How to Screw an Afghan

Stars and stripes on gun
Stars and stripes on gun

What's the best way to thank Afghans who have risked their lives helping US troops? Offer them a chance to live in America, and then make the process impossible and the costs astronomical.

A dear friend was employed under contract in Kabul, living on an US base. While there, he worked with several dozen Afghan men who were embedded interpreters with US forces. These men survived bombings, land mines, bullets and rockets while on patrol, helping US forces search and chase down Taliban fighters. Many had stories of losing friends and relatives who worked as interpreters. Over the past few years, as our troops have reduced to 90% presence, the interpreters now face death threats from the Taliban. Many of them told my friend they are unable to return to their homes where everyone in the village knows they worked with the US forces, making them easy targets for the Taliban.

But there is a way out, courtesy of the US government.

Just as we did with Iraqis who worked as embedded interpreters, the US has stepped in to offer immigrant visas to select Afghans who assisted directly in the war effort. My friend, who I will call LB, helped about a dozen eligible Afghans fill out their Special Immigrant Visa forms and had the following failures to report.

The Requirement:


All high-risk Afghans applying for citizenship must undergo a medical examination performed by a US doctor.

The Screw:
The cost of this medical examination is $365 per person. That includes vaccinations, too. The national income per capita in Afghanistan is less than 450 dollars. Interpreters can apply for visas for their families, increasing the cost of medical clearance into the thousands.

Additional Screw:
As US forces withdraw from Afghanistan, US doctors are more difficult to come by, resulting in longer wait times.

Final Screw:
The medical exam is only good for a limited time but the visa process is subject to endless delays. If the visa process drags on too long, the medical clearance expires in six months, forcing the applicant to pay for a renewal, e.g., scrape and borrow from friends and family, for hundreds or thousands of additional dollars.

The Requirement:


Visa forms must be filled out properly.

The Screw:
The forms use bureaucratic terminology and arcane, formal language designed for native English speakers.

Additional Screw:
The forms are rife with pitfalls that would stymie even the most erudite of native English speakers. For example, one question asks if the Afghan applicant is married. If the Afghan is not, and writes "No", the form will be rejected. The correct answer, learned after months of waiting followed by a rejection letter, is "N/A."

Supplemental Screw:
The process takes anywhere from one to three years. Any mistakes or discrepancies will slow the lumbering process to a crawl, and drive up the frustration level of desperate applicants who are often unable to correct a mistake they cannot understand.

Final Screw:
Again, when the process takes longer than six months, a new medical exam by a US doctor at the cost of $500 per person is required.

The Requirement:


All applicants must present a Threat Letter proving how, when and by whom threats have been delivered. The threats must be "continuous and ongoing."

The Screw:
Taliban death threats are not so easy to prove until they are carried out. A phone call is difficult to prove. A verbal message cannot be proven. Written threats are accepted. As the majority of Taliban are illiterate, this is an unlikely method of communication.

Additional Screw:
Being an interpreter and writing a persuasive threat letter are two completely different tasks. Speaking enough English to help US forces communicate with Afghan civilians and glean information from captured Taliban fighters requires a radically different skill set than letter writing. Few Afghan interpreters are lucky enough to find an American like LB to help draft a letter that properly documents and communicates the death threats they have endured.

The Requirement:


During the multi-year process, the embassy will ask additional questions via email. Applicants must answer or their applications will be rejected.

The Screw:
The questions are written in highly formal and bureaucratic terms and must be answered in the same tone to satisfy. For interpreters who speak English as a second or third language, this is quite difficult to understand. Interpreters have verbal language skills that help troops locate the enemy, but reading and responding to official emails written in bureaucratese is no small chore.

Additional Screw:
If the applicant doesn't understand the additional questions, or lacks the skills to write back, they must drop out of the Visa process. Applicants who have been fortunate enough to meet LB have given him their email passwords so LB can read and re-read the questions and write a response on their behalf. "Dear Visa Processor, My name is Naqib and I wish to resubmit my visa application form with a correction to Box 7 as requested."

Final Screw:
Visa processors send back application forms and letters asking for corrections that had previously been requested by another visa processor months earlier, and provided by the applicant. Afghan applicants are left to wonder why they are being asked to correct the same mistake, or resubmit the same letter, over and over.

The Requirement:


Applicants must provide an employment verification letter from the Human Resource Department of the company that hired them. This letter verifies dates of employment as well as a personal testament that the applicant is an upstanding citizen and poses no threat to American civilians.

The Screw:
The letter must originate from an American who works in a Human Resource Department in Afghanistan. These are US companies that primarily have Human Resource Departments in the United States, not Afghanistan, making this an impossible ask. Few Afghans understand the organizational chart of an American company.

Additional Screw:
It's possible to sidestep the above by contacting senior management and asking them to write and sign employment verification letters. As my friend LB says, this is akin to the typist asking the CEO for a favor, and then re-asking the CEO for the same letter multiple times when the visa processors request resubmissions with corrections and amendments. Because most Afghans do not have ready access to senior management, LB handled these requests with his boss personally. All employment verification letters were rejected by the embassy based on the fact that LB's senior manager did not work in a Human Resource Department. LB went back to the senior manager and asked for a different letter that stated the company doesn't have a Human Resource Department in Afghanistan. This was acceptable.

Supplemental Screw:
The Embassy in Kabul handles a large volume of work. Because of this, embassy employees miss details. To wit, several letters LB had his senior manager write and sign on behalf of interpreters were rejected after months of processing for not including dates of employment. In fact, the dates of employment were included, but the processor didn't read the entire letter. LB logged into the interpreters' emails, at their request, to handle what LB called "ticky tack bullshit" situations like this ad nauseam. Three years after returning to the states, LB continues to handle these red tape details for the remaining Afghan interpreters who have the stamina to continue applying for a visa.

Continued Screw:
Due to the ongoing drawdown, most US military and US employers are gone, leaving these Afghans in the difficult position of tracking down and locating former bosses who have long since departed. LB is helping the best he can in tracking down senior managers and drafting letters for his former boss to sign.

Final Screw:
Requesting detailed letters is a huge task when English is a second language and there is limited access to senior management. Here's an example of the writing level of the interpreters, as well as the officious loopholes they endure when applying for a Supplemental Immigrant Visa.

Hi LB, hope you're fine and doing good again I want to say thanks to your help and your honesty with me and also pass my { salam } to your great family members .

This time I send you the HR and recommendation letter and also this time I attached the ID card because on first time we didn't send that just we send the NCL ID card so go in to my email and send this time these documents and also let them know in that in first time I send the NCL ID card because it has been 5 years that I have working with the US organization in Afghanistan and telling them that AECOM project is ended in Afghanistan , just a kind of let them know to chick my all documents which I send it because this time again they didn't telling me about the HR letter of AECOM tell them that I send the HR letter of NCL and this time the AECOM , Sorry LB that I giving you hard time.

While our government seeks to protect Afghans who risked their lives to help us, there is no help provided with this complicated process unless someone like LB comes along.

The chances of that are slimmer than being killed by the Taliban.