for displaced Afghans. 

Below, we identify several categories of documents, highlight individual documents, and provide brief context for why practitioners may find the documents useful. Please note that U.S. government policies change frequently and the linked documents do not always reflect current policy.

Note: For legal information guides in English, Dari, Pashto, and other languages, and to request help from IRAP, please use IRAP’s legal information website; legal practitioners assisting Afghans can find other resources here.

Afghan Pathways Document Collection

The full collection of newly released Afghan Pathways documents is available here. These documents were obtained through a number of different sources and with the assistance of a number of different organizations, including: a FOIA request to USCIS, filed by IRAP and the American Immigration Council, represented by Winston & Strawn LLP; a FOIA request to DOS, filed by IRAP, represented by Hogan Lovells; litigation discovery in Afghan and Iraqi Allies v. Blinken, a lawsuit with IRAP and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer US LLP serving as co-counsel; a FOIA request to DOS filed by IRAP, represented by Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP; and a FOIA request to the DOD filed by IRAP, represented by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. IRAP staff and students from IRAP’s experiential learning course at Yale Law School helped to prepare the documents for publication and draft this post.

For more information on specific document types, select an option below.

USCIS Refugee and Asylum Officer Trainings on Afghanistan Country Conditions

USCIS Policies and Procedures Related to Afghan Asylum and Refugee Adjudications

Trainings and Documents on Afghan P-1/P-2 Access to USRAP

Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Documents

USCIS Refugee and Asylum Officer Trainings on Afghanistan Country Conditions

In the fall of 2021 and early 2022, USCIS’s Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations (RAIO) Directorate created new training materials for refugee and asylum adjudicators on Afghanistan country conditions and related topics. The RAIO country conditions training materials may be relevant to legal practitioners assisting either refugee applicants overseas or individuals seeking asylum within the U.S.

Please note that IRAP maintains a collection of USRAP documents obtained through FOIA that includes many other USCIS RAIO training modules and other training materials; you can find information about that collection of documents here.

These new trainings contain USCIS assessments on many issues including the classes of people whom the Taliban currently targets, groups that were actively involved in militant activities in Afghanistan since the late 1970s, and lists of recommended publications on Afghanistan country conditions. Advocates representing Afghan asylum and refugee applicants may benefit from reviewing and in some cases citing to these assessments. For example, practitioners representing Afghan asylum or refugee applicants who belong to one of the groups listed by USCIS as being targeted by the Taliban could cite to USCIS’s conclusions in support of the asylum or refugee application. Likewise, practitioners assisting Afghan humanitarian parole applicants in Pakistan or Iran could cite to USCIS’s conclusions on the risks that certain groups of Afghan refugees face in those countries. 

USCIS training presentations and training materials specific to Afghan adjudications are linked below:

USCIS’s training entitled “Afghanistan- Human Rights, Armed Actors, and the Changing Landscape” may be helpful at establishing country conditions:

Within that training, USCIS provides a list of “classes” targeted by the Taliban in Afghanistan:

Page 41 of RAIO Training – Afghanistan- Human Rights, Armed Actors, and the Changing Landscape – February 2022
Page 41 of RAIO Training - Afghanistan- Human Rights, Armed Actors, and the Changing Landscape - February 2022
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Stephen Poellot (International Refugee Assistance Project) • View document or read text

Another USCIS training, “Afghanistan: Taliban Topics for IRAD [International Refugee Affairs Division],” covers the Taliban in detail:

The training also includes several pages of targeted classes, including classes that may be targeted in 2022 (framed as a question):

Page 41 of RAIO Training -Afghanistan-Taliban Topics for IRAD – April 2022
Page 41 of RAIO Training -Afghanistan-Taliban Topics for IRAD - April 2022
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Stephen Poellot (International Refugee Assistance Project) • View document or read text

USCIS’s training on Women and Gender also may be useful to establish USCIS’s understanding of threats facing applicants with gender-based claims:

The Library of Congress’s research report for USCIS on Women’s Rights Resources may also be relevant for gender-based claims:

USCIS’s training on Afghan Refugees in Pakistan and Iran may be useful for practitioners representing humanitarian parole applicants located in those countries, as pages 28-39 list vulnerable populations of Afghans in Pakistan and risk groups of Afghans in Iran:

The trainings above are likely most relevant for supporting the inclusion aspects of refugee or asylum claims, but practitioners may also benefit from reviewing USCIS training materials on armed groups within Afghanistan because involvement with those groups may raise exclusion or admissibility issues. USCIS’s training on Armed Groups in Afghan Adjudications may be helpful for advocates whose clients may be questioned on these issues:

