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On July 21, the State Department held a briefing on Operation Allies Refuge where D/MR Brian McKeon and Afghanistan Task Force Director Ambassador Tracey Jacobson gave remarks to the press and a Senior State Department official did a Q&A on background with reporters. US Embassy Kabul CDA Ross Wilson noted previously in a tweet that post is “working hard to process SIV applicants and have interviewed more than 1600 along with their family members since April.” D/MR McKeon has the number for approved visas saying, “Since January, we’ve already approved 2,500 Special Immigrant Visas.”
Some 750 Afghan SIV applicants and families will be “paroled” into the U.S. starting next week. They will be located at Fort Lee, VA where they are expected, at least right now, to stay for processing for 7 to 10 days. What happens to them afterwards?
Per 9 FAM 202.3, parole authority is governed by section 212(d)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 402 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Public Law 107-296 transfers authority for immigration matters to the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS), including authorizing parole for an alien into the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or for significant public benefit.
Note that neither the State Department nor consular officers have the authority to approve or extend any type of parole under any circumstances. Parole is a discretionary authority of the Secretary of Homeland Security. The FAM says “It should be seen as a last resort for persons with urgent needs to travel to the United States or for cases with significant public benefit.”
The FAM also notes that “parolees who are paroled pursuant to INA 212(d)(5)(A) for urgent humanitarian reasons or for significant public benefit reasons do not receive the type of resettlement assistance that is provided to refugees.” So, how are they supposed to start new lives in the United States without resettlement assistance?
About 4,000 principal applicants and their families will be taken to an unnamed third-country location while they wait for the completion of their SIV application. The SDO told reporters they are “not in a position to confirm any agreements with any of those third countries at this time” when asked about potential relocations to military bases in Kuwait and Qatar.
The State Department also told reporters that SIV applicants “would have to get themselves to Kabul” adding that “we don’t have substantial U.S. military presence. We don’t have an ability to provide transportation for them.” Excerpts below:
Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian McKeon:
“In February, Embassy Kabul reopened for in-person immigrant visa services following an 11-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That backlog has since been cleared out and we’re working as fast possible to interview SIV applicants whose appointments were canceled during a recent COVID outbreak in Kabul. Since January, we’ve already approved 2,500 Special Immigrant Visas.”
Afghanistan Task Force Director Ambassador Tracey Jacobson:
Our first priority is to relocate to the United States some 750 Afghan SIV applicants and their immediate families who have completed the majority of the visa process, including a thorough security background check. We are working to bring them to the United States starting next week. They will be paroled into the United States and have their status adjusted by the Department of Homeland Security. During this processing, they will be located at Fort Lee, Virginia, and when they leave Fort Lee, they will join 70,000 Afghans who have received SIVs and started new lives in the United States since 2008.
We are also working to relocate from Afghanistan those applicants who have received chief of mission approval but have not gone so far in their visa processing, including the full security screen. This group includes about 4,000 principal applicants and their families. We will take them to locations outside the United States where they can safely await the completion of their application processing, and we will provide them accommodation and other support during this period, which we are committed to making as short as possible.
QUESTION: Thanks, guys, for doing this. I think we all have a bunch of questions. I am wondering how long the administration plans to be doing these relocation efforts. Do you expect this is something that will happen over the course of years given some SIV applicants have just applied recently given the U.S. troop withdrawal?
My second question is about safety for these Afghans. What is the U.S. doing, what can the U.S. do to provide them with any safety when U.S. troops withdraw from the country, and how are they being transported to the airport? Is there any support for them given threats from the Taliban? And last question is: How long are they expected to stay at Fort Lee in this final stage? Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So working backward, we don’t expect them to stay at Fort Lee for very often, or very long, excuse me. We’ll try to work them through Fort Lee in 7 to 10 day is our hope and expectation. The applicants need to get themselves to Kabul. We’re not going to talk about how they get in and around Kabul and to the airport for security reasons.
