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

Less than 10 days left to pass bill critical for additional visas for Afghan allies

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 20, 2016



There are now less than 10 days left to pass a Senate bill for critical additional SIV (Special Immigrant Visas) for Afghans who served as interpreters to U.S. troops and officials during the war in Afghanistan.  Thousands of these men and women put themselves and their families at risk to help our soldiers and diplomats accomplish their mission and return home safely, and for their service to the US they are often marked for death by the Taliban.  More than 7,800 Afghans have been waiting in a backlog for years. Congress authorizes additional visas through the National Defense Authorization Act, but so far this year efforts have been blocked by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The Act, as proposed, has no provision to increase the number of visas – leaving a backlog of over 4,000 applicants without the life saving visas we promised them. The State Department will run out of visas on 1 October 2016 (the start of the new fiscal year).  To get Congress to act by the deadline signatures are needed on a petition asking Congress to extend and expand the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program to cover all applicants who qualify to earn a visa.  The petition will be delivered to: the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, the President of the United States, and 10 more decision makers.  The petition is part of a movement by the group No One Left Behind and is found at  It begins this way:

Dear [Decision Maker],

As a constituent and concerned citizen, I write to urge you to take immediate action to protect the Afghan SIV. These loyal Interpreters, Contractors and other allies have stood by us for 15 years for war. We cannot abandon them when they come under threat for their support of the U.S.

Over 7,800 Afghans who served with our troops are currently waiting for the government to process their visas. This number grows larger every day. The State Department reports that Congress has authorized enough visas for only 3,200 of them, leaving at least 4,600 Afghans with one choice: flee or die.

There is still time to actRead more here and sign

Additional information can be found in a May 2016 article at The Hill:

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced an amendment to the 2017 defense policy bill Thursday that would authorize 4,000 additional visas for Afghans who served as interpreters to U.S. troops and officials during the war in Afghanistan to come to the United States…

Congress has authorized additional visas for Afghan interpreters over the past several years through the National Defense Authorization Act but so far this year, efforts have been blocked by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee over security concerns…

The effort is supported by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.)..

“Our nation has a moral obligation to protect those Afghans whose lives are in imminent danger today because they supported American troops and diplomats,” McCain said in a statement.

“This amendment will ensure the continuation of the Special Immigrant Visa program, which our military commanders have said is essential to battlefield success and preserving the gains of the last 15 years in Afghanistan,” McCain continued. “And it will send a clear message that America will not turn its back on those — who at great personal risk — stood with us in the fight against terror”… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, Congress, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Republican infighting threatens SIV program for Afghan interpreters

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 14, 2016

Democrat vs. Republican on white

There are about 12,000 Afghan translators and interpreters whose immigration applications are in limbo, while fewer than 3,000 SIV (Special immigrant visas) remain.  Efforts in Congress to set aside more special visas are being hampered by Republican infighting. Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, said his quarrel was not with the visa program but rather with the fact that it was getting a vote while one of his own, unrelated measures was not.  Republican senator John McCain responded by accusing Mr. Lee of “signing the death warrants” of people who had put their lives on the line to help the United States.  An article in the New York Times gives the details:

WASHINGTON — Zar Mohammad Stanikzai remembers the promise made to him when he became a translator supporting the United States military in 2012: Help us, and we will keep you safe. Four years later, his fear of Taliban reprisals has made him a prisoner in his Afghan home, he said, and he is still waiting for the Americans to honor their commitment.

 Instead, Congress is bickering over the program meant to be his deliverance.

Republican infighting, infused with nativist tones, has left in question whether a special visa program for translators and interpreters who assisted the military during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will be renewed, a potentially devastating blow to approximately 12,000 Afghans whose immigration applications are in limbo.

“We’ve really been trying to reinforce the fact to Afghans that we are committed to you, and this gives the enemy some propaganda to say, ‘Hey, these people really aren’t committed to you,’ ” said Brig. Gen. Charles H. Cleveland, spokesman for the American command in Afghanistan.

