For Afghan evacuees arriving to U.S., a tenuous legal status and little financial support

The Biden administration is preparing to screen and resettle tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees in the United States over the coming weeks and months, but the majority will arrive without visas as “humanitarian parolees,” lacking a path to legal U.S. residency and the benefits and services offered to traditional refugees, according to U.S. officials and worried aid groups working closely with the government.

Afghan parolees who have arrived at U.S. military bases will be eligible for an ad hoc State Department program that provides limited assistance for up to 90 days, including a one-time $1,250 stipend. But they will not have the full range of medical, counseling and resettlement services available to immigrants who arrive through the U.S. refugee program.

The nonprofit organizations that work with the government to resettle refugees and that are assisting with Afghan evacuees say Congress will need to provide billions in emergency funding to help the Afghans start over and ensure they can be successfully and safely integrated into the United States.

“We’ve been heartened by the administration’s efforts to ensure some minimal support, but 90 days is meager compared to the massive need,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and chief executive of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “These Afghans feared for their lives and faced floggings on the way to the airport, and the last thing we want them to face here is a tangled web of backlogs and bureaucratic hurdles.”

More than 31,000 evacuees from Afghanistan arrived in the United States between Aug. 17 and 31, according to the latest Department of Homeland Security data. That included about 7,000 U.S. citizens and legal residents, as well as nearly 24,000 labeled “Afghans at Risk.”

While some of those evacuees include special immigrant visa (SIV) holders or applicants who worked for the U.S. government, officials acknowledge that there is a larger number of parolees who will enter as “vulnerable Afghans.”

Some may have few or no U.S. ties but successfully boarded U.S. military flights in the chaotic hours and days after the fall of Kabul, hoping to reach the United States. Pentagon officials said Wednesday that the U.S.-led airlift evacuated nearly 125,000 Afghans overall, but the Biden administration has not said how many it expects to resettle in the United States.

Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Wednesday that approximately 43,000 Afghan evacuees are waiting at transit sites in Europe and the Middle East. Some evacuees have gone to third countries such as Albania. U.S. officials say their ability to more carefully select who was able to pass Taliban checkpoints and board evacuation flights improved through “pragmatic” communication with Taliban authorities.

“We got better at prioritizing and focusing on those populations that matter most of all to us,” said a senior State Department official involved in the evacuation effort who briefed reporters under rules of anonymity set by the department.

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Nick Miroff