The SIV Program is – has eligibility standards, and we have authorized numbers from the U.S. Congress, and so long as we keep having those numbers provided to us by Congress, we’ll keep processing SIV applicants.
QUESTION: Can you talk about the others in the program and where else they might be going, and how long it will take to get what was originally estimated as as many as 70,000 people, including families, accommodated because obviously their lives are right now in danger? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So the total number of applicants to the SIV Program number just over 20,000, but about half of those have not yet completed the initial stages of the application process, so we’re not in a position to move forward with their case until they do so. So I’m not sure where the 70,000 number comes from. The 4,000 number and their families, they would be targeted for the next phase of bringing people to third country locations, and that process in the third country would take longer because they’re not as far along in the screening process as those who we will bring to the United States.
QUESTION: Thanks, guys. Let me follow up on what comes next. Can you confirm that there’s the deal pretty much done to move, I don’t know if it’s the next round or the third round, some of these applicants to military bases in Kuwait and Qatar? And can you talk about whether there’s a push on P-2 refugees, whether the number – sorry, the kind of aperture of the person who can apply, whether there’s a push to expand that aperture and including P-2 refugees. And I know you don’t want to talk about some of the details on transport for security reasons, but can you give us any more details on how exactly they will get to Fort Lee this first round? Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’m sorry, Nick, I was – I didn’t understand the last piece of the question. I’m not sure we have many answers that we can give you. We’re talking to third countries about the possibility of temporary relocation, but we’re not in a position to confirm any agreements with any of those third countries at this time.
On the transportation to Fort Lee, we will fly them into the country and bring them by vehicle to Fort Lee. I assume it will be buses.
QUESTION: Hi there. Thank you for doing this. Let’s see. Is the – because the Afghan SIVs will fly out through the Kabul airport, has there been an agreement finalized to keep that operating under Turkey? I don’t know if their relocations are all supposed to be completed by the time the U.S. withdraws or not. And then you say you’re – do you not yet have any agreement from any other country to temporarily host the Afghan SIVs?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: On the second question, we don’t have agreement with any countries that we’re ready to announce here.
On the airport, obviously, we’ve said the airport needs to be open and functioning as part of a normal country, and we’re grateful for our conversations with our colleagues in Turkey. The DOD is leading those conversations. We’re optimistic that we’ll have the security package that we need at the airport in Kabul.
QUESTION: Thank you for having this call. A couple of follow-ups as well. Can you say how many there are in total with this group of 4,000 principal applicants who will be moved to third countries? If you include their families, what is that total number?
You said applicants will have to get themselves to Kabul. For many of them, that journey would be dangerous if not impossible. What would you say to the – to security concerns of folks trying to get to Kabul? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So we don’t know for certain how many family members will be brought. The principal applicant can choose to bring the ones that are eligible. We’ve just been doing these rough extrapolations based on an average of three to five per principal applicant based on past practice. In order to come on an evacuation flight, they would have to get themselves to Kabul. Obviously, we don’t have substantial U.S. military presence. We don’t have an ability to provide transportation for them. If they’re, say, in the north of the country and they don’t feel safe staying in Afghanistan, they could go to a neighboring country and finish their SIV application process there.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. Thank you so much for the call. Just a follow-up question on the Afghanistan fixers who have helped the U.S. press organizations. Would you support the creation of a visa program for those Afghans, Afghans who helped with the U.S. media organizations and who are now seeking safety in the U.S.? I’m asking this because a coalition of U.S. media organizations has sent a letter to the Congress requesting to create such visa program. Would you like to weigh in? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes, thank you. We’ve seen the letter from the news organizations and we’ll be responding in due course to them. As I think I’ve responded previously to this question, in terms of other people in Afghanistan who have helped the United States or helped U.S. organizations, whether it’s NGOs or media organizations, we are looking at other options for providing safe options for them outside of Afghanistan.