In addition to providing USCIS’s assessments of country conditions, many of the trainings and resources provided above also have USCIS’s resource lists that may be important starting points to look for further information relevant to Afghan refugee and asylum adjudications. Below are a small selection of the resource lists from the country conditions trainings:

Page 27 of RAIO Training – Afghan Government Throughout History – February 2022
Page 27 of RAIO Training - Afghan Government Throughout History - February 2022
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Stephen Poellot (International Refugee Assistance Project) • View document or read text
Page 49 of RAIO Training -Afghanistan-Taliban Topics for IRAD – April 2022
Page 49 of RAIO Training -Afghanistan-Taliban Topics for IRAD - April 2022
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Stephen Poellot (International Refugee Assistance Project) • View document or read text
Page 40 of RAIO Training – Armed Groups in Afghan Adjudications – 31 March 2022
Page 40 of RAIO Training - Armed Groups in Afghan Adjudications - 31 March 2022
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Stephen Poellot (International Refugee Assistance Project) • View document or read text

USCIS Policies and Procedures Related to Afghan Asylum, Refugee, and Parole Adjudications

Beyond training on country conditions, USCIS released procedural guides that may be helpful for practitioners representing either asylum or refugee applicants. For practitioners representing refugees in USRAP, we also recommend reviewing IRAP’s full collection of USRAP policy and procedure documents here.

Asylum Procedures

USCIS released a 2021 Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that may help advocates prepare for a remote appearance and monitor to ensure that USCIS is following required procedures:

USCIS also released a detailed, 229-page overview of security checks in the asylum process from 2020 that applicants may use to understand the many different forms of checks applied:

Refugee and Parole Processing in Camp As Sayliyah (CAS)

Practitioners with clients in CAS (Qatar) may wish to review the newly released training on Adjudications at CAS–which is limited to covering certain inadmissibility issues-and Afghan Parole Adjudications.

Fee Waiver Trainings and Procedures

USCIS released three documents related to fee waivers that may be helpful to advocates filing for humanitarian parole with a fee waiver.

First, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for fee waiver adjudications, updated in July 2021:

Second, a fee waiver training by USCIS’s Humanitarian Division, from December 2019:

Third, a fee waiver training by the Vermont Service Center from July 2021:

Trainings and Documents on Afghan P-1/P-2 Access to USRAP

DOS and USCIS also released some training and procedural documents on USRAP and Afghan P-1/P-2 processing that may be helpful for practitioners assisting Afghan refugee applicants overseas. We recommend reviewing these along with IRAP’s USRAP document collection here and USRAP legal information guides here. IRAP will also be releasing a USRAP practice guide for practitioners in May 2023.

First, USCIS released a background training overview on USRAP; although it does not contain new information, advocates new to assisting USRAP applicants may find the overview helpful:

DOS and USCIS have released very little information to the public about the Afghan P-1/P-2 access program–what little is available from DOS can be accessed here and in the initial DOS announcement here. Practitioners may also consult IRAP’s guide on Afghan Afghan P-1 and P-2 Access to USRAP here. In addition to those resources, the newly released documents provide some additional background and details that may be helpful to practitioners assisting Afghans with the P-1/P-2 access program. 

An introductory training for the USCIS Humanitarian Affairs Branch (HAB) Parole branch covers the Afghan P-1/P-2 program alongside SIV eligibility, providing general background for practitioners though no new insights:

A number of newly released DOS guidance documents do provide some new insights. Below is a two-page “Guide to Submitting Afghan Priority (P-1) Referrals” that explains the P-1 referral process:

The DOS P-1 guide provides some additional clarification about P-1 referral eligibility that practitioners would not be aware of from DOS’s public website. DOS’s public website states that P-1 referrals are available to an “Afghan national well-known to a direct-hire American employee of U.S. Embassy Kabul and face or have faced imminent harm in Afghanistan.” However, the newly released internal guide confirms that P-1 eligibility is actually somewhat broader. 

First, the guide does not limit the government officials who can initiate P-1 referrals to employees of the U.S. Embassy Kabul–government officials of other agencies that meet the requirements can make referrals. Second, the guide clarifies that while there are P-1 referral possibilities for Afghans whom a government officially personally knows in a professional capacity, there are also “group P-1 referral” possibilities who are part of a “specific group that is known to USG and at risk due to their membership in the group.” Both of these insights are in the summary of P-1 eligibility: 

On the second page of the guide, DOS provides more information on P-1 group referrals and lists examples of acceptable and unacceptable groups:

The guide suggests that government officials can make P-1 referrals for Afghans in these “acceptable” groups, so Afghans and practitioners assisting individuals who are members of these or similar groups may use this information to follow up with government officials who worked in Afghanistan and are qualified to make referrals.

