For years, translators who worked with the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq have been eligible for visas to relocate to the U.S. The nature of their work made the specialty visa program for translators necessary.
However, in recent weeks the visas have been in short supply amid fears the program will be curtailed. For translators who do dangerous work because of their collaboration with American forces these visas may be a matter of life or death.
The U.S. State Department recently reported it’s about to run out of visas for translators, reported Reuters.
Some of the translators in Afghanistan worked for the U.S. government during the full 15 years that U.S. forces have been deployed in the country.
The threat to the visas brought a warning from U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen that it was sending the wrong message to Afghanistan.
Although the specialty visa program for translators is not a large program, thousands of people have benefitted.
The visas are handed out under the three programs. No more than 50 visas a year are handed out by the state department.
The other two programs were temporary ones. From 2008 to 2013, a program for Iraqis distributed a maximum of 5,000 visas a year to principal applicants but not including family members. Congress extended the program for Iraqis in 2013, adding another 2,500 more visas and allowing the translator visa program to continue until all visas in the bank were used up.
A temporary visa program in Afghanistan provided a maximum of 1,500 visas each year for principal applicants between 2009 to 2013. Subsequent extensions made 7,000 more visas available until the end of this year.
An article in Vice pointed out that almost 48,000 visa applicants and their families were approved under one of these programs. However, the Afghan program is set to expire at the end of the year. About 12,000 Afghans and their families are seeking a special immigrant visa, but just 3,800 remain in the program.
The article highlighted the dangers faced by Mohebullah Archiwal, an Afghan national who started working with the United States to help vanquish the Taliban.
Although he was unarmed, his role was as hazardous as that of the troops he worked with. He experienced hostility from Afghan civilians and was injured four times by improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Archiwal says his aunt and two young cousins were shot to death. He believes the Taliban was responsible as retaliation for his work with the U.S. Army.
He became increasingly anxious to leave Afghanistan. He applied for a “special immigrant visa,” reserved for those who worked with the US military as translators, and interpreters, along with other roles.
He was approved in 2014 and now lives in Wichita, Kansas. Archiwal said the visa may have saved his life. He’s concerned those translators who remain in Afghanistan may be facing severe danger.
The Visa program for translators began in 2006 and was seen as a reward for those who helped the U.S. in vital roles in the Middle East. There are certain stipulations under the special immigrant visa program.
How to Apply for the Visa Program for Translators
The applicant must prove he or she:
1 Was employed by the U.S. government;
2 Has a letter of recommendation from a supervisor;
3 Passes a security background check;
4 Faces a serious threat because they worked with the U.S. government.
Applicants have faced lengthy processing times in past years. Some people even sued over the wait times. However, the average wait time for applicants from Kabul just over a year, according to the US State Department.