US concerned authorities are struggling to address the growing backlog.
At least 28,000 Afghans, seeking temporary US entry for humanitarian reasons, have failed to get their applications processed due to the slow pace of approvals from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Only about 100 of Afghan applications to a little-used program known as humanitarian parole have been approved so far, according to federal officials.
USCIS has confirmed struggling to keep up with the surge in applicants but promised to address the growing backlog.
Victoria Palmer, a USCIS spokesperson, said the agency has trained 44 additional staff to help address the application surge.
The slow pace of approvals is frustrating because families have already paid hundreds if not thousands of dollars in processing fees, says Chiara St. Pierre, an attorney at the International Institute of New England in Lowell, Massachusetts, a refugee resettlement agency.
Each parole application comes with a $575 filing charge, meaning USCIS, which is primarily fee-funded, is sitting on some $11.5 million from Afghans in the last few months alone, she and other advocates complain.
“People are desperate to get their families out,” said St. Pierre, whose nonprofit has filed more than 50 parole applications for Afghan nationals.
“Do we not owe a duty to the people left behind, especially when they are following our immigration laws and using the options they have?"
Long process with no guarantees
Part of the challenge is that humanitarian parole requires an in-person interview, meaning those in Afghanistan need to travel to another county with an operating US embassy or consulate after they've cleared the initial screening.
US officials warn it could then take months longer, and there is no guarantee parole will be granted, even after the interview.
Humanitarian parole doesn’t provide a path to lawful permanent residence or confer US immigration status.
It's meant for foreigners who are unable to go through the asylum or other traditional visa processes, but who need to leave their country urgently.
The backlog of parole requests comes on top of the more than 73,000 Afghan refugees already evacuated from the country as part of Operations Allies Welcome.
The evacuation campaign focused on Afghans who worked for the US government as interpreters and in other jobs.
Most have arrived in the country and have been staying on military bases awaiting resettlement in communities across the country, though about 2,000 still remain overseas awaiting clearance to enter the US, according to Palmer.