Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program a bureaucratic failure

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 1, 2010

An Op-ed in the New York Times points out the complete bureaucratic failure of the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, the program designed to help endangered Iraqi allies bypass the slow refugee resettlement process and emigrate to the US. Of the 15,000 slots available since 2008, the US government has only granted 2,145 SIVs.

As the United States ends combat operations in Iraq today, it is leaving behind the thousands of Iraqis who worked on behalf of the American government — and who fear their lives and families are threatened by insurgents as a result.

In 2008 Congress significantly expanded a program that provided these Iraqis with visas to immigrate to the United States. But in the intervening years, the program has proven to be a bureaucratic failure. Unless we improve the resettlement process for our Iraqi allies, their lives will continue to be in danger long after the last American soldier has returned home.

…Given [the] obstacles, it’s no surprise that relatively few people have successfully used the program: an Aug. 12 letter to the administration by 22 members of Congress noted that only 2,145 visas have been issued, even though the program has 15,000 available slots. here

Even if a US Iraqi ally is lucky enough to make it through the SIV bureaucratic process, they must then possibly contend with one of our many negligent private refugee resettlement agencies, here.

63 Responses to “Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program a bureaucratic failure”

  1. sarkis yousif sarkis said

    Dear sir:
    I was employed by the U.S Army for more than three years and usualy hired by the (JAG)office. I wish to emegrate to the U.S. Not sure wither I am incloudede to ( vis program) or not. Looking forward to hear from you.
    many thanks.

  2. diyar said

    dear sir or ma’am
    i am an SIV applicant from Iraq i would love to know whats going on with SIV program?
    i served 2 years with us.forces
    i applied for SIV Auguste 2008 did my interview 7 month ago and they have my passport!
    its not only me who’s waiting for the visa its nearly every SIV applicant in Iraq!
    i send many inquiry to us.embassy in Baghdad they send the same words same email but new dates on..would love to hear any updates on SIV program leave ur comment please thanks

  3. nen000 said

    Dear sir
    i served 2 years with us.forces
    I am married and have two children completed the interview, SIV I am waiting from 6 months and no visa yet

    I move my family to live from place to another,

    because our lives are in danger

  4. Adham said

    Dear Sir /Ma’am
    I am Cruise and i did my SIV interview on NOV/ 07/ 2010 , It’s been over nine months waiting and seems like it will be forever waiting , I am hiding at mu uncle house sinve i quite my job on June/06/2011 , I don’t know if am going to make it or have to face the death in Iraq

  5. john said

    dear sir/madam and
    to whom it may concern,

    I am working for the my visa interview in March-2011,been waiting for the visa fU.S government in iraq since May-2009 till present time ,and finished or five months, but for some reason they do not issue the visa ,not only mine, but most the Iraqi SIV Applicants as well. I wish somebody could explain the reason for not issuing the visas.
    I also wish they knew the jeopardy we are facing and how we run awy from death.And how much longer can we run to get to the U.S?!!

    Are we supporting the Non-supporters??


    • At the beginning of the year the US government began requiring updated security clearances for refugees and SIVs that have been waiting in line, i.e. re-checking cases to make sure they conform to any security information gathered since the initial security clearance went through. This has significantly slowed processing this year. Those from Iraq are being impacted more due to similarities in names. We will post any updates to this situation as information becomes available.

  6. haya alany said

    dear sirs,
    we’ve been interviewed for the SIV in the us embassy in Damascus 66 days ago , till now , there is no response
    what is the maximum time that we can expect for the response?

    • There are various steps in the process. The security check alone can easily take 5 months. According to Human Rights First’s recently released report: Living in Limbo: Iraqi Refugees and U.S. Resettlement, the SIV process can take from 9 to 17 months from start to finish.

  7. haya alany said

    dear Mr/Mrs
    the interviewing officer told that our visas are approved and it will take 60 days or less to contact us
    now we r disappointed to hear that it might take over a year for the administrative process to be done though all our doucements were perfectly approved
    moreover the situation here in syria is so dangerous we sacrifised everything to get here we can’t move to another place
    so please can u explain the situation of the SIV for Iraqi people in syria?
    Plz take in consider our live and the danger we r living with.

  8. haya alany said

    we applyed in 30-9-2009
    and we have been 66 days in the administrative processing step !

    • Ok, so you’ve been in process for almost 24 months. That report I quoted said 9 to 17 months for the entire process from start to finish — not for just the “administrative process”. I don’t know what that is. If they said it was up to 60 days more then you are only 6 days behind at this point. I understand your frustration and panic after waiting so long, but it sounds like you are getting close to the end of the wait time.

