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Via DPB July 12, 2021:
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. In addition – on Afghanistan, in addition to the change in command that happened earlier today, the embassy announced overnight that it’s going to resume immigrant visa processing. And I am just wondering, is this resumption going to make a dent in the backlog, or how much of a dent will it make in the backlog? Does it affect the relocation plans or the option for relocation, and is anything – has anything been decided on that front?
MR PRICE: Well, you are correct that the embassy has announced over Twitter that it will resume immigrant visa interviews this week, and that does include the SIV process. As you know, the SIV process is written into law. It was designed by Congress and involves more than a dozen steps, and that includes both a role for the Department of State as well as for the Department of Homeland Security. As we’ve said before, there are approximately 18,000 Afghan principal applicants at some stage of this process as of May of 2021.
Approximately half of those applicants are at some stage of the process pending applicant action, so in other words, approximately 9,000 or half of these applicants need to take action before the U.S. Government can begin processing their case. About 30 percent of these applicants are awaiting a decision at the chief of mission stage and the final 20 percent were approved by the chief of mission stage and they’re moving through the application process, either in the petition or the visa processing stages.
You are also right in your question that we have mobilized significant resources to do all we can to make a dent in the applicants. As you know, we have been very clear and consistent that we have – the United States has – a special responsibility to those who have assisted us in different ways over the years, often at great risk to themselves, sometimes to their families as well. That is also why we have identified a group of SIV applicants – that is to say, individuals who were already somewhere in that SIV processing chain – whom at the right time before the military withdrawal is complete later this year relocate or at least offer to relocate to a third country as they go through their SIV application processing. We have been in conversations, diplomatic discussions with a number of countries around the world. These have – discussions have occurred at any number of levels, to include senior levels, but we don’t have any updates for you regarding that.
The other point I would make is that throughout this process, we have prioritized the safety and the security of those who, often at great risk to themselves, have helped the United States over the years. And so we will be in some cases constrained in terms of what we can say publicly about relocation, about numbers, about certain details. But as soon as we have more to share on that front, we will do so.
QUESTION: Okay, but how much of a – once the interviews resume, how many can they do? How many can – how much of a dent do you think you can make in the backlog?
MR PRICE: Well, look, we are moving just as quickly as we can. The —
QUESTION: You can’t say – just say that so I don’t keep – because I’m going to keep asking the question until you – if you don’t know, that’s fine. But I’m just – that’s my question.
MR PRICE: Matt, we have already made significant progress in shortening the period it requires for an applicant to go from the start of the process to – through the visa provision stage. We have shortened that by a number of months and we have done that by surging individuals, by – through operations in Kabul, but the other important point is that much of this adjudication and processing that takes place at the chief of mission stage need not and does not take place in Kabul. This is a point that we have made in terms of our embassy staffing posture in Kabul. We are able to process individuals at the chief of mission stage from here in Washington.
And the other point I would make – again, this program is defined in statute. It was passed by Congress, designed by Congress. We will continue to work with Congress to find ways that we could potentially streamline these operations, knowing that there are to date more than 18,000 people who have – who are somewhere in that process. Again, our goal is to shorten that process as much as we can in a way that is pursuant to the safety and security needs of these individuals but also responsible in the way that we are processing the individuals.
QUESTION: So since the President’s announcement that all troops would be gone by the end – by September 11th and now August 31st – but since the initial announcement back in May, how many SIV applicants – applications have been approved, and how many of those approved visa holders have been admitted to the United States? May, June, July – that’s three months.
MR PRICE: We can see if we can provide a snapshot of that three-month period. I don’t have that —
QUESTION: Well, is it more than zero? I don’t know. I’m —
MR PRICE: We’ll see if we can provide specific numbers.
CDA Ross Wilson did post on Twitter that Embassy Kabul has “assisted over 15,000 Afghans relocate to the U.S.”
Not clear what is the time frame of that relocated to US number? He also noted that post is “working hard to process SIV applicants and have interviewed more than 1600 along with their family members since April.”
Note that “interviewed” does not mean the case was approved or that the visa was issued.
If there are “approximately 18,000 Afghan principal applicants at some stage of this process as of May of 2021” — that 18,000 figure is not the final number needing visas as that does not include the count for family members who may qualify for derivative status based on the principal applicants.
Also if all US troops must be gone by August 31st, and Embassy Kabul did interview 1,600 SIV applicants for the last three months, how is it going to tackle the rest of the backlog before time’s up? We really want to now how many visas were also issued during the last three months.
But let’s just say there are 18,000 applicants waiting to be processed — 1,600 interviews in three months means 6,400 cases a year. That means, they won’t get anywhere near 18,000 – well, 17,600 until the first quarter of 2024, if we go by that number. And that’s just the interviews. What’s the refusal rate for this type of visas?
Another scenario, of course, is that Embassy Kabul may have a larger processing capacity for SIVs that was impacted by COVID, and that post can actually process more than 1,600 interviews in three months. But we won’t know what’s that going to be like until the operation returns to normal. Given the recent COVID outbreak at post, what’s normal going to be like?
We should note that for FY2020, the State Department issued a total of 8,722 Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs); this includes 7,878 SIVs for Afghanistan. In FY2019, 11,384 SIVs were issued worldwide, including 9,805 for Afghanistan. In FY2016, 16,176 SIVs were issued including 2,270 for Iraq, and 12,298 for Afghanistan.