BREAKING: Senate Passes Shaheen-Ernst Bill to Protect Afghan Allies through SIV Program as Part of Supplemental Spending BillJuly 29, 2021
(Washington, DC) – Today, the Senate passed key provisions from the Afghan Allies Protection Act, a bill sponsored by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), as part of the supplemental security spending measure. Their legislation helps protect the Afghan civilians who risked their lives to support the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Specifically, the measure would increase the number of authorized visas by 8,000, clear bureaucratic hurdles while maintaining the program’s integrity and improve the program’s efficiency ahead of the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) were original cosponsors on the bill.
“Our nation vowed to protect our Afghan partners in return for their sacrifices for the U.S. mission – sacrifices which jeopardized their lives and the lives of their families. Today, the Senate took a critical step forward to ensure we uphold that promise,” said Shaheen. “I’m proud to help lead the bipartisan push in Congress to expand the number of authorized special immigrant visas and streamline the SIV program. We are up against the clock – too many of our Afghan allies died waiting for their visas and as conditions in Afghanistan deteriorate, time is of the essence to get them to safety. The House must act swiftly so we can deliver this legislation to the President’s desk. We cannot and must not abandon our allies.”
“The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program was created to provide a well-vetted pathway to safety for the many Afghan civilians who have stepped up to assist the U.S. during the War on Terror. Given the Biden Administration’s haphazard withdrawal from Afghanistan, we must now fulfill our commitment to those who put themselves in harm’s way by ensuring the program has the capacity to fully process and help bring these individuals to safety. I’m grateful Democrats and Republicans came together to do exactly that,” said Ernst.
“When President Biden chose to withdraw hastily from Afghanistan, he put many of America’s close allies in Afghanistan in immediate danger -- including thousands of Afghans who served as interpreters with the assurance their lives would be protected. This legislation would help fulfill America’s promise to these interpreters by providing the resources needed to evacuate them and to streamline visa approvals for those caught in limbo in the Special Immigrant Visa program,” said Wicker.
“After they took significant risks to support our military and diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, it is our duty to ensure the safety of our Afghan allies and their families,” said Durbin. “I’m pleased to see the Senate take on our country’s commitment to supporting Afghans in securing additional Special Immigrant Visas and streamlining the approval process. I hope that the House passes the bipartisan legislation with similar urgency so that we can deliver on our promise to our allies.”
The legislation would provide immediate improvements and strengthen efficiency of the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, including by:
- Increasing the number of authorized visas;
- Changing the employment requirement for eligibility from two years to one year;
- Postponing the required medical exam until the applicant and their family have arrived in the United States;
- Removing the “sensitive and trusted” requirement for International Security Assistance Force and Resolute Support employment; and
- Providing for Special Immigrant status for certain surviving spouses and children of murdered applicants.
Full text of the legislation is available here.
Senator Shaheen has helped lead the bipartisan effort in the Senate to strengthen the SIV program and protect Afghan allies who risked their lives to support the U.S. mission. She historically partnered with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on this priority. In the fiscal year 2021 government funding legislation that was signed into law, Senator Shaheen secured an additional 4,000 Afghan SIVs. Recently, she participated in a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to discuss the urgent need to protect Afghan allies by bolstering the SIV program.
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