      Is it possible for you to contact the US embassy to inquire, or have you already done that?

  9. haya alany said

    oh thanks for clearing that cuz i just got scaried when u said 9 to 17 months , but now i understood it

    on the facebook , I kept sending my inquiries to the official page of the us embassy – consular section and they kept saying be patient and if the 60 days passed withoutt getting any response contact us on -some email address- that we ve already been contacting them by , till now they say the same words , be patient , we cant expect anything and some unhelpful answers….
    but with all respect they just cant understand our situation here , schools about to breakup if u join we need to spend alot of mony and effort cuz this is the final grade for me and my brother its so sensitive u know , on the other hand u know how bad the situation is here and it keeps getting worse and worse….
    sorry for my poor english ( im the princibal applicant’s daughter)

    • Try not to worry. They tell you to be patient and give some unhelpful answers probably because they have no real control over the process themselves. They are waiting on final approval from US federal government departments. Its a long and complicated bureaucratic process. I suspect you and your brother should not re-enroll in school, because your departure time is getting close.

  10. haya alany said

    Thanks sir , ur answer give me some hope
    but what really makes me frustrated is that i’ve read in some forums that some people had had to wait over a year for their adm.processing to be completed
    so what do u think about it sir?
    Sorry for annoying you with my so many questions

  11. Joe q. said

    I have an inquiry about the administrative process
    we’ve been 2 years under process of our SIV , USCIS gave us the approval and accepted us as immigrants in USA , and forwarded our case to NVC who asked the US embassy to process a visa IV for us after we submmit all the requested documents
    my question is what will be the result of the administrative process after the visa interview, can the cas be regected after all the approvals we had from all mentioned-above and the last approval we got was by the interview officer when he told us after the interview that our visa is approved

  12. jullian said

    After beeing done with the interview for the I-360 visa type, how long do we have to wait for our visas to be stamped?

  13. jullian said

    is there any official page or website that can give us a specific and guaranteed answer?

  14. haya alany said

    a friend of ours had made a petition on white house web site , we need to collect 5000 signature before the end of this month, need ur help
    plz share it with everyone u know to help expediting the SIV processing

  15. Benjamin cuir koriom awuot said

    Hello, Sir
    iam refugee from south sudan acrosed broder Egypt to israel on date 14 – 4-2007 with my family [wife and] four sons [ages 2, 6, 8 and 9] with my wife iam in bad condition .

  16. Alan said


  17. Afghani said

    Can someone help us on what is the statues of AFGHAN SIV… Two of my firneds has been killed by Talbian and no one has done anything about us yet.. Please help us and speedup the SIV AFghan

    • It seems to be the same story as for Iraqi SIVs — either its a huge backlogue of security clearance approvals, and/or its a deliberate slowdown due to the 2012 US election season. Can you telll us anything about those killed?

  18. ali said

    dear sir i live in the state and iam green card holder and my wife and my 2 kids they did the interview in NOV 2010 and since that time untill now iam waiting ther visa its been now 17 months and iam siv and they r the same cuz they have the same case number what do u think i should do ???

    • Unfortunately yours is a typical case. There is a huge backlog in the security clearance checks since a new requirement last year that the checks be up to date, therefore many have to be done more than once. In addition to that, they are rechecking all the Iraqis already in the US. So they have to check your wife according to the new protocols even though she is the same case as you.

  19. ali said

    first time i apply to siv with my family in 2009 and they finish the case in 2009 for me and my family but in the interview itold the embassy to hold my family visa and issue it when i told them i left to the state in 2009 and i conact the embassy in 2010 to issua the visa for my family and since that they keep saying
    Your case is still in additional administrative processing. As soon as we have concluded this processing, we will contact you.

    but my family case finish in 2009 i just contact them to issue the visa in 2010 so whats the problem even me i was linguist with usarmy and my wife was a contracter with usarmy for more then a 5 years and my kids under 4 yrs sorry for long message but iam looking for hope
    thank you so much for reading and answering our messages
    god bless u

    • See my reply in #19 above about what the problem is. The official explanation is that all security checks must now be redone (it doesn’t matter if your case was finalized i 2009 or 2010). The other problem is that the security checks system is backed up. Your family’s case would have been put back into the queue behind a huge backlog of other cases.

