Shaheen, McCain, Reed, Tillis Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Authorize 2,500 Additional Visas for Afghan Interpreters, Support Staff

March 15, 2017

**Introduction follows news that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has officially stopped scheduling interviews for applicants due to a lack of remaining Afghan Special Immigrant Visas**

(Washington, DC) — Today, Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), John McCain (R-AZ), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced bipartisan legislation to provide 2,500 more visas for the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. Senator Shaheen is a member of both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Senator McCain is the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Senator Reed is the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; and Senator Tillis is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The SIV program allows Afghans, including interpreters, who supported the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and face threats as a result of their service, to apply for refuge in the United States. The senators introduced their bill after the U.S. Embassy in Kabul officially stopped scheduling interviews for applicants seeking a visa through the Afghan SIV program.

Last year, Senators Shaheen, McCain, Reed and Tillis led efforts in the Senate to extend this vital national security program. Shaheen warned, however, that the number of visas included in the annual defense authorization act was well short of the need, a fact brought home by the current shortage.

“It’s imperative that Congress act quickly to approve more visas,” said Shaheen. “This is a matter of life and death for interpreters and other support staff. As we speak, many of them are being hunted down by the Taliban and other terrorists. We have a moral obligation to protect the thousands of Afghans who put themselves, and their families, at risk to help our soldiers and diplomats. To abandon them now would be a stain on our nation’s honor. There’s no excuse for Congress to not act in a bipartisan way to approve these additional visas as it has done in the past.”

“Last month, General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that after more than a decade-and-a-half of conflict, the war in Afghanistan is in a stalemate,” said Senator McCain. “We simply cannot win this war without the assistance of the Afghan people who put their lives on the line to help American troops and diplomats serving in harm’s way. Unfortunately in recent years, Congress has reneged on the promise we made to protect these brave individuals by failing to authorize the appropriate number of Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan translators and interpreters. It’s because of our failure that the lives of thousands of Afghans are in imminent danger from the Taliban. This legislation would ensure the continuation of this vital Special Immigrant Visa program, and send a clear message that America will not turn its back on those — who at great personal risk — stand with us in the fight against terror.”

“This legislation strengthens and upholds our commitment to those who have risked their lives to further U.S. interests,” said Senator Reed.  “Afghanistan is, and must remain, a key pillar of our long-term global counterterrorism strategy, and to that end it is critical that we continue to foster strong ties with our allies on the ground. When Afghan citizens put their lives on the line to assist U.S. efforts, we must honor our commitment to those individuals. This bill furthers American strategic interests in the region and upholds our promises to these brave men and women.” 

“Many brave Afghans have risked their lives in order to support American troops and their efforts to defeat terrorists,” said Senator Tillis. “In return, America has a moral obligation to provide these Afghans with safety from the Taliban who seek to harm them and their families for assisting America’s mission in Afghanistan. Falling short of this obligation would signal to the world that America is willing to turn its back on friends who stood with our nation, a grave mistake we cannot afford to make. I’m proud to join Senators McCain, Shaheen, and Reed in this bipartisan effort.”