The State Department must immediately reform the initial stage of the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program in which applicants obtain employment verification—otherwise known as Chief of Mission (COM) approval—before more Afghans die waiting for the United States to fulfill its promise to them.
For two decades, many Afghans worked alongside Americans to support the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Their assistance was essential to the United States, but it put their lives in jeopardy. Congress created the Afghan SIV program so that Afghan nationals whose lives are at risk because of their work for the U.S. government, a government contractor, or a coalition security mission, are able to immigrate to the safety of the United States. Yet despite the congressional directive that SIV applications be processed in nine months, applicants often languish for years in the COM approval process due, ironically, to obstacles the U.S. government places in verifying U.S. mission-related employment.
The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) calls on the State Department to fix the broken COM approval process and provides the following recommendations to the U.S. government based on IRAP’s representation of thousands of SIV applicants through direct legal services and litigation:
- Reform the COM application submission process, including by creating an applicant-facing web portal and improving training at and oversight of the National Visa Center (NVC).
- Remove unnecessary obstacles to obtaining COM approval that the State Department imposes beyond what the law requires, including by improving policies, training, and applicant-facing communications.
- Improve and expand new employment verification programs, including by increasing public information about programs like Project Rabbit and reopening erroneously denied COM applications.
- Provide written explanations for COM denials to the “maximum extent feasible,” as required by law, including by disclosing the summary of the decision and training staff to include more information in the COM denial letters.
- Eliminate duplicative employment verification processes, including by applying a presumption that a previously verified letter is legitimate and does not require reverification later in processing.