  20. ali said

    dear Christopher
    its been now 18 months since my family did the interview and still nothing i keep hearing from friends many siv the came to the state most off them they wait only 6 to 12 months to issue the visa and my family 18 months i dont know what to do if ther any place or anything i can contact to help my family case please let me know
    thank you so much ..

  21. Jamal Ali said

    Dear Sirs
    The US Embassy in Baghdad Launched a campaign of adoption for street DOGS in Al Kindy Dist. Nearby the Embassy complex, they promise the Desiree in USA to deliver the dogs to their doors, To avoid letting them (the dogs) being killed by Iraqi guards and other armed forces in there, after some Embassy employees witnessed such situation.
    At the same time the same Embassy and other US Embassies in regional countries directed by the Department of states in DC are fully responsible of delaying thousands of Iraqi refugees and Immigrants applications, and let those HUMANS face Hazards and Threads of Death, displacement or getting arrested in Iraq or regional countries, because they have to wait for some Administrative Process that lasts for 3 to 4 years, for God sack are we in stone age.
    We call the Guinness Book Committee to consider this work #1 of duplicity, for this group who claim humanity.

    The above paragraph was published in at least 8 US Embassies (in Middle East) facebook public pages and never remains more than few hours then it either removed or blocked … and that is bigger shame on the US Embassies and DOS than the one mentioned in the above paragraph.
    Hope my words will have better chance on your pages.

    • Rose said

      Perhaps the dogs are a cultural issue I find that white people of European ancestry have great concern for the well-being of dogs, cats, horses and other farm animals and sentient beings, in addition to the human species. While I feel empathy for the people stuck in Iraq, I applaud the US Embassy in Baghdad for their humanity in rescuing the dogs from that terrible situation, too.

  22. Jamal Ali said

    To: whom who may care in US Embassies and DOS (if there is any)

    Dear Sirs

    Hope everybody is doing well.

    We are miserable Iraqi SIV applicants, for the fourth year of our application process we kept hearing the softest words of sympathy and apology for delaying our application process in all stages, starting with collecting initial papers, then earning COM approval, sending petition to USCIS, the long long list of demands of IDs and official documents needed by NVC, and finally the kind reward of DOS by keeping us waiting for Administrative process completion for unlimited time (almost a year so far).

    Everybody (from your side) is keep saying that they understand our frustration and we wonder what are the signs of that understanding and sympathizing with our situation, is it by treating us as potential VDP’s.

    Why all Iraqi applicants should suffer because two Iraqi refugees managed a terrorist acts inside Iraq from Kentucky? Are people of Norway suffers the same as we do if they decide to visit USA after Behring Breivik committed his massacre of killing 77 innocent persons in double terrorist act ? Or what we are suffering of is a designed policy from the USG to make Iraqi applicants getting bored and give up following up their application process?

    When only less than 20% of any job or project is accomplished after most of the work time passed, that is a clear indication of real problems in implementing that work; this is the situation with implementing the SIV program by you (about 5000 application completed out of 25000 chances decided) isn’t that a motive enough to you to repeat your calculations and start doing things that really help in running the program smoothly.

    Please stop responding to applicants queries with templates that saying no one knows or can predict when the process going to be accomplished as if we are taking about exploring the possibility of water existence on planet Jupiter !!!


    Iraqi SIV applicant

  23. Danny said

    Hello Mr. Coen,
    i started my application on Nov. 2010 and did the interview on June 2011in Jordan and until now there is no reply ( pending administrative process)
    can you assist me with it?
    thank you

  24. c22jamal said

    Dear Sir
    Christopher Coen
    I am an Iraqi living in Sweden since 2006. I have Iraqi nationality and Swedish. I was working as a translator for the U.S. military in Baghdad.
    Exposed to the threat because of my work. I left Iraq to Sweden.
    Before the SIV program is working in Iraq.
    Can I get the SIV . I have my children live the United States by the SIV program. I wont I want to live with them after dividing us because of terrorism
    I have all the documents for that.
    Best Regard

    • Well, I’m not an expert or lawyer on the matter, but I doubt you could get an SIV since you are no longer in danger. It seems to me that to reunite with your children you could inquire about bringing them to Sweden. I assume they are minors?

      Do you have a spouse in the US? If she is a legal permanent resident (green card holder) she can petition for a spouse via an I-130 immigration application.

