As the Biden administration completed the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan last August, it evacuated over 76,000 Afghans to the U.S., many of whom had assisted U.S. forces during the 20-year war in Afghanistan. But tens of thousands of evacuees arrived in the U.S. on a temporary status, stuck in immigration limbo until lawmakers outlined a pathway to permanent residence for them.
Following the U.S. troop withdrawal, over 36,000 Afghans came to the U.S. under humanitarian parole, which grants legal presence and work authorization for two years but doesn't lead to permanent residence or citizenship. Roughly 3,300 evacuees had special immigrant visas (SIVs), which are awarded to Afghans who assisted the U.S. military as interpreters, engineers, and drivers, among other roles. Another 37,000 arrived in the U.S. with incomplete SIV applications. In order to secure lasting presence in the U.S., Afghans would largely have to do so through the severely backlogged asylum and SIV processes.
If passed, the Afghan Adjustment Act would offer more pointed and immediate help to Afghans, resolving much of the uncertainty that currently surrounds their immigration status. Afghans who assisted U.S. forces would qualify for the status adjustment if they received approval from a top diplomatic officer (a chief of mission), were referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, or had applied for a special immigrant visa by July 31, 2018. They must also undergo vetting.
Other Afghan evacuees who are present in the U.S. but don't qualify for visas through assistance to U.S. forces would also qualify for status adjustment. They would become eligible for permanent residence if they've been in the U.S. for at least two years. This category applies to Afghans who were paroled into the U.S. between July 30, 2021, and the passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act, or whose travel was facilitated by the U.S. government. These applicants would undergo additional vetting requirements, including an interview.
In the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, many Afghan helpers were left behind. It's estimated that over 77,000 Afghans who applied for SIVs are stuck in Afghanistan; over 10,000 of them have already received the crucial chief of mission approval. According to Foreign Policy, the true number of Afghans waiting to reach the U.S. "could be three times that number," taking family members into account.
The Afghan Adjustment Act's prospects are murky in a Congress that has so far been resistant to passing meaningful immigration legislation. Congress has previously passed adjustment bills for groups that reached the U.S. suddenly and in large numbers, including the 100,000 Vietnamese evacuees who came after the Vietnam War and over 30,000 Hungarians who fled their country after the 1956 revolution. That legislation helped provide certainty to vulnerable people who fled horrifying circumstances to build lives in the U.S.—something that Congress should now grant Afghans.