US Embassy Kabul Interviewed 1,600 Afghan SIV Applicants Since April, Interviewed ≠ Issued Visas

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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.

 

Related item:

US Embassy Kabul on COVID Lockdown, AFSA Calls For Vaccination Requirement For All Staffers

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

The US Embassy in Kabul issued a Management Notice for an Immediate COVID-19 Lockdown due to surging cases at post. The notice notes that “95% of our cases are individuals who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.” The notice also says “Failure to abide by the Mission’s COVID policies will result in consequences up to and including removal from Post on the next available flight.”
AFSA has issued a statement calling for the Biden Administration to “take swift action to allow the Department of State to require all personnel, including local employees and third-country nationals, serving at our embassies and consulates abroad under Chief of Mission authority, direct-hire and contract alike, to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 as a condition of their physical presence in the workplace.” AFSA’s vaccination requirement push includes “for those individuals who cannot get vaccinated due to medical reasons or disability or religious belief or practice.”
Below is the AFSA statement:

Our Embassy in Afghanistan has announced that one employee has died and 114 have been infected with Covid-19. Several employees have had to be evacuated from Afghanistan, and others are being treated in an emergency Covid-19 ward at the Embassy that was created because U.S. military hospital facilities are full. The entire Embassy staff has been put on lockdown and nearly all staff members are confined to their quarters around the clock.

At a time when the U.S. military withdrawal is accelerating, attacks on Afghan and Coalition forces are intensifying and the U.S. is seeking to establish a stable and positive presence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal, the damage to our national security and national interests is potentially grave.

AFSA urges the Biden Administration to take swift action to allow the Department of State to require all personnel, including local employees and third-country nationals, serving at our embassies and consulates abroad under Chief of Mission authority, direct-hire and contract alike, to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 as a condition of their physical presence in the workplace. The only exceptions would be for those individuals who cannot get vaccinated due to medical reasons or disability or religious belief or practice.    

This has always been a matter of life and death, but now it literally has become exactly that for our members and colleagues serving their country abroad. Recent Federal court rulings have upheld requiring vaccination as a condition of employment in specific situations, such as health care. Service at our embassies and consulates should be treated similarly.

 

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US Embassy Kabul Now on Ordered Departure for a “Relatively Small Number” of USG Employees

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

On April 27, US Embassy Kabul issued a Security Alert informing U.S. citizens in Afghanistan that the State Department has ordered the departure of USG employees from the capital city:

On April 27, 2021, the Department of State ordered the departure from U.S. Embassy Kabul of U.S. government employees whose functions can be performed elsewhere due to increasing violence and threat reports in Kabul. The Consular Section in U.S. Embassy Kabul will remain open for limited consular services to U.S. citizens and for Afghan Special Immigrant Visa processing.

The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that the Travel Advisory for Afghanistan remains Level 4-Do Not Travel due to crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, armed conflict, and COVID-19. Commercial flight options from Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) remain available and the U.S. Embassy strongly suggests that U.S. citizens make plans to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. Given the security conditions and reduced staffing, the Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in Afghanistan is extremely limited. 

The State Department has also issued a Level4: Do Not Travel advisory for Afghanistan due to COVID-19, crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and armed conflict. U.S. citizens wishing to depart Afghanistan are urged to “leave as soon as possible on available commercial flights.”
CDA Ross Wilson tweeted that the mandatory evacuation affects a “relatively small number of employees” at post. We’d like to know how many employees are actually affected by this evacuation order.

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Snapshot: Top Five Bureaus & Posts With the Highest Number of Sexual Harassment Complaints (2014-2017)

Via State/OIG:

Related post:
State/OIG Releases Long-Awaited Report on @StateDept Handling of Sexual Harassment Reports

 

 

 

US Embassy Kabul: As Many as 20 People Infected With COVID-19 (Via AP)

 

Afghanistan Papers: A secret history of the war #hardreading

 

 

U.S. Ambassador John Bass Learns to Play Cricket in Kabul, Will Keep His Day Job

Help Fund the Blog | Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

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US Embassy Kabul via FB says that the U.S. Ambassador to Kabul John R. Bass put aside the American pastime of baseball for a day to learn how to play the sport that has made Afghanistan famous around the world.  So he got to “play”  cricket  with members of the Afghan National Cricket Team who apparently took some time from their busy training schedule to help the Ambassador learn how to pitch and bat along.

