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Your Guide to the Special Immigrant Visa Program

Written By The Shapiro Law Group on September 08, 2021

The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program is intended to provide protection for Afghans employed by or on behalf of the U.S. to assist American troops in Afghanistan. The program began in 2009, but has since experienced certain backlogs that the Biden administration aims to address.

What Is the Special Immigrant Visa Program for Afghans?

The SIV program was developed under Congress with the goal of providing Afghans with permanent protection if they helped U.S. troops. Many of these individuals worked as interpreters and translators and were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. to assist with missions in Afghanistan.

Qualifying individuals can apply for a single visa for themselves, but they can also apply for visas for their spouses and their children under the age of 21. 

To date, there are tens of thousands of Afghan citizens who are eligible to receive SIVs. However, around 118,000 eligible SIVs and dependents have yet to be evacuated as they seek protection.

Changes to the Program

Until new legislation was put into place, eligible SIV recipients needed to go through a long application and approval process that took up to years to complete. Under the Biden administration, qualifying individuals will be able to enter the U.S. more efficiently and complete the approval process within 30 days of arriving in the country.

Additionally, a recently implemented “Priority-2” designation would enable application and approval for U.S.-affiliated Afghans who don’t currently qualify for SIVs. However, these individuals would need to evacuate Afghanistan and enter another country before qualifying for this designation.

The Increasing Necessity of the SIV Program

During and following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, many civilians have become endangered. The Taliban continues to search for and expose civilians who have assisted the U.S., putting them in harm’s way. As a result, many Afghan civilians have faced increased violence and continue to fear for their lives following the departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

To help protect these and hundreds of thousands of other displaced civilians, the SIV program has become increasingly important in preserving the wellbeing of Afghan citizens. As Congress and the Biden administration work to enable more qualifying Afghan citizens to enter and seek permanent residence in the U.S., the program could help many who are in dire need of assistance from the U.S. government.