Waiving Application Fees for Afghan Evacuees
In Nov., President Joe Biden’s administration announced the enactment of fee waivers for Afghan evacuees applying for work permits and permanent residency in the United States. The move is the latest addition in the larger plan to resettle over 70,000 evacuees who have been fleeing Afghanistan since late Aug. to escape persecution by the Taliban. Among them are thousands of Afghans who aided American military forces during the U.S. War in Afghanistan.
Approximately 51,000 refugees are currently residing in temporary housing settlements on eight domestic military bases. More than 14,000 of them have completed their legal paperwork and are resettled in communities across the U.S.
Under the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) current fee structure, application fees for work permits and biometrics testing costs $410 and up to $1,225 in fees for petitions for permanent residency. Spurring the biggest change to the resettlement program since 1980, advocates encouraged the fee waiver, citing that the majority of Afghans brought into the country do not possess the resources to pay.
Humanitarian Parole and Special Immigration Visas
In order to facilitate swifter entry for Afghan evacuees, the U.S. government has been utilizing a process known as humanitarian parole. A designation provided under the Immigration and Nationality Act, humanitarian parole allows foreign refugees to enter the country and stay without a visa based on government recognition of urgent humanitarian reasons in their home country.
Most notably enacted following the withdrawal of American military personnel in war-torn regions, humanitarian parole is used to evacuate refugees or asylees and those at risk from persecution. Resettlement of this magnitude in such a short time period has not happened since the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam in the late 1970s.
Under the new program, Afghan refugees are eligible for parole for up to two years. Individuals with parole status are automatically eligible for work permits. As of July 30, application fees will be waived for Afghan evacuees.
In addition to humanitarian parole, the Biden administration enacted the Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, which provides additional Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for Afghans applying for permanent residency. For those holding SIV status, their spouses and children are granted automatic permanent residency in the United States.
The administration estimates that 40 percent of evacuees qualify for SIVs based on their assistance to American military forces during the 20-year war. Requirements to obtain the SIV include:
- Applicants must be an Afghanistan citizen.
- For at least one year between Oct. 7, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2023, you must have been employed in Afghanistan in one or more of the following capacities:
- As an employee of, or on the behalf of, the U.S. government.
- An interpreter or translator for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), assisting military personnel during off-base travel, or other employment duties for military personnel stationed at the ISAF.
- You must provide documentation that you provided valuable and loyal service to the U.S. government, ISAF, or a successor mission. Acceptable documentation includes positive evaluations or letters of recommendation from a senior supervisor.
- Applicants must demonstrate current, past, or ongoing significant threats of personal safety as a result of employment with U.S. military forces.
Sponsor Circle Program
In addition to the fee waivers, the Biden administration also unveiled a new initiative aimed at providing evacuees with more options and additional on-the-ground support and resources as they integrate into American communities across the country.
Acting in response to the outpouring of interest from military veterans, public organizations, and private citizens to help Afghan refugees and their families resettle in America, the administration established the Sponsor Circle Program, which allows groups and individuals to sponsor Afghan evacuees and families. Working in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State’s nine non-profit agencies that typically handle resettlement efforts, the program’s additional sponsorship opportunities provide a greater resettlement capacity of the tens of thousands of refugees awaiting integration.
Requirements for sponsorship under the Sponsor Circle Program:
- Group sponsorship: For the first time, the new initiative allows groups of five or more individuals to apply for sponsorship as a sponsor circle. Circle members must be over 18 years old, submit to mandatory background checks, make fundraising commitments in order to support evacuees financially, complete a training program, and create and assistance plan for the family sponsored.
- Military veterans: Now, military veterans who worked with Afghan allies during the war have the opportunity to help their former colleagues on American soil by sponsoring and assisting refugees they personally know.
If approved, individual and group sponsors would be responsible for directly helping Afghans and families obtain housing, employment for adults, language translation assistance, financial and legal support, medical care, school enrollment for children, Afghan-specific government programs, and basic necessities for at least 90 days.
The U.S. Department of State is partnering with the Community Sponsorship Hub (CSH), an organization dedicated to assisting refugees, in the Sponsor Circle Program initiative. The CSH will oversee sponsor applications and connect those approved with Afghan families.
Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Assist Afghan Evacuees and Families With Resettling in the United States
If you are a humanitarian parolee resettling in the U.S., our experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. can guide you through the application process. Call us at 215-925-4435 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation today. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and nationwide.