      • c22jamal said

        Thanks for answer, My children are adults , I can not request their reunion here in Sweden. They have Green card, I have already submitted a request to the (IOM)
        The answer was to come to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad for the interview.
        Waiting in Baghdad for an unknown time until the approval of the request.
        I asked for the interview at the U.S. Embassy in Sweden.
        Because it is no longer I have one in Baghdad to wait there.
        The answer was, we don’t have IOM in Sweden.
        And how I am no longer at risk!!!! What is the reason of my staying in Sweden?? Is not my fear of danger!!!And what the reason.
        Which led to live away from my children
        Was not the reason my work with the U.S. military.

      • Okay, I just looked at the US Department of State SIV application page on that agency’s website ( You may apply for this program if you meet all of the following requirements:

        – You must be a national of Iraq; and
        – You must have been employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. Government in Iraq on or after March 20, 2003, for a period of one year or more; and
        – You must have provided faithful and valuable service to the U.S. Government, which is documented in a letter of recommendation from your supervisor; and
        – You must have experienced or be experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of your employment by the U.S. Government.

        So, it doesn’t say you are not qualified for the visa just because you are now living in Sweden and have Swedish citizenship. Why don’t you just email your question to the USCIS Nebraska Service Center at

      • Jamal said

        Dear Christopher Coen

        On August 8 sent a request to SIV. And I explained to them everything about my situation and where I am now.
        And I have Swedish and Iraqi Nationality. They sent me a form DS-157. So I Completed the application with all the Questions.
        Including how Nationalities you have. and also with all the Documents they want, verification employment, supervisor recommendation, all the badges I have. recommendation from different military units, Iraqi passport.
        a week after they asked me more information and documents. I sent it to them. after a week they sent me a Questions.
        Where were you in Period 1980 to 2003, and in period 2006 to 2009, And what you’re working.
        If sent them all the details with the documents, Then they sent me an email that your papers is complete and we sent it to
        the The U.S. embassy in Baghdad. to obtain COM approval.
        Today I received email from them.

        Mr. Jamal,

        We are contacting you from the Refugee and IDP Affairs at the U.S. Embassy, Baghdad regarding your application for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program.

        In order to continue the processing of your SIV case we need the following information:

        · In your application you mentioned that you have a passport issued from Sweden. Do you have a Swedish passport and are you a citizen of Sweden? If yes, please provide us with a scanned copy of your Swedish passport.
        · Do you currently live in Sweden? If yes, what do you do there (study/ work)?
        I Sent them a copy of the Swedish passport, and the answer to their question .

        Sir, what do you think on that, How come they say that your papers is complete, and they ask for more.
        And why Swedish passport. and I still have the Iraqi Nationality with the Iraqi passport.
        And how they ask do I live in Sweden! Two weeks ago Sent them all the details for period 2006 t0 2012 .
        With certificates of Swedish schools where I Study!!
        Do you think they will refuse my request? I explained to them everything before I start!!!!
        Best Regard

      • Another possibility — if any of your adult children are US citizens, then they could also apply for you to immigrate to the US via the I-130 application, because any US citizen can petition for a parent to live in the US as a permanent resident. I don’t know if that route would be faster or slower than the SIV application process, because I don’t have expertise in this area. Also, there are application fees with either process, but there is nothing that prevents you from doing both applications, as long as you and/or your child have the money to pay the application fees. If you applied for emigration both ways, then perhaps one process will be less slow than the other. One of your children should consult with a reputable immigration lawyer in the US to ask these questions.

      • I think its just a very drawn out, complicated bureaucratic process and they had that last bit of information to get from you. I wouldn’t make to much of it.

      • c22jamal said

        Dear Sir
        In the end after all this. My case has been denied. because. My current situation does not warrant admittance to the SIV program. Why? and whats meen of current situation!!! I tried to know the interpretation of this sentence. Without any feasibility. Even after sending a petition to RIDPA in Baghdad. thier answer was. we regret to inform you still do not qualify for the SIV program.
        The funny thing. they Said, you may still be eligible for the United States Refugee Admissions program (USRAP). And when to send my Documents to them they said, in your case you can apply to Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program!!! I do not understand, how come I not qualify and in the same time I’m eligible!!! I have a headache from this question.
        can you help me solve this puzzle.
        Best Regard. Jamal

      • I would have to speculate of course. One of the requirements to qualify for SIV status is that an individual must have experienced or
        be experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of your employment by the U.S. Government. Did you backup claims of ongoing threats with any proof? What threats did you experience in Sweden?

        I assume they told you that you “may” qualify for SIV when you contacted them about applying for refugee status because that is what they tell anyone who has worked for the US. They are doing the responsible thing by notifying applicants.

