The Biden administration has decided to expand the Afghan refugee program following an increase in Taliban violence.
The program was created to ensure that people in Afghanistan who aided the U.S. war effort are not murdered post-withdrawal.
The State Department issued a “Priority 2” designation on Monday for Afghan nationals who worked with the United States but did not qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa.
Afghanistan is currently experiencing “increased levels of Taliban violence,” and the designation will provide others “the opportunity to permanently resettle in the United States to many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members,” the agency said in the announcement.
Afghan nationals who work or worked as employees of contractors who did not meet the minimum time-in-service requirement, those who were employed by a U.S.-based media organization or nongovernmental organization, and Afghans who worked for a U.S. government-funded program in Afghanistan are all eligible for the P-2 program.
Employers have to refer employees to the program and then those people will have to leave Afghanistan on their own before receiving assistance from the U.S., a senior state department official told reporters on Thursday.
It’s unclear how many additional Afghans will be eligible under the new designation. The official said the U.S. anticipates “tens of thousands” of referrals but noted that the number will be determined by the referral numbers.
The State Department’s announcement came just days after the first group of Afghans who aided U.S. forces and received special visas arrived at Fort Lee. There were 221 Afghans in that group, and they are among 2,500 who will be brought to the U.S. in the coming days.
They will be “resettled to cities across the country with assistance through the United States refugee admissions program” once they complete a medical exam as required by law, Senior Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Russ Travers told reporters on Thursday.
The U.S. will have all of its troops out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31, which was moved up from the scheduled Sept. 11 end date. The Taliban has capitalized on the departure of U.S. troops, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s latest report, which detailed how attacks are increasing while Afghan personnel and infrastructure are teetering.
Over the weekend, the Taliban used rocket fire to attack the Kandahar airport in the southern part of Afghanistan, and a Taliban spokesman said the target was strategically chosen because “the enemy were using it as a center to conduct airstrikes against us.”
The Taliban is believed to have captured up to half of Afghanistan’s territory, including border crossings with Iran and Pakistan, though the insurgent group has not taken a provincial capital.