Other documents that DOS released that have some new insights for practitioners are the various referral guides and quick guides available here:

The guides appear to be for the audience of U.S. media organizations, NGOs, and government officials who are given access to the referral creation process, as the guides walk users through navigating the submission portal, data entry guidelines, and how to monitor or update incomplete referrals. If a practitioner is in contact with a referring entity, the section “Reasons Why a Referral Record May Be Identified as Incomplete,” may be helpful to ensure referrals are not rejected. 

Additionally, some of the guides include information clarifying eligibility for family members. The Afghan Referral Creation Quick Guide clarifies that the parents and siblings of Locally Employed Staff (LES) who were employed through August 31, 2021 can be referred to USRAP as P-1’s:

Practitioners assisting Afghans and their family who meet these criteria could follow up with government officials who worked in Afghanistan and are qualified to make referrals to ensure that all potentially qualifying family members receive access. The guide does not mention parent or sibling eligibility for other categories, and later the guide provides another clarification (also not included in other public guidance) about P-1 and P-2 family member eligibility and distinguishing between the different approach taken for P-1 and P-2 referrals: “Principal Applicant’s married children and children over the age of 21 do not qualify as eligible family members for a P-1 referral. The Principal Applicant’s children of any age, whether married or unmarried, qualify as eligible family members for a P-2 referral.”

The P-2 Referrals Guide has a slightly different framing of P-2 family eligibility, stating that “P-2 eligible family members only include spouse, children of any age (whether married or unmarried), spouse of child, and grandchildren,” and the reference to “spouse of child, and grandchildren” likely reflects that a married or adult child of a P-2 principal applicant would be able to apply to USRAP with derivatives on their case. These kinds of details and insights from the guides may be helpful to practitioners as they advise clients and ensure that Afghan P-1/P-2 referrals are processed in line with DOS procedures.

Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Documents

IRAP also shares documents obtained through discovery in Afghan and Iraqi Allies v. Blinken, as well as two other FOIA lawsuits related to SIV documents. IRAP’s Afghan SIV document collection is here and SIV legal information guides are available here. IRAP’s legal practitioner resources on SIVs, including a detailed practice guide, are available on IRAP’s main website here.

A newly released collection of National Visa Center (NVC) Manuals from 2022 and 2023 may be helpful to practitioners who are assisting Afghan SIV applicants. Practitioners can ensure that documents meet the requirements that NVC staff assess before a case is deemed complete and forwarded to the Chief of Mission (COM). With the information in the manual, practitioners can be aware of instances when NVC may not be following its own established procedures. The COM Document Review NVC Manual is available below:

The guide contains information that is publicly available on the DOS COM guidelines, but it also has some additional information that is not on DOS’s website about when exceptions to certain requirements may apply. For example, below is information on exceptions to the requirement for a Human Resources (HR) letter:

Although these exceptions were noted in IRAP’s legal information guides and practitioner materials, IRAP has also seen practitioners face challenges requesting and receiving exceptions, so the Manuals may be useful to ensure exceptions are used and applied.

Similarly, the Manual has information on specific “OUTLIERS” where regular requirements do not apply:

Practitioners working on these types of SIV COM application cases may find it helpful to reference this COM Document Review Manual.

For practitioners representing applicants applying for visas outside of the U.S. at embassies or consulates abroad, the NVC’s Document Review and Scheduling Manuals, both available below, may be similarly helpful.

IRAP’s collection of publicly releasable discovery documents is available below, including transcripts of 15 depositions of officials from the State Department and USCIS, as well as DOS cables related to SIV processing and portions of NVC’s contracts for COM processing:

IRAP also shares over 3000 pages of documents released through a FOIA request filed in 2017 for policies and procedures related to the COM process. Practitioners should be aware that many of these documents are now out-of-date and do not reflect legislative and procedural changes to the SIV process. However, some of the guidance and manuals may be helpful for practitioners seeking to understand some of the details of the SIV process or the policies in place at the time the guidance was issued. 

One document that may be helpful is Embassy Kabul’s SIV Standard Operating Procedures, last updated in January 2020, which cover processing for the interview and post-interview SIV processes including the process for withdrawal of support if an employment-related issue comes up during the consular interview process:

The collection also contains a “record email” from DOS’s visa office explaining how dual nationals can qualify for the SIV program under certain circumstances–an issue not currently addressed directly in any public guidance.

The full collection of documents is text-searchable, so practitioners can look for any relevant documents, remaining aware of the sometimes significant changes of law and procedures affecting SIV processing since many of the documents were created.

Finally, one other SIV document collection that IRAP recently wrote separately about is a tranche of documents related to Project Rabbit, a DOD-led effort to expedite parts of the Afghan SIV process for certain applicants. The documents released through that FOIA are available here, and IRAP’s analysis of the documents is available here.

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