Complex US Refugee Policies Likely to Limit Number of Afghan Admissions

Despite round-the-clock efforts by the military to evacuate Afghans loyal to the United States in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan just days ago, immigration experts say it is unknown how many of them will actually be admitted to the U.S. as refugees.With less than two months left in the current fiscal year, the U.S. is on track to finish with the lowest number of refugee admissions ever recorded — a testament in part to the anti-immigration sentiment among many Americans that flourished under former President Donald Trump and persists during the Biden administration.The U.S. has welcomed only 6,250 refugees in fiscal 2021 under President Joe Biden, far below a refugee cap of 85,000 in fiscal 2016, in the final year of the Obama administration.Upon taking office in 2017, Trump suspended the resettlement program for 120 days, which significantly slowed the admission processing. He then set the refugee admission cap at 50,000 and FILE – Megan Carlton with the Refugee Services of Texas walks through a home her organization set up for an Afghani refugee family in Dallas, Aug. 17, 2021.Experts predict only a small number of the Afghans able to depart Kabul in the coming weeks aboard military aircraft will end up in the U.S. Many more FILE – A sign marks an entrance to U.S. Army base Fort Lee, Aug. 17, 2021, in Petersburg, Va. Afghan refugees who have been prescreened by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have been taken to Fort Lee and other temporary reception centers.Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in an interview with WYPR public radio station that the current refugee program is the pathway through which women, gender rights activists, journalists or other vulnerable Afghans could be relocated to the United States if they do not qualify under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, designed to provide a path to legal residency in the U.S.“Special Immigrant Visas have very specific criteria through which applicants can be eligible. … But for those populations — gender rights activists, journalists, academics, teachers, women leaders — who are now vulnerable because they could be targeted not because they served or were on the payroll of the U.S. government but because they advanced the U.S. mission through different efforts, those individuals would be resettled through the traditional resettlement program,” Vignarajah said.The application process for SIVs, including decision-making and approval, takes an average of three years, while resettlement through the refugee program can take up to five years. Applications to either program begin outside the United States.Vignarajah said refugee-vetting remains thorough and that refugees fall into a low-security risk category.’Humanitarian parole’In his presidential campaign, Biden pledged to “increase the number” of refugees allowed into the United States to 125,000. In the White House, he signed an order keeping the admission of refugees capped at 15,000 for fiscal 2021, a number previously set by the Trump administration.After being sharply criticized by his Democratic allies, the president formally pledged to accept 62,500 refugees in fiscal 2021.But the reality, according to experts, is that the U.S. will “probably” accept fewer than 10,000 refugees by the end of September.Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University, told VOA in an email the administration could use an existing immigration process to allow refugees into the country: humanitarian parole.“Humanitarian parole is used to bring someone who is not otherwise eligible to enter the country, or who does not have a visa, into the United States temporarily because of an emergency or urgent humanitarian reason,” Yale-Loehr explained.Although a bipartisan group of 46 U.S. senators urged the administration to use this humanitarian relief, it is unknown if Biden officials will heed their pleas.

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