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Biden’s Withdrawal of U.S. Troops Causes Turmoil, Uncertainty for Afghan Nationals

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Biden’s Withdrawal of U.S. Troops Causes Turmoil, Uncertainty for Afghan Nationals

Withdrawal of U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan has caused chaos and uncertainty amongst the Afghan people, as the Taliban have rushed to take over most of the country, and the Afghan government has fled. The situation in Afghanistan is a nationally recognized humanitarian crisis. Observers have reported panic and fear, confusion, and acts of desperation as Afghans look for any way possible to escape the country, as the Taliban push their takeover.

On April 14, 2021, President Biden announced that it was ‘time to end the forever war.” He announced complete withdrawal of U.S. armed forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. Biden followed former President Trump’s agreement with Afghanistan and the Taliban to slowly but completely withdraw U.S. troops. However, Biden’s withdrawal of troops, starting in June, became very unorganized by mid-August.

What We Know

Based on reports from the U.S. Department of State, United States-assisted transportation out of Afghanistan is presently set to terminate on August 31. Many community based nonprofits and non-governmental organizations have been actively providing help in the evacuation of Afghans fleeing the Taliban. Many congress people have been providing assistance for evacuation, including: Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA),  Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Representative Andy Kim (D-PA).

As of August 20, the civilian side of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport is open and controlled by Turkish armed forces. Civilian flights can fly into Hamid Karzai if they go through a specific permissions process or if a U.S. government agency authorizes it together with the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). While military flights are arriving and departing on a consistent basis, commercial flights and foreign contracted flights are operating on a limited basis. Individuals who know of charter flights that need proper permissions to fly into Afghanistan via Hamid Karzai should email OSACSCA@state.gov. The State Department believes it is best practice for U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, Special Immigrant Visa holders, or other individuals with valid U.S. travel documents seeking to depart Afghanistan to use U.S. military repatriation flights.

The State Department has ordered U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and certain Afghans with current U.S. travel documents to proceed to Hamid Karzai International Airport immediately. However, priority 1 and priority 2 (P1-P2) refugees and special immigrant Afghans have been ordered to shelter in place until they hear from the refugee coordination team. The Afghanistan Task Force (ATF) is facilitating additional direct flights from Hamid Karzai International to Qatar, Kuwait, and other countries to relieve pressure on the holding facility.

Further Guidance for Employers of Afghans with Special Immigrant Visas: 

There is serious concern for Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders. This is primarily because many SIV holders worked for U.S. companies or the U.S. government. The Taliban looks upon such individuals as their enemies, and SIV holders are at significant risk in Afghanistan.

The Department of State issued the following guidance concerning SIVs:

  • We understand many companies have received calls from Afghan employees who are partially through the SIV process asking for assistance. Many questions relate to whether or not the SIV applicant should make their way to HKIA (Hamid Karzai International Airport) (i.e., whether they will be able to be evacuated if they make it to the airport).

  • Please contact afghansivapplication@state.gov about individuals with their SIV application in progress. Administrative processing of Special Immigrant Visas will continue, and applicants will continue to be notified about the status of their cases. At this time the USG recommends that Afghan nationals without any approved documentation shelter in place and not travel to the airport, as they may be turned away.

  • DOS has established a SIV hotline to answer calls. While the line is currently overwhelmed with calls, they are staffing up as quickly as possible. Below are the hotline details to share with the Afghans who may contact you asking about their SIV application and whether or not they should try to get to HKIA.

  • DOS SIV Hotline: 1-888-407-4747 (Alternate number: 202-501-4444)

    • DOS is sending texts and emails to those SIV applicants who are eligible for evacuation, informing them they should make their way to HKIA, if possible.

    • Wait past the first prompt—the first prompt is only for U.S. Citizens. The caller will be connected to the National Visa Center (NVC).

    • There is a standard message about checking your application online. There’s also a “high call volume” message. Callers may not get through after several attempts. However, the call center is operating non-stop. Encourage callers to continuing calling to try to get through.

Possible Immediate Options for Afghan Nationals

Advocates have been brainstorming ideas to aid the people of Afghanistan in these times of crisis. Ultimately, Afghans will need the help of the U.S. government, and the implementation of swift action to help repatriate Afghans seeking refuge in the United States.

Beneficiaries of certain immigrant visa petitions are now eligible for expedited processing of their cases. However, there is uncertainty regarding Afghans who have no current travel documentation. One available option for these individuals is known as parole. In some cases, no forms or filings are required from the applicant. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) can work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to request parole of an Afghan national into the United States through DHS permission. DHS may issue parole even if Afghans only have their ”taskera,” or identity card; there is no need for a passport in these cases. These cases often require congressional input however, as there is no direct method of applying to the DOS or DHS. Nonetheless, Afghans may request a traditional parole by preparing Form I-131 and the required supporting evidence, then submitting it to DHS.

If an Afghan national is able to reach a third country, an application for Humanitarian Parole can be made at an embassy. Afghan citizens are eligible for “e-visas” to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, they may enter the following countries without a visa:

  • Antigua and Barbuda

  • Benin

  • Cape Verde

  • Comoros: Visa on arrival

  • Dominica

  • Ethiopia

  • Maldives

  • Qatar

Finally, we would like to point out some hopefully useful resources for Afghans seeking departure from the country:

Please note that the information above may change quickly. Ibrahim Law Office is working to stay on top of the situation in Afghanistan as it evolves and shifts, so that we may provide you with resources, updates, and information you need to help clients or become involved in this time of crisis.

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