In 2009, the Afghan Allies Protection Act allocated 7,500 visas for citizens of Afghanistan who served as military interpreters for the U.S. government. As they had sided with the United States during the war, many of these individuals will be targeted by the Taliban after U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan, according to Kevin Sieff’s recent Washington Post article.
When the Afghan Allies program was created, Congress noted the urgency that fueled the legislation. However, although more than 5,700 Afghans have applied for the U.S. visa, only 32 have been approved to date. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul’s visa office is severely understaffed, which has led to some interpreters having to wait years before hearing anything from the State Department about their visa status.
“We didn’t plan for an increase in staffing or resources … and there was a pent up demand,” an anonymous U.S. embassy official told Sieff. “It’s absolutely a top priority for us now.”
Many interpreters use American names as aliases when working in the field, and are still optimistic about someday having the opportunity to move to the United States.
Even so, U.S. military officials are frustrated that these courageous individuals have not received consideration at a faster pace. According to the source, the program was implemented when the U.S. began withdrawing troops from Iraq in 2010, and officials hope that interpreters will not have to wait until 2014, when all troops are expected to withdraw, to get their promised visas.
Approximately 400 Afghan interpreters have obtained visas through different immigration programs, but that option may no longer be available. When the Afghan Allies legislation was implemented in 2010, many of the other programs stopped offering their services, the source reported.
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