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Archive for the ‘SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants’ Category

Time running out for Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Applications

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 20, 2014

Racing Against Deadline Clock Time CountdownDecember 31, 2014 is the deadline for Afghan SIVs (Special Immigrant Visas). That date is also the deadline by which the visa may be issued according to current law. Processing time can vary, with the US State Department claiming the current average processing time for an SIV in Afghanistan is about 13 months, but with most taking up to five years according to Ron Black, director of the resettlement agency College of Southern Idaho’s refugee program. An article in the Twin Falls Times-News has the details of the issue:

TWIN FALLS | Time might be running out for thousands of Afghans who risked their lives in the U.S.-led War on Terror.
As American forces continue to pull out of Afghanistan, some 5,000 Afghan translators under Taliban threat are competing for a few thousand Special Immigration Visas (SIVs), the New York Times reported in March.

On Aug. 8, President Barack Obama signed the Emergency Afghan Allies Extension Act of 2014, which authorized another 1,000 visas for Afghan principal applicants.

If the special visa program expires at the end of December, it will be nearly impossible for them to come to America through other visas, a State Department official told the Times-News.

“Although the deadline to apply… is December 31, 2014, the current law provides that no SIVs may be issued under this program after that date,” says a State Department online fact sheet. “We welcome action by Congress to extend this program.”

According to the fact sheet, processing time can vary depending on a number of factors. “The current average processing time for an SIV in Afghanistan is approximately 13 months.”

But most have taken much longer, said Ron Black, outgoing director of the College of Southern Idaho’s refugee program. “Up to five years.”…

The biggest difficulty in issuing a visa is establishing the applicant’s identity, Black said. “These SIV applicants use assumed names for their own safety.”

Many use the name “FNU” — which stands for “first name unknown,” he said. The refugees “need identification, and nothing matches.

“Once they get a visa, they must leave immediately,” Black said. “But they still need an exit permit, and that can be cancelled at the last minute. So the process can drag on and on.”… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, College of Southern Idaho, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

SIV Program for Iraqis set to expire end of September

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 13, 2013

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With the House rejecting the Senate’s immigration reform bill Wednesday the SIV Program for Iraqi nationals is set to expire at the end of September, while the program for Afghan nationals will expire at the end of September 2014. The program has run slowly since the start in 2008 with only 22 percent of the visas allotted to Iraqis and 15 percent to Afghans having been issued. An article in the Air Force Times has the story:

A law providing special visas to Iraqi and Afghan nationals in danger for helping the U.S. military suffered a blow when the House rejected the Senate’s immigration reform bill Wednesday.

Many of the refugees and their families face grave threats in their homelands as a result of their U.S. government affiliation, and thousands have been killed by their own countrymen, advocacy groups say.

In 2008, Congress passed legislation providing Iraqi and Afghan refugees who assisted the U.S. with special immigrant visas. This included contractors, translators and guides. The 5,000 visas allotted annually to Iraqis are set to expire at the end of September, while the 1,500 visas allotted annually to Afghans will expire in September 2014. The immigration bill would make the visas available until September 2018.

Only 50 special visas are allotted annually for Iraqi and Afghan translators. But in fiscal 2007 and 2008, an amendment to the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act allotted 500 visas for translators.

From fiscal year 2008 to March 2013, 11,647 visas have been allotted to Iraqi and Afghan refugees and 1,693 to translators, according to State Department data…

With the immigration reform bill stalled, advocacy efforts have focused on pushing through the visa provision by other means, Nystrom said.

The provision has also been attached to the Senate and House’s National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2014.

The versions differ slightly in eligibility and the number of visas allotted, but the major difference in the authorization bill is that visas for Iraqis are only extended to 2014…

Only 22 percent of the visas allotted to Iraqis and 15 percent to Afghans have been issued, according to State Department data… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, Congress, Iraqi, legislation, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

5,700 Afghans have applied for U.S. visas under Afghan Allies Protection Act, just 32 have been approved

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 27, 2012

 

Just under 5,700 Afghans who have applied for U.S. visas under the Afghan Allies Protection Act are waiting in indefinite limbo. Only 32 have been approved since 2009. Some interpreters say they have waited years with hardly a word from the State Department about their applications. Until late 2011, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul did not process a single visa under the program. An article in the Washington Post explains:

KABUL — Of the more than 5,700 Afghans who have applied for U.S. visas under a special program tailored for those who have supported the American war effort, just 32 have been approved, the State Department says, leaving the rest in limbo as foreign forces begin their withdrawal.

