House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly press conference with reporters from Capitol Hill on July 22, 2021 at the Capitol in Washington.
Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters
The House of Representatives passed a law Thursday that expands and expedites the special immigrant visa program for Afghans who have supported U.S. and coalition forces and may face Taliban retaliation.
The bill was passed overwhelmingly by 407 votes to 16, with all “no” votes from the Republicans. It is now going to the Senate.
The vote comes as the US and coalition forces near the end of their withdrawal from Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghans who supported the US and NATO during America’s longest war await visa applications as the Taliban continue to occupy more territory in the war-torn country.
“The term life and death is thrown around a lot in this chamber. But this law really is for thousands of our Afghan friends. The Taliban intend to hunt down and kill Afghans who have served alongside the Americans for the past 20 years “said Jason Crow, D-Colo., MP, who introduced the bill to 24 bipartisan members of Congress in plenary last month prior to voting.
“Some members of this body, including myself, may not be here today without the service and sacrifices of Afghans who answered the call to serve shoulder to shoulder with us,” said Crow, the three service missions in Iraq and Afghanistan as a former Army Ranger.
The law, known as the Allies Act, would add another 8,000 to the number of special immigrant visas (SIVs) available to Afghans.
It would also remove onerous application requirements that slow down the Afghan SIV process. This includes a “credible affidavit” requiring applicants to demonstrate that they are at risk for working for the US government and a requirement that limits the field of qualified applicants.
The Allies Act is part of a series of bipartisan bills aimed at simplifying the visa process under the Afghan SIV program launched in 2009. Last month the House of Representatives passed another bill that would allow Afghan allies to undergo a medical examination in the US rather than undergoing a medical examination in a single clinic in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The House of Representatives also passes the Allies Act as part of the Biden government’s plans to evacuate eligible SIV applicants to a safe location while their applications are being processed.
The U.S. is working with allies to secure multiple overseas locations for approximately 4,000 Afghan nationals and their families as part of Operation Allies Refuge. Applicants nearing the completion of their visa process will be evacuated to the U.S. Army garrison in Fort Lee, Virginia, for about seven to ten days, according to a senior State Department official.
The official added that those eligible for an evacuation flight will have to travel to Kabul on their own due to the limited US presence in Afghanistan.
Last week, Biden announced the start of evacuation flights this month for Afghan nationals and their families who supported coalition forces.
In April, Biden announced a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, effectively ending America’s longest war. Biden said last week that the US military mission in Afghanistan will end on August 31.
“We didn’t go to Afghanistan to build a nation,” Biden said in a White House statement. “It is up to the Afghans to decide the future of their country.”
The Pentagon also announced on Wednesday that it had completed more than 95% of the task of withdrawing from Afghanistan.