New York, NY, January 27, 2016 – Today, the State Department issued guidance on its interpretation of the new Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) law (contained in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law on November 25, 2015). The new policy retroactively increases eligibility requirements from one to two years for thousands of Afghans who worked for the United States in Afghanistan. More than 3,000 U.S. allies who applied before the new policy was implemented could be affected, and some will now find themselves ineligible under the program.
The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) at the Urban Justice Center is extremely disappointed with the State Department’s interpretation of the new law. The new law extends the date of required service from one to two years for any person “submitting a petition after September 30, 2015.” Today, the State Department announced that it will consider a “petition” to be the submission of Form I-360—the second stage in the SIV application process. Afghans can only reach this stage after receiving approval from the U.S. Embassy’s Chief of Mission. Many applicants applied for that Chief of Mission approval months ago and their applications are still pending. Now, after the government failed to act on their initial applications, these allies find themselves facing increased eligibility requirements that they may not be able to meet. After the law was passed in November 2015, IRAP advocated to the State Department for an interpretation of the ambiguous word “petition” that would avoid an unfair and retroactive application to individuals who had already submitted applications based on the previous service requirement.
“Congress acted last year to protect Afghans, but the State Department’s interpretation of the law will deny hundreds and potentially thousands of Afghan allies the opportunity to be resettled to safety,” said Betsy Fisher, Interim Policy Director of IRAP. “Because an applicant cannot submit a ‘petition’ until after receiving government approval, which can take months or years, the State Department is, in effect, punishing applicants for its own delays in processing.”
IRAP strongly opposes the State Department’s interpretation and will be taking advocacy actions, including media, outreach to other NGO partners, and recommending legislative actions to address the unfair application of these provisions.
You can view this press release as a PDF here.