The growing, protracted backlog threatens to undermine congressionally approved legislation, as well as the longstanding guarantee that the United States will protect Afghans whose contribution to the American mission has left them hunted and vulnerable.

In 2009, the Afghan Allies Protection Act allocated 7,500 visas for Afghans employed by the U.S. government, mostly as military interpreters. The legislation was intended to respond to a prospect that the interpreters knew well: Without a swift escape route, they would be high-priority targets for the Taliban after the American war effort draws down.

But the channel established by Congress has been far from swift. Some interpreters say they have waited years with hardly a word from the State Department about their applications…Since 2007, at least 80 interpreters have been killed in combat.

Until late 2011, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul did not process a single visa under the Afghan Allies program, according to the State Department...

About 400 Afghan interpreters have received visas through other immigration programs. But those programs largely dried up by 2010, when the Afghan Allies legislation was originally supposed to be implemented…

U.S. military officials say they’re frustrated the visas have not come more quickly.

The visa process is a black hole,” said one U.S. military official in Afghanistan who has helped 30 interpreters apply for visas. “We haven’t heard a word about a single application. From what I’ve seen, they aren’t processing anything.”… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Comment submitted for today’s State Department hearing on size & scope of refugee program

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 1, 2012

Below is a comment that a regular reader of this blog submitted for today’s State Department public hearing on the size and scope of the refugee program for fiscal year 2013:

I am a private citizen refugee advocate who has been assisting refugees with resettlement issues for the past three years. My comments are based on my experience helping refugees after they arrive in the United States with two exceptions: (1) It shouldn’t be as hard as it appears to be logistically for refugees to go through the process to enter the U.S. . By that I mean, not that each individual shouldn’t be scrutinized in detail, but that the process should entail the least travel through dangerous areas in their home countries, the fewest return trips to an application center, the most feedback about application status, the fewest repeat requests for information, and the speediest answer about whether refugee status will be granted. (2) The travel loan program should be converted to a travel grant program. There seems to be some sort of philosophy that it is citizen-building to saddle a refugee with debt as his/her first exposure to life in the United States. I disagree…It is regularly and repeatedly emphasized to them that failure to repay the travel loan can jeopardize their ability to get U.S. citizenship because of an adverse credit report – yet they are all too often given no information about how to seek forgiveness of a loan many of them will likely never be able to repay in time because of their personal situations. Furthermore, I think having the resettlement agencies act as collection agents for these loans is a significant conflict of interest…

My remaining comments concern my experience during the course of my activities as a refugee advocate…Resettlement agency failures to meet contracted responsibilities are not isolated incidences but are regular, daily occurrences on a widespread basis. I believe these failures occur not because of lack of resources, although that is surely true in some cases, but primarily because of a lack of leadership. Leadership in the local affiliates, leadership in the national offices of resettlement agencies, and leadership in the Domestic Resettlement Section. The failure of leadership that talks to each other more than to refugees. Leadership that cares more about what Washington thinks than what refugees think…I have encountered exactly two offices serving refugees in which a human actually answered the telephone; my experience instead has been full of voice mail not returned and even voice mail boxes completely full – this by agencies who are serving people who may not even have used a telephone before coming to the U.S. Leadership, such as that at World Relief, who cares more about its employees’ religious qualifications than their actual competence. Leadership that does not put enough of its own cash into a resettlement program but instead phonies up the value of its match (the value of which, I believe, is rarely, if ever, audited…English language instruction, crucial, of course, for new arrivals, is regularly inadequate and irrelevant to what a new arrival needs. Referrals for mental health services are regularly inadequate or nonexistent. Housing placements are regularly in dangerous neighborhoods and/or too expensive for the refugee to sustain after financial support stops. Too often refugees are completely abandoned after the initial six months placement…Too often the minimum contractually-required services are not adequately provided or not provided at all. Too often refugees become homeless…There are few people in responsible positions who have the personal and professional competence to install effective programs, who care whether their subcontractors perform well, who care whether their employees serve their clients well, who blame themselves and not their clients when things are not working well…

