Special Immigrant Visas – Iraqi and Afghan Nationals

Posted by Alexander Carl | 30 Jul, 2020 | 0 Comments

Congress has enacted a series of legislative provisions since 2006 to enable certain Iraqi and Afghan nationals to become U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPRs).

These provisions make certain Iraqis and Afghans who worked as translators or interpreters, or who were employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government in Iraq or Afghanistan, eligible for special immigrant visas (SIVs).

Special immigrants comprise a category of permanent employment-based admissions under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). While the special immigrant category is unique, it does bear some similarities to other admission categories that are authorized by other sections of the INA, including refugees and Amerasian children.

To apply under the SIV programs for Iraqis or Afghans, a prospective special immigrant must submit a petition to the Department of Homeland Security; be otherwise eligible for an immigrant visa; and be otherwise admissible to the United States. An Iraqi or Afghan SIV applicant whose petition is approved and who is abroad is required to have an in-person visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad to determine visa eligibility. Upon admission to the United States, SIV recipients are granted LPR status.

Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants are eligible for the same resettlement assistance and federal public benefits as refugees. There are three SIV programs for Iraqi and Afghan nationals.

One is a permanent program for certain Iraqis and Afghans who have worked directly with U.S. Armed Forces, or under Chief of Mission authority, as translators or interpreters. This program is currently capped at 50 principal aliens (excluding spouses and children) per year.

The other two SIV programs for Iraqis and Afghans are temporary. One program is for certain Iraqis who were employed in Iraq by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government during a specified period. It was capped at 5,000 principal aliens annually for FY2008 through FY2012 and included a provision to carry forward any unused numbers from one fiscal year to the next. It expired at the end of FY2013, but was subsequently revived. Current statutory authority provides for the issuance of no more than 2,500 visas to principal applicants after January 1, 2014. Applications are no longer being accepted for this program because the application deadline has passed. There is a similar SIV program for certain Afghans who were employed in Afghanistan by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government or by the International Security Assistance Force during a specified period. The program was capped at 1,500 principal aliens annually for FY2009 through FY2013, with a provision to carry forward any unused numbers from one fiscal year to the next. Current statutory authority provides for the issuance of no more than 22,500 visas to principal applicants after December 19, 2014. The application period for this program remains open.

Through the end of FY2019, more than 89,000 individuals were granted special immigrant status under the three SIV programs for Iraqi and Afghan nationals. Principal applicants accounted for about 28,000 of the total, and dependent spouses and children accounted for the remaining 61,000. The Iraqi and Afghan SIV programs have faced challenges with respect to application processing, security screening, and visa availability. The structure of the SIV programs themselves, with statutory timeframes and numerical limitations, introduces additional complication.

If you have any questions regarding this program please do not hesitate to contact our Office. 

Congressional Research Service

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Alexander Carl

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