      • c22jamal said

        Dear Christopher

        First. I Sent them everything they require to provide for SIV. Including Supervisor letter, mention for the threat. and I wrote Statement of threats, Where every detail, There are the names of the U.S officers as a Witnesses. Do they think, Of working with the U.S. military does not face the threat of!!
        Secondly. Had previously granted SIV Visa to the Iraqi interpreters from Sweden. I know these people personally. What about those who provide from Turkey. Jordan, Egypt, Slovakia.
        Wallis are far from the threat in those countries, or what !!! It dawned to me that.
        The approval process is dependent to the Supervisor case mood.
        I think that immigration laws should be Such as civil laws in court. There is evidence, Proofs. And documents, From which the decision shall be.
        Thank you for your interest: Jamal

  25. c22jamal said

    Thanks for your interest in my case.
    First I sent a letter to Special Immigrant Visa Chief of Mission Approval (SIVCOM) Program, Where the same question about my case.
    The answer was. Attached are the Applicant Guidelines for Chief of Mission (COM) Approval. Please follow these guidelines carefully to complete your COM application. the application was DS-157.
    And I fulfilled all that is required in the form.
    But my fear is, After all this, and long waiting. Be their answer to dismiss the case. Honestly I do not trust their procedures. Because they want from the Iraqi’ Things impossible, Especially, For those living outside of Iraq.

  26. c22jamal said

    My children do not have U.S. citizenship yet. and the I-130 Is the same procedure.
    I will try to contact to the USCIS Nebraska Service Center at
    I really appreciate your interest in my case.
    I am 55 years old man, all he want to spend the rest of his life with his children.

  27. ahmad said

    Dear Christopher Coen,

    As afghan SIV applicant i had interviewed on July 23 2012 at US embassy Kabul and now it has been more then six months , some of my friends had their interviewed on January 2012 November 2011 February 2012 till now they r saying (administrative processing ) if any body knows how long it will take to be complete that cases , if they think we should be background check let me tell you this in every six months we will be background check isn’t enough ? all though they said on administrative process for SIVs from 90 days up to 120 days

  28. Ghazi Saab said

    I submitted my application for SIV program on 2008 and i had interview on 2010 in US embassy at Abu Dhabi/UAE and till now my visa is under administrative processing, i left Iraq on 2005, after 2 years working with US marines at most dangerous area in Iraq, the insurgents tried to kidnap and kill me many times and many times i saw the death in my eyes, but the god was there to save me. I lost more than 13 heroes of my cousins and relatives were working with me, they were killed by the insurgents because they were supporting the US forces.
    When i left Iraq i was not married and now i have three kids, they do not know their grandfathers or uncles, i visited iraq on 2010 for two weeks i spent my time at home i was not able to go out….imagine my situation……. The visa is under administrative processing.!!!!!! Please do not make me number 14 and issue my visa. Regards

  29. Mahdi said

    I send my highly respect to you Sir
    I started with the coalition forces in early 2010 i spent like three and half serve with them I got several recommendations by the American army officers.
    Made a documentary for SIV program the local Iraqi interpreters in 2012 until now i still waiting the visa even i re-new all my documents to US embassy -Baghdad at risk in the event of death remained in Iraq,and the program will end and I am very afraid without visa issue so far,is there is any help you can do.please.

    • Are you just waiting on the US government response now? There is not really anything we can do to help you in that matter. Its a matter of the security check, what they discover, etc. As you know, long wait periods of years is normal.

      • MAHDI said

        Yes i do Sir. I’m still waiting US government security check,but the problem is i think they SIV team lift already and also there is no update for my case with no responding on my e.mail that i sent to them. My documents need to re-new and i can [not?] do that without […] the e.mail from US embassy. I am the only one i believe from 2012 who still waiting [on] his visa. [I’m] in the middle of this SISI risk — facing it in Iraq.

        I would like to thank you so much for your answer …

  30. maxmws said

    Hi, I have com approval, and just few days arrived and I will send my papers to Nebraska soon, and I am sure that it will take long time for me to be interviewed, My question please is do I still have small chance for SIV in such case, also can my com approval be used among with the recommendations in other iom program even they addressed directly to SIV Board?

    • I don’t understand your questions. What is a “com approval”? Is that a security clearance? You ask if you have a small chance. Under what circumstances? You haven’t given any circumstances of your case. Your com approval is addressed to the SIV board? By whom, you?

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