Particularly disappointing is the leadership of the Domestic Resettlement Section who appears to be more apologist for and defender of resettlement agencies and their local affiliates no matter what rather than the overseers and refugee advocates they should be. Complaints go unanswered; or, if answered, are answered with the condescension of a parent who knows best and must be trusted to do the right thing. Investigation may be promised but one never knows whether it happens and what the result is because that would be a violation of confidentiality. All I know is that what I complained about did not appear to change…Program audits are too infrequent and do not appear to include audits of financial responsibility…Particularly disappointing is that the Domestic Resettlement Section seems to think all is well and nothing needs to change – at least nothing they care to share with the public…

Here is a link to a documentary about refugees in Buffalo, N.Y. I think you’ll find their indomitable spirits despite all that has happened to them is most inspiring. I also recommend the press kit that is posted on the web site for an insight as to how resettlement agencies in Buffalo inspired the making of this film. Read full letter here

Posted in capacity, dangerous neighborhoods, democracy, language interpretation/translation, lack of, Office of Admissions, openess and transparency in government, RPC (Refugee Processing Center), SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department, Travel Loan Program, volunteers, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Our bloated security bureaucracy – do overlapping layers, redundancies prevent us from helping our friends around the world?

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 22, 2012

Is the reason that we’re not meeting our moral obligation to resettle Iraqis who risked their lives to help us that our security bureaucracy has so many overlapping layers and redundancies that it’s almost impossible to navigate the system? In the post-9/11 era, under the Department of Homeland Security, one government agency doesn’t necessarily recognize another’s security checks. One refugee security check will often expire before the next is completed. Trudy Rubin, an Opinion Columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, gives her take on what is going on:

…Consider this: In 2008, Congress mandated 25,000 special immigrant visas (known as SIVs) for Iraqis who helped us over a period of five years; fewer than 4,500 have been issued. According to State Department figures, 719 were granted in fiscal 2011 and 569 during the first six months of fiscal 2012…

…Many Iraqis who helped Americans have chosen to apply for U.S. visas through another…refugee program. As of last July, there were 39,000 Iraqis on that waiting list. In the first six months of fiscal 2012, only 2,500 were admitted.

And most applicants have been waiting one to three years.

So what’s gone wrong? Why can’t we meet our moral obligation to Iraqis who risked their lives to help us?

My answer: We have a security bureaucracy that’s gone bonkers. In the post-9/11 era, under the Department of Homeland Security, we’ve set up so many overlapping layers and redundancies that it’s almost impossible to navigate the system. “One agency doesn’t necessarily recognize another’s security checks,” says Carey. “Often one check will expire before the next is completed.”

Take the case of A.M., who worked for the U.S. Army from 2009-11. He’s been waiting more than a year for his security clearance. Because of the wait, his U.S. Embassy-required medical exam “expired” and he had to take it again, paying another $400. Meanwhile, he is living in hiding, under death threat, afraid even to visit his wife and year-old daughter…

Or take A.L., who has been waiting for more than three years, took his medical exam three times, and fingerprints twice. The embassy gave him a date of a year ago, on which he was supposed to travel, but on that day he was told more security checks were needed. He had sold his business and his car, and is running out of money.

We are threatened with death every moment,” he wrote me. “Is this what we deserve because we worked with U.S. forces. Please. Please. Help us.”

That will require the White House to tame the Kafkaesque Homeland Security bureaucracy, something that still hasn’t happened and probably needs presidential intervention. In the meantime, thousands of Iraqis suffer in limbo and America’s credibility takes a further beating.

If we don’t [move on this], it will have a chilling effect on the willingness of people around the world to work with our missions,” Blinken admitted… Read more here

Posted in Dept of Homeland Security, Iraqi, IRC, security/terrorism, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Stoppage In Security Clearances For Iraqi Refugees & SIVs Caused By New Homeland Security Software

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 23, 2012

It turns out that the year-long near stoppage in security clearances for Special Immigrant Visa applicants  (now beginning to wane) and Iraqi refugees was due in part to a software snafu at the US Department of Homeland Security. The other part of the problem that we knew about was the huge backlog of security clearance reviews caused when new requirements mandated older security clearances being redone, including those for the 58,000 Iraqi refugees already in the US. A newspaper column in the Greensboro News-Record by the founding director of the Center for New North Carolinians mentions the software issue:

Freedom.” “Security.” “Education.”

The first three volunteers wrote on the board. Our interpreter explained that they were listing the advantages of living in America. The list grew.

Then they listed the disadvantages. “Separated from family members,” “loss of culture,” “learning the language,” “loss of job skills certifications.” Then these Iraqi refugees who fled to Jordan discussed their answers.