 “It’s our credibility that is on the line,” he added… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, right-wing, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What it’s like to be an SIV immigrant

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 26, 2016


The U.S. Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, under which Iraqi and Afghan interpreters and others who worked for the United States during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are permitted to immigrate, has picked up speed somewhat after years of flowing at a trickle. Once SIV immigrants arrive, however, a number of problems in the program begin to become clear. An article in the Sacramento Bee has the story:

…the U.S. resettlement system [has] proved unprepared to handle [the] increased flow of Afghan refugees.

An extreme example of that lack of readiness is the story of what happened to Ajmal Faqiri, who translated for U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. “We actually found him homeless after he arrived in San Francisco airport on Dec. 13, 2013,” Zeller said. “He picked up his four bags, with his wife, 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter and found an airport policeman and asked, ‘What do I do now? The guy pointed north and said the homeless shelters are that way. So they walked up Highway 101.

“We found them homeless, wandering the streets of San Francisco after an Afghan guy noticed them and helped them contact my interpreter through Facebook”…

The State Department gives each resettlement agency $2,025 per person – $900 to spend on case management and $1,125 to cover rent, furniture, dishware, food and pocket money. But this $1,125 – dubbed “welcome money” by the refugee agencies – doesn’t go far. The agencies can reassign $200 of it to the needs of other refugees, meaning it doesn’t have to go to the family for which it was paid by the government.

Much of the remaining $925 per person is often spent on rent, used furnishings or housewares – without the knowledge or consent of the refugees themselves. One new arrival, former translator Yalda Kabiri, said she received just $45 in spending money when she arrived in 2013.

Many told The Sacramento Bee they would rather have all the cash to pay for phones, used cars, gas and their own furnishings…

Some common themes have emerged among special visa holders in Sacramento. Upon arrival, they are settled in one of a number of apartment complexes in Sacramento County. These units are often infested with roaches and bedbugs, and located in neighborhoods with relatively high crime rates. But the rent has been prepaid for several months, making it hard to move.

The furniture provided is often used and worn, and in their view not worth the money the refugee assistance agencies often spend on it… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, bed bugs, housing, substandard, Iraqi, late health screenings, meeting refugees at the airport, Muslim, rats and roaches, Sacramento, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lutheran Children & Family Service of Eastern Pennsylvania in the spotlight

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 25, 2016

report1State Department monitors visited Lutheran Children & Family Service of Eastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in April 2014. They evaluated the resettlement agency as only “partially compliant” with resettlement contract requirements. The agency, an affiliate of LIRS, had no structured training program for employees and the staff was unfamiliar with the updated requirements of the Cooperative Agreement. Many core services were not delivered within the required time frames. Monitors visited three refugee families and an SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) family. The agency had kept one family in transitional housing for two months. One family said the affiliate did not help them to enroll in an English language program. One family did not have adequate clothing storage or working smoking detectors. One family said they did not have or use a car seat for their infant child. This family also reported many problems with core service delivery which were documented differently in the case files or reported differently by the case manager. Monitors reviewed 16 case files which showed numerous deficiencies with required refugee services. The following are excerpts from the monitoring report (also see 2007 monitoring report):

“…the affiliate does not have a structured training plan. Many core services were not delivered within required time frames.

Monitors visited there refugee families and one SIV family who had all arrived in December, 2013 or January, 2014… One family was placed in transitional housing for two months… One family reported that it was not provided assistance with access to an English language program. One home did not have adequate clothing storage or working smoke detectors… One family reported that thy did not have or use a car seat for their infant child. The same family reported many issues related to core service delivery, which were documented differently in case files or reported differently by the case manager.

