U.S. to discontinue quick humanitarian entry for Afghans

The Biden administration next month will discontinue the use of a humanitarian process known as parole to admit at-risk Afghans and will instead focus on resettling certain Afghan evacuees who qualify for immigration programs that provide permanent legal status, a senior U.S. official said.

Starting on Oct. 1, the U.S. will no longer allow Afghans to quickly enter the country under the humanitarian parole authority, which bypasses the years-long visa or refugees process, absent a "very small number of cases" that present "exigent circumstances," the senior official said during a call with reporters.

The date will mark the start of a new phase in the Biden administration's massive operation to evacuate and resettle Afghans following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021. Under the current phase, dubbed Operation Allies Welcome, the U.S. has resettled roughly 86,000 Afghans, 90% of whom were admitted through the parole process, Department of Homeland Security statistics show.

But during the upcoming phase, dubbed Operation Enduring Welcome, the U.S. will resettle Afghans who fall into three categories: immediate family members of U.S. citizens, permanent residents and evacuees resettled over the past year; those who qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa because of their assistance to the U.S. war effort; and the "most vulnerable" refugee program applicants, the senior administration official said.

The objective behind phasing out the use of parole, the official added, is to ensure future Afghan arrivals have a direct pathway to permanent legal status in the U.S. and don't need to undergo further processing at a domestic government-operated housing facility. While parole allows beneficiaries to live and work in the U.S. legally, typically for two years, it does not grant them permanent residency.

"Moving forward, Afghan arrivals will enter the United States with a durable, long-term immigration status that will facilitate their ability to more quickly settle and integrate into their new communities, and they will also travel directly to their new destination community without the need for a stop-over at a safe haven in the U.S.," the administration official said.

Those eligible for the family reunification category will be processed through the immigrant visa and refugee programs, which allow beneficiaries to gain permanent residency, the official said. All applicants will still need to undergo visa processing in a third country since the U.S. does not have an embassy or consulate in Afghanistan.

"We don't yet have a platform in Afghanistan," the administration official said. "It's difficult to say when that would be possible again."

The main overseas processing hub for future Afghan arrivals will be at Camp As Sayliyah, a U.S. Army base in Qatar where the Biden administration has been trying to expedite the refugee and special visa process, which typically take years to complete. The administration official said some Afghans there are being processed in under 30 days.

An Afghan national and her son walk through the National Conference Center, which in recent months has been redesigned to temporarily house Afghan nationals, on Aug. 11, 2022, in Leesburg, Virginia.  / Credit: Getty Images
An Afghan national and her son walk through the National Conference Center, which in recent months has been redesigned to temporarily house Afghan nationals, on Aug. 11, 2022, in Leesburg, Virginia. / Credit: Getty Images

When Enduring Welcome starts next month, the U.S. will close the remaining domestic Afghan evacuee housing facility. The site, a repurposed convention center in Virginia, is housing the last group of Afghans who were paroled into the U.S. after spending months at an apartment complex in the United Arab Emirates.

For months, several thousand Afghans, including families with young children, have been stranded in the apartment complex, known as the Emirates Humanitarian City, with no guarantee of U.S. resettlement.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson said the U.S. has resettled more than 10,000 Afghans from the Emirates Humanitarian City and that it will continue to process evacuees who are eligible for a visa or refugee status.

"The U.S. Government, in partnership with the Government of the UAE, is working with the international community to identify resettlement options outside the United States for those individuals who are ultimately deemed ineligible for U.S. resettlement, and these conversations are already producing results," the spokesperson added.

While the Biden administration has sought to streamline the refugee and visa processes for Afghans, including by recently removing one step from the special visa program, admissions of refugees and visa holders from Afghanistan have remained sluggish and pale in comparison to the tens of thousands paroled into the U.S.

During the first 10 months of fiscal year 2022, which ends at the end of September, the U.S. received fewer than 6,000 special immigrant visa holders and 971 refugees from Afghanistan, according to State Department data.

The decision to phase out the use of parole will ensure future Afghan arrivals are not stuck in the same legal limbo that tens of thousands of evacuees brought to the U.S. over the past year will find themselves unless they win asylum or Congress passes the Afghan Adjustment Act, a bipartisan proposal that would allow them to apply for permanent residency.

"This is a big deal because it creates a permanent pathway for these folks. It gives Afghans who arrive here a permanent, more durable sense of belonging. And they can start getting involved in their communities and work faster," said Shawn VanDiver, president of the AfghanEvac coalition, which has been working to evacuate and resettle at-risk Afghans.

But the policy change could also make U.S. resettlement more difficult for Afghans who believe they could be harmed by the Taliban but who don't fall into the three categories under Enduring Welcome. Among them could be the tens of thousands of Afghans who have submitted parole requests from overseas locations.

Since July 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has received nearly 50,000 humanitarian parole requests from Afghans abroad. But the agency has adjudicated fewer than 10,000 of these requests, denying 9,000, or 95%, of them, according to USCIS statistics as of Aug. 17.

Asked if the policy shift starting in October will affect pending parole applications from Afghans overseas, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said, "USCIS will continue to adjudicate requests for humanitarian parole."

The mass denials of Afghan parole cases have alarmed refugee advocates, who juxtaposed the high rejection rate with the quick processing of tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have been paroled into the U.S. since the Biden administration launched a private sponsorship program in April for those fleeing the Russian invasion.

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