The lesson was taught by a teacher working for the International Organization for Migration. IOM contracts with the U.S. State Department to provide cultural orientation for Iraqi refugees accepted for resettlement in America. The objective was to develop realistic expectations about America and develop analytical and networking skills in decision-making. The class was conducted in Arabic because the U.S. no longer pays for English language training.

I was leading a dozen U.S. refugee professionals and researchers from half a dozen states for the Association of Refugee Service Professionals. We were studying refugee issues. My daughter, who works with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, had arranged meetings for us. The refugees were stuck. Though approved for resettlement, they can’t get security clearances because new software designed for the Department of Homeland Security has problemsRead more here

Posted in Dept of Homeland Security, Greensboro, IOM, Iraqi, security/terrorism, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Special Immigrant Visa Stoppage Beginning To End

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 17, 2012

The near stoppage in the federal government’s issuing of Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqis last year seems to finally be ending. At least 715 special immigrant visas have been issued since October, which is more than all the SIVs issued in the last fiscal year. Resettlement of the broader Iraqi refugee community, however, is still at a near standstill. An article at USA Today explains:

…The Obama administration says it has made tweaks in how it is vetting Iraqis applying to a U.S. government resettlement program, leading to more former military interpreters and U.S. embassy workers being resettled in the USA in the first half of fiscal year 2012 than all of last year.

At least 715 special immigrant visas have been issued since October, surpassing the 706 visas that were issued for all of FY 2011, according to State Department data provided to USA TODAY. The special immigrant visa [SIV] is available to Iraqis that had worked for the U.S. government during the war, and had come under serious threat because they assisted America…

…White House and agency officials won’t talk about the additional security measures they’ve put in place or what changes they’ve recently made to speed up the vetting in recent months…

…Top administration officials—including White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough—have dedicated themselves to fixing the dramatic slowdown in resettlement, Blinken said.

“We owe these people,” Blinken said. “If we don’t deal with this problem, it will have a chilling effect on the willingness of people around the world to work with us, to cooperate with our missions.”

While resettlement of Iraqis eligible for the SIV program has picked up over the last six months, the State Department is still far behind the pace it set in 2009 and 2010, when 2,843 and 2,042 SIVs were issued in the respective years.

Resettlement of the broader Iraqi refugee community—which includes many former helpers to the U.S. military and diplomats–has grinded to a near halt. Only 1,861 refugees have been resettled over the last five months compared to 9,388 in FY 2011 and 18,000 in FY 2010, according to the State Department… Read more here

Posted in Iraqi, Obama administration, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Republicans and President Obama Playing Hot Potato with Iraqi Refugees and SIVs?

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 7, 2012

Trudy Rubin writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer speculates about the failure of the US government to issue the visas it promised to Iraqis who risked their lives to help us. She thinks that the Obama administration – and the Republicans – have decided not to bring more Iraqis into this country in an election year. The supposed reason for the near halt in security clearances is the two Iraqi refugees in Kentucky accused of having terrorist connections. Yet, these two never worked for Americans and those who did, and who are now stuck, went through many security checks before getting their jobs.

Last week, I spoke on the PBS “NewsHour” about Iraqis who worked for our civilians and military before we left the country – and who now face death threats because we betrayed them…

…How can we get the U.S. government to issue the visas it promised to Iraqis who risked their lives to help us?

I’m ashamed to admit that the U.S. government has abandoned these people. No one seems eager to bring more Iraqis into this country in an election year.

President Obama has failed to keep his 2007 campaign pledge to rescue these Iraqis. A group of concerned senators, mostly Democrats, including Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, has made inquiries, but gotten no answers from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta or Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Nor has a peep been heard on behalf of the [Iraqi interpreters] from Republican senators who backed our war in Iraq.

State Department officials say they’re working hard to expedite the visa process. Yet the number of visas for Iraqis who helped us slowed to a trickle just when they were most urgently needed, as U.S. troops quit Iraq…

Official figures show that 39,000 Iraqis (including family members) are in the pipeline in the Direct Access program for Iraqis who worked with us. Only 153 of these visas were issued in December. There are about 15,000 (not including family) in the pipeline for the Special Immigrant Visa program. Only 50 SIVs were issued last month.

