US State Department says it is widening the scope of at-risk Afghans eligible for refugee status to include current and former employees of US-based news organisations, aid and development agencies.
Thousands of Afghans will have the opportunity to resettle as refugees in the United States, as violence increases in Afghanistan ahead of the American military pullout at the end of the month.
In a statement on Monday, the US State Department said it will expand the eligibility of refugee admissions beyond the roughly 20,000 Afghans who have already applied – with some being evacuated – under a programme for interpreters who assisted US forces.
"In light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the US government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States," the statement said.
.@POTUS on the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program: Our message to those women and men is clear: There is a home for you in the United States if you so choose and we will stand with you, just as you stood with us. #OperationAlliesRefuge pic.twitter.com/4c5aXgcKJd— Department of State (@StateDept) August 1, 2021
"This designation expands the opportunity to permanently resettle in the United States to many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members who may be at risk due to their US affiliation," it said.
Who is eligible?
The State Department said Afghans eligible for refugee status in United States to include current and former employees of US-based news organisations, US-based aid and development agencies and other relief groups that receive US funding.
Current and former employees of the US government and the NATO military operation who don’t meet the criteria for a dedicated programme for such workers are also covered.
The State Department said the move will mean that “many thousands” of Afghans and their immediate families will now have the opportunity to be permanently resettled in the US as refugees.
It did not offer a more specific number of those who might be eligible for the programme.
The creation of a “Priority 2” category for Afghans within the US Refugee Admissions Program is intended for Afghans and their immediate families who “may be at risk due to their US affiliation” but aren't able to get a Special Immigrant Visa because they did not work directly for the US government or didn't hold their government jobs long enough.
To qualify for the Priority 2 category, Afghans must be nominated by a US government agency or by the most senior civilian US citizen employee of a US-based media outlet or nongovernmental organization.
Roughly 20,000 Afghans have expressed interest in the programme.
President Joe Biden has ordered a withdrawal of remaining US troops by the end of the month, ending the longest war in US history.
With the Taliban going on the offensive, the Biden administration acknowledges fears for the stability of the internationally backed government.
But it insists that the United States has done all that it can and has accomplished its priority mission of eliminating the terrorist group, Al Qaeda, which carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks.