Published October 5, 2022

Topic: Afghan Refugee Resettlement Issues in the U.S.



Our chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 precipitated a large-scale emergency exodus of Afghan refugees from Afghanistan, which, in turn, created a significant refugee crisis in the U.S.  The ad hoc U.S. response to this crisis has not solved many of the problems that the massive refugee resettlement created, which, if neglected, will become increasingly intractable over time. 


President Biden pledged that the U.S. would not forget the Afghans who risked their lives for a war Biden concluded was unwinnable.  But, over time, the Biden administration has not met that commitment.  The Biden Administration’s apparent decision to benignly neglect the Afghan refugee crisis inside the U.S. will cause these issues to escalate and linger for decades.



The Taliban’s August 15, 2021 entry into Kabul triggered the sudden mass exodus of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens, partner country citizens, and Afghans who worked for international efforts and/or the former Afghan government.  U.S. military forces facilitated the evacuation of 124,000 individuals, including 5,300 U.S. citizens, as part of Operation Allies Refuge, “the largest air evacuation in US history.”


In early May 2022, the State Dept said they now estimated that there are between 70,000 and 160,000 Afghans eligible for Special Immigrant Visa’s (SIV’s), reserved for people who directly assisted the U.S. effort.  That’s up from the 62,000 estimated in 2021.  Under the current rules and bureaucracy, the Biden administration has issued about 9,500 SIVs since they came into office.


The State Department estimated that between 70,000 and 160,000 Afghans inside Afghanistan were eligible for SIV’s.  However, our chaotic Afghan evacuation prevents us from knowing exactly how many there are or when the crisis will stop unfolding.  Tens of thousands applied for SIV’s before the Taliban victory.  However, their documents were lost when the U.S. evacuated its Embassy.  Many think that their applications are still in process, but they have no way to check.  Too, personnel records of Afghans working for the US were also destroyed or abandoned, depriving Afghans of the very documentation that many need to prove that they qualify for an SIV.  Finally, many SIV-eligible Afghans went underground immediately after the Taliban arrived.  They continue to surface when they feel safe enough and reveal their need to the U.S., but the number has been a drizzle.


On the U.S. side, Afghan refugees must navigate complex legal issues to find more lasting protection in the U.S.  DHS did simplify Afghan SIV program in July 2022.  However, that SIV application still must navigate an administrative process that was already overloaded and back-logged and which requires evidence from U.S. supervisors and layers of adjudications by multiple government agencies.  Too, the National Visa Center is overwhelmed.  Email queries to them, if they get a response at all, frequently just get an autoreply that simply thanks the sender for the note.


Most importantly, the U.S.’s Afghan re-settlement effort is supervised by a White House that is anxious to divert attention away from its massive Afghan policy failure and a news media eager to pounce on the next crisis rather than dwell on the old one.  Absent an impetus from the political leadership, the Federal bureaucracy cannot shift the resources required to address this problem and absent robust media scrutiny, public pressure on elected officials has waned.


As of February 19, 2022, DHS reported that approximately 84,600 Afghan nationals, American citizens, and Lawful Permanent Residents have arrived in the U.S.  According to the Migration Policy Institute, as of July 13, 2022, close to 79,000 of that number were Afghan nationals.  Of that number, 6,500 entered the U.S. with an SIV and a path to U.S. citizenship.  However, the other circa 72,500 entered the U.S. with a Humanitarian Parole (HP) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS), neither of which has a direct pathway to lawful permanent residency or citizenship.


On March 16, 2022, DHS Secretary Mayorkas announced that the TPS status would expire in 18 months, which means the refugees must leave the U.S. in September 2023.  Many will apply for SIV’s in an asylum system already clogged with previous applicants.  But, even if U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can expedite these cases, adjudications will take time.  The Biden administration has hired additional staff to process SIVs, but processing remains slow.  Between March 2021 and March 2022, 9,600 applicants were granted SIVs.  At that rate, it could take seven years to process the rest.


Historically, broad parole programs were followed by Congressional action allowing refuges to become lawful permanent residents.  No such legislation has thus far been enacted for Afghans.  HP and TPS paroles give refugees immediate protection, but they need that protection to endure.  Right now, they don’t have that, and the U.S. has almost 72,500 refugees living in legal limbo whose status will expire in 18 months.


Policy Proposals

We have a moral obligation to save our Afghan allies and their countrymen, but our work so far has been less than adequate.  We need to correct that if we are to live up to our American values.


We know that there is a catastrophe coming when the HP/TPS status of these refuges expires next year.  Congress needs to hold hearings to oversee the Biden Administration’s actions to deal with this issue now.


Congress should also hold hearings to monitor the Biden Administration’s efforts to help the Afghan refugees in the U.S. and those waiting to escape Afghanistan.


We support passing the Afghan Adjustment Act (AAA), which is currently in Congress.  It will help put thousands of our Afghan allies on a pathway to lawful permanent residence in the United States, just as the U.S. has done for many other communities affected by our foreign policies in the past.


The AAA streamlines the immigration process for many Afghans, especially those who supported the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.  It will extend SIV status to additional at-risk Afghans.  It also supports Afghan nationals outside the U.S. who meet the requirements for SIV status or U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) referrals.


The AAA clears the way so that the U.S. can keeps its promise to its Afghan allies.  It will create a pathway for those who were brought over during last year’s airlift, provide additional security vetting, and offer instructions to executive departments and agencies for processing those left behind.


Finally, the U.S. should lead a concerted, consistent international effort, including NATO and other allies, to use all available diplomatic, economic, and political leverage, to compel the Taliban leadership to allow, and when necessary, facilitate the safe evacuation of our Afghan allies.  This remains an urgent requirement to ensure our Afghan allies are safe from Taliban retribution or persecution for supporting the United States.