Vast majority of Afghans turned away by U.S. entry program

The Biden administration has denied roughly 85 percent of the applications it has processed from Afghans seeking to come to the U.S. through a program that allows for temporarily waiving immigration requirements.

New figures obtained by The Hill show the administration has only processed about 2,600 applications for Afghans seeking to enter the U.S. through the humanitarian parole process.

Of those, 2,250 applicants have been denied.

It’s a statistic that raises questions about the administration’s ability to process applications from some 45,000 Afghans now scattershot across the globe, as well as the likelihood that their application will be granted.

While an initial evacuation after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan delivered 76,000 Afghans to safety in the U.S., those who left through private charters remain abroad.

In addition, an estimated more than 100,000 made vulnerable due to their ties to the U.S or its democracy efforts still reside in Afghanistan and have limited options for seeking safety in the U.S.

The figures show some progress since February, when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had processed fewer than 2,000 of the applications of the more than 43,000 submitted since July 1.

The vast majority — 1,500 — were denied, while only 170 had been given the green light to come to the U.S.

The latest data shows 340 have now been given conditional approval to come to the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides its parolee data in rounded numbers, leaving 10 applications unaccounted for.

Still, the data shows clear trend lines: the majority of Afghans whose humanitarian parole applications have been reviewed are being denied.

“The administration should immediately create a functioning Afghan parole program, a lifeline for Afghans whom we have left behind. The United States has demonstrated that we have the capacity to implement novel and innovative solutions for vulnerable populations in need of protection. Everyone deserves a safe place to call home,” Meredith Owen, director of policy and advocacy at Church World Service, a refugee resettlement agency, told The Hill.

“Particularly in light of the Uniting for Ukraine announcement, it is imperative the administration do everything in its power to welcome at-risk Afghans,” she continued, pointing to a new humanitarian parole program created by the administration specifically for those fleeing violence in Ukraine.

Afghans could be aided through parole or existing refugee programs, she said, as well as programs specifically for Afghans who assisted the military or other U.S. efforts, but it needs to be expedited.

The backlog of humanitarian parole applications from Afghans reflects the unprecedented workload for USCIS, which normally receives just 2,000 such requests per year and approves between 500 and 700. DHS has now quintupled the number of staff reviewing applications.

Department officials have stressed that Afghans can apply for more traditional pathways to the U.S., which include the general refugee program, as well as two priority programs designed for those at risk due to connections with U.S. democratization work.

“USCIS reviews the specific facts of each case to determine if there is a distinct, well-documented reason to approve humanitarian parole for an individual. Humanitarian Parole is not intended to replace established refugee processing channels such as the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, which is the typical pathway for individuals outside of the United States who have fled their country of origin and are seeking protection,” DHS said in a statement.

Those programs, however, largely require leaving Afghanistan in order to apply, and could still mean years of processing.

The 78,000 Afghan evacuees now residing in the U.S have also been awarded humanitarian parole and given either one or two years to formalize their status in the U.S.

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