The Embassy want to know, “how do you think he did?.” Er … we think he already knew that he’ll keep his day job there.  The video with Pashto subtitles is available to watch here: https://youtu.be/S6EXDJqsqaU

Diplomatic Security Memorial: Ten U.S. Embassy Kabul Guards Killed in Truck Bomb #OTD #2017

 

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OBO’s Fire Protection Judgments and @StateDept’s Black Hole of Bureaucratic Shrugger-Swagger

 

We blogged previously about the State/OIG Management Assistance Report sounding the alarm over the fire alarm system at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul (see  U.S. Embassy Kabul: Fire Alarm System Needs Prompt Attention or #MustHaveNoFireBeforeMarch2019

We received a reaction about the OIG report basically saying “hey, I agree with all the violations listed by the OIG”. Our correspondent also thought the “funniest thing” included in the report is that OBO challenged the OIG qualifications. There appears to be serious concerns that sound fire protection engineering judgements are being overridden “on a regular basis.” There are also some questions/allegations about the qualifications of OBO folks making decisions concerning fire protection engineering — that if true, could potentially have serious consequences.

OPM says  that all Professional Engineering positions require a basic degree in engineering or a combination of education and experience — college-level education, training, and/or technical experience that furnished (1) a thorough knowledge of the physical and mathematical sciences underlying engineering, and (2) a good understanding, both theoretical and practical, of the engineering sciences and techniques and their applications to one of the branches of engineering. Also that the adequacy of such background must be demonstrated by one of the following: 1) Professional registration or licensure — Current registration as an Engineer Intern (EI), Engineer in Training (EIT)1, or licensure as a Professional Engineer (PE) by any State, the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico. 2) Written Test — Evidence of having successfully passed the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE)2 examination or any other written test required for professional registration by an engineering licensure board in the various States, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Read more here.

In any case, you know that State/PA refused to respond to us during Tillerson’s watch but with Pompeo’s new guards in, we thought we should try asking questions again from its media professionals, coz, why not, hey?

We did receive a PA response months ago that says “we’ll look into it but may not have anything over the weekend”.  Lordy, short weekends and long weekends have come and gone and we have not heard anything back via email, fax, sign language, or telephatic signal.  Our follow-up email appeared to have also ended up in a black hole of bureaucratic shrugger-swagger.

In any case, we’ve addressed the same questions to State/OIG, and those folks reliably read and respond to email inquiries, and we received the following:

Ensuring the safety and security of Department personnel is paramount for the OIG. We give careful consideration to allegations relating to safety and security issues, including the one involving the Office of Fire Protection. Additionally, if anyone becomes aware of something that jeopardizes the safety and security of Department employees, they should report it immediately to the OIG hotline at OIG.state.gov/HOTLINE or at 1-800-409-9926.

About that report, here are a couple of examples that we understand, requires some folks to wear brown paper bags over their heads when reading:

OBO’s Technical Comment 10 | OBO disagreed with OIG’s statement: “According to PAE, a secondary loop was installed. However, rather than being routed separately, the existing fiber optic cables run in a parallel path. Because the fiber optic cables run in the same direction (as opposed to opposite directions representing a redundant circuit), damage to one part of the network can render sections of the network inoperable.” OBO stated that “it is perfectly acceptable for cables to run in the same direction. They cannot run in the same conduit. Additionally, the secondary loop is, in fact, a redundant circuit since there are two paths of travel one from the original loop and one from the secondary loop.”

OIG’s Reply | OIG agrees that cables can run in the same direction but cannot run in the same conduit. OIG found, however, that a number of the runs currently installed at Embassy Kabul did, in fact, have fiber optic cables bundled together in the same conduit. The photo below shows the current configuration at Embassy Kabul in which fiber optic cables are bundled together in the same conduit. This is contrary to NFPA standards for a redundant path. OIG made no changes to the report on the basis of this comment.

TA-DAA! Somebody stop these wild cables from running in the same conduit!

 

OBO’s Technical Comment 13 | OBO disagreed with OIG’s conclusion that “the improper installation of key components of Embassy Kabul’s fire alarm system needs immediate attention because of the potential safety risk to personnel and property.” OBO stated that it disagreed with OIG’s underlying assumptions and that OIG’s scope contained flaws.

OIG’s Reply | As set forth in this report, OBO is not in compliance with NFPA 72 regarding the requirement for a redundant path. In addition, a number of the runs currently installed at Embassy Kabul have fiber optic cables bundled together in the same conduit, which similarly fails to comply with NFPA 72. The NFPA codes and standards are designed to minimize the risk and effects of fire by establishing criteria for building, processing, design, service, and installation around the world. Failure to adhere to these requirements thus presents potential risk to embassy personnel and property. Therefore, the improper installation of key components of Embassy Kabul’s fire alarm system requires immediate attention. OIG made no changes to the report on the basis of this comment.

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Ambassador John R. Bass Presents His Credentials in Afghanistan

Posted: 2;57 am ET

 

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