State Department Walks Back Afghan Visa Rule Change After