The U.S. embassy in Afghanistan has advised American citizens to avoid travelling to Kabul airport due to “potential security threats,” unless they receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so.” At this moment, difficult as it may be, transportation out of Afghanistan is still being facilitated by the United States and other Western countries, with a stream of flights coming and leaving Kabul regularly each day. The situation is reminiscent of American humanitarian flights to Soviet surrounded Berlin at the end of World War II. The cavalcade of airplanes out of Kabul is set to terminate on August 31, or depending on what happens, soon thereafter, one way or another. From an immigration point of view, the question is what can anyone do to still get out of Afghanistan and avoid the chaos that ensues?
The answer to that question depends on your status and the situation on the ground. If you are an American citizen or permanent resident, you are a priority and it is a matter or negotiating your way to the Kabul airport and presenting proof of your status to get on one of the evacuating airplanes. Between 5,000 to 7,000 people will have to be evacuated daily to beat the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline. Likely something similar would be true for people with U.S. work or study visas or any other approved immigration application, but they are not as urgent a priority. For those with similar status in other Allied Countries, Canada for example, the situation is the same. As for Afghan citizens, however, even those who helped Americans as interpreters and the like, the situation is more difficult.
The Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 enacted on July 30, 2021, authorized 8,000 additional Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan principal applicants. The Department of State’s authority to issue these visas to Afghan nationals will continue until all visa numbers allocated under the Act are issued. But 8000 such visas is a spit in the ocean in terms of the numbers really needed.
The Department of Defense (DOD) can work with the Department of Homeland Security to issue a parole to Afghan individuals and their family members who helped Americans.
However, this is something the Department of Defense has to initiate—by recommending an Afghan to the Department of Homeland Security. Afghans can obtain parole with just their Afghan identity card or taskera—they do not need a passport. Information on requesting such a DOD parole and a DOD Request Template has been made available for use for those who want to try this avenue of evacuation. The key is to convince a DOD official or military officer to come to the aid of the Afghan individual to champion the case and file the paperwork. But time is running out.
While not easy to obtain, an Afghan can also request parole the traditional way through the U.S. Embassy, using a Form I-131. Such applications can be expedited by writing the word EXPEDITE in the upper right corner of the form and explaining why they need to be expedited—presumably because the applicant’s life is in danger. The trick is that to obtain such a parole, you have to either indicate you will return to Afghanistan, or at least how you will regularize your status in the USA, such as through an adjustment of status, an asylum claim, an adoption, or some similar explanation. Such a parole is traditionally limited to one year, but there is no statute or regulation requiring that. You can push for longer or even indefinite parole. This all presumes you can reach the U.S. Embassy and get them to issue the paperwork quickly, probably not a likely scenario inside Afghanistan now. More likely would be that if an Afghan is able to reach a third country, possibly by crossing a neighbouring border, he or she can file an application for parole at a U.S. consulate abroad.
Afghan citizens are also eligible for e-visas (short for electronic visas) to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. E-visas are also available for Qatar, Antigua and Barbuda, Benin and Ethiopia. An e-visa is simply a travel visa that you can apply for on your own through a country’s visa website online. Afghan citizens are also eligible to enter the following countries without a visa: Cape Verde: visa on arrival, Comoros: visa on arrival, Dominica: visa free entry and Maldives: visa on arrival. The challenge, however, is getting out of Afghanistan. Perhaps this could be done by entering a country neighboring Afghanistan, and travelling from there.
Refugee Processing Improvements
In a related development, The Hill is reporting that the Biden administration has proposed to streamline the asylum process in America to enable U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers to grant asylum, and allow any migrants who are denied the right, to appeal the decision within the court system. Welcoming this proposed policy change, Jennifer Whitlock, Policy Counsel with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said “There is a world of difference between going through the asylum process at USCIS, where an officer is probably trained on trauma-informed questioning, versus going to court and having to face prosecutors challenging your statements and a judge that may feel like a second prosecutor.”
With each passing hour, the chances of evacuation or escape from Afghanistan grow dimmer. Everything that can be done needs to be done now to save as many lives as possible.