The Biden administration is preparing to move thousands of Afghans who worked with U.S. forces during the war to other countries as they wait for their U.S. visa applications to be processed, according to reports from ABC News and The New York Times.
The decision comes as President Joe Biden prepares to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday to discuss the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, and after months of steady pressure from veteran advocacy groups and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to expedite the complex process of providing visas to Afghans.
Afghan nationals have said they fear for their lives, worrying about retaliatory attacks from the Taliban after the U.S. announced it was withdrawing all remaining troops in the country by September. At least 300 interpreters have been killed in Afghanistan since 2016.
Since the start of the war, thousands of Afghans have worked as interpreters, fixers, embassy workers and drivers aiding U.S. troops and staff. It is unclear where those Afghans will wait once evacuated out of Afghanistan and for how long.
There are currently at least 17,000 Afghans who partnered with Americans awaiting Special Immigrant Visas ― the program that allows people who worked as translators and interpreters with the U.S. military or NATO in Iraq and Afghanistan to come to the U.S. Some applicants have waited years for a decision. The average processing time per visa is 800 days.
“The news this morning that the Biden administration recognizes that the existing visa processing will not be sufficient to meet this need and there needs to be an evacuation is news that we have been fighting for, for a long time,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a veteran, at a press conference Thursday morning.
For advocacy groups, the announcement is just a first step toward protecting the thousands of Afghans whose lives remain at risk.
“Welcome news from the WH to move Afghan allies to 3rd countries. But lives hang in the balance and we need a full plan and senior operational commander to oversee this interagency effort,” tweeted Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.