Monitors reviewed 16 case files…There was no documentation of refugee understanding of orientation topics… many case files [the initial home visit as well as housing and personal safety orientation] did not occur the next calendar day after arrival as required. Seven files did not document the start date of public benefits and few files contained documentation of approval of benefits. In six files, assistance to access to employment services was beyond ten days after arrival and did not include a record of assistance. In five files case notes did not clearly document delivery of all core services. All four cases with school-aged children showed that school enrollment was delayed beyond thirty days after arrival. One child who arrive ten weeks prior to the monitor’s visit was still not enrolled in school. Four files did not contain service plans. Of the five files pertaining to males between the ages of 18 and 26, two did not document Selective Service enrollment. One 33-year-old male was registered for Selective Service, although he was ineligible due to his age… Two files did not document assistance with enrollment in English language programs. Two files failed to document acknowledgment by the refugee of receipt of all [State Department]…grant funds…” Read more here

Posted in children, community/cultural orientation, Congolese, Cooperative Agreement, employment services, employment/jobs for refugees, ESL & ELL, failure to enroll refugee children in school, furnishings, lack of, Iraqi, Lutheran, Lutheran Children and Family Service of Eastern PA, Nepali Bhutanese, Philadelphia, R&P, safety, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Leave a Comment »

Republicans just figured out they can’t defund USCIS

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 2, 2015


The bill that passed in the House last week in an attempt to stymie resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees (many of the Iraqis who were friends to the US military) will be difficult to impossible to pass in the Senate. Undeterred, some conservatives want to use the upcoming omnibus spending bill to block funding for large parts of a refugee resettlement program, once again using the threat of a government shutdown. Key Republican leaders, however, are pushing back, calling the effort impractical because because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that oversees the refugee program, is funded through fees and is not covered by the appropriations legislation. An article in the Washington Post has the details:

Key Republicans are pushing back against a proposal from conservatives to use the upcoming omnibus spending bill to block funding for large parts of a refugee resettlement program, calling it impractical…

[Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee], who is part of a group of committee chairmen crafting the party’s response to the attacks, said that approach will not work because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that oversees the refugee program, is funded through fees and is not covered by the appropriations legislation.

“The problem is, you can’t defund USCIS,” McCaul said.
“We kind of fell into that false narrative before, that you could defund it,” he added, referring to an earlier attempt to prevent implementation of an executive order from Obama regarding immigration policy… Read more here

Posted in Congress, Iraqi, legislation, right-wing, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, Syrian | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

SIVs still being wrongfully denied SSI benefits

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 19, 2015

deniedAn issue we first reported on in 2011 continues — SIV immigrants improperly denied social security benefits. An Iraqi SIV visa (Special Immigrant Visa) holder in California named Danial who arrived in June 2012 contacted us to report that the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied him SSI (Supplemental Security Income benefits). Yet, US law entitles SIV holders to these benefits for up to seven years if the person proves disability and has not been able to work for at least a year. Danial reports his case was medically approved as disabled. The SSA office in question is in Victorville, CA.

Following the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2010, P.L.(111-118) enacted on December 19,2009 making Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants eligible for resettlement assistance, federal benefits and entitlements including SSI benefits to the same extent and for the same period as refugees (limited to 7 years if they do not become US citizens), some social Security offices around the US did not seem to understand the law though the SSA put out a letter to local offices to clarify that SIVs were eligible (SSA emergency message EM10023). Also, the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) published State letter #10-02 confirming Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants as eligible for those benefits.

In 2015 this problem of SSA offices denying SIVs their legally allowed benefits continues – some SSA offices apparently still don’t understand the rules and are not observing the SSA’s letter. Instead, they are denying the applicants, with the only recourse to the denied applicant being to apply for a hearing on the matter if they wish to contest the decision. This involves a waiting period until the hearing, that the SIV may have to hire an attorney, going without desperately needed benefits, etc. Danial reports that he applied for Supplemental Security Income in March 2014, his case denied in September 2014, and that he appealed that decision in November 2014. As of today the SSA has still not reported to him any date for an appeal hearing.

Posted in Afghan, California, Iraqi, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, Social Security Administration | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 Refugee Center, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

SIV Program for Iraqis set to expire end of September

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 13, 2013


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 »