The supposed reason for the freeze is new security regulations imposed after two Iraqi refugees in Kentucky were accused of having terrorist connections. But these bad apples never worked for Americans. Those who did went through numerous security checks before getting their jobs… Read more here

Posted in Bowling Green, Dept of Homeland Security, Iraqi, Kentucky, Obama administration, security/terrorism, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Clear SIV Security Check Backlog & Expedite Procedure for Applicants Facing Immediate Danger

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 2, 2012

The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project has ideas for clearing the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) backlog. In addition to the Guam option the group suggests that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) develop a formal expedite procedure for applicants facing immediate danger, and that the DHS use more resources to clear the security check backlog. (How about shifting some of the billions of DHS dollars wasted on the states with little accountability over how lawmakers spent the money, rather than dumping more public resources down the DHS black hole?) An Op-Ed in The Boston Herald addresses the subject:

…Unless Washington acts to clear the backlog on their visa applications, many may die at the hands of al-Qaeda in Iraq or anti-American militias. Many more will languish as refugees. It does not need to be this way…

…There are steps the Obama administration could take now. First, Homeland Security needs more resources to clear the security check backlog. Second, a formal expedite procedure should be developed for applicants facing immediate danger. Third, there should be a clear process to appeal an incorrect or arbitrary decision. An SIV applicant who is now rejected is told only that there is some “derogatory information” in their file and is barred from appealing or addressing this “information,” even in the case of applicants with nine U.S. military officers recommending them.

If it is not possible to immediately clear the backlog or expedite the cases of our allies still trapped in Iraq, a more drastic solution is necessary: an airlift to Guam…

…Guamian politicians have already expressed support for the idea… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, Dept of Homeland Security, funding, Iraqi, Obama administration, security/terrorism, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Senior administration officials say no airlift to Guam being considered for our Iraqi friends

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 24, 2011

A columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that Senior Obama administration officials have told her that no airlift to Guam being considered for our Iraqi friends waiting on US special immigrant visas. Instead they say that there are top-level meetings dedicated to getting the SIV backlog cleared “within months” – and that efforts to clear the backlog will become more intense as the end of the year approaches. Trudy Rubin’s article is found in the Charlotte Observer:

In September 2007, Barack Obama made a stump speech berating the Bush team for breaking faith with Iraqis who had helped Americans.

“One tragic outcome of this war,” said Obama, “is that the Iraqis who stood with America – the interpreters, embassy workers, and subcontractors – are being targeted for assassination. … And yet our doors are shut.

“That is not how we treat our friends. That is not who we are as Americans.”

…In 2008, Congress passed legislation calling for 25,000 special immigrant visas, or SIVs, to be issued over a five-year period – to Iraqis whose lives were endangered because they’d worked for U.S. soldiers or civilians. The law’s criteria were so arduous that only about 3,600 have been issued; at least 1,500 are pending a decision.

What’s worse, the numbers have slowed to a trickle just as we’re departing. Only 10 SIVs were issued in August. The preliminary figure for September is 46. At that rate, it will be years before the backlog is cleared…

…Senior administration officials tell me of top-level meetings dedicated to getting the SIV backlog cleared – “within months.” I believe they are sincere, but the numbers aren’t moving.

Too many agencies are involved, and no senior White House official seems seized with this issue. (Where, I wonder, is the push from the National Security Council’s Samantha Power, who once wrote so eloquently on Iraqi refugees?)…

…There is one obvious way to clear the logjam: an airlift to remove our Iraqi friends from danger.

There is plenty of precedent for such an airlift. In 1975, after initially abandoning massive numbers of our South Vietnamese allies, Gerald Ford finally authorized a massive airlift to evacuate them to Guam and, eventually, to the United States.

In 1996, Bill Clinton ordered Operation Pacific Haven, which flew 6,000 Iraqi Kurds and other opposition activists from Iraqi Kurdestan to Guam, after Saddam Hussein’s troops invaded the region. If Obama ordered a similar airlift, security checks could also be conducted in Guam.

There are more recent precedents, too. The Poles, Danes, and Australians airlifted their Iraqi staff out of the country; after the massacre in Basra, the British returned and flew out endangered staff.

Are we less honorable than the Poles, Danes, Australians, and Brits? I’ll hold off on an answer. Yet, senior administration officials tell me no airlift is being considered…

…Administration officials also tell me that efforts to clear the backlog will become more intense as the end of the year approaches. But if those efforts fail, it may be too late to organize an airlift.

In 2007, Obama said we had a “moral obligation” to those Iraqis who helped us. History will judge him on how he honors that pledge. Read more here

Posted in Iraqi, Obama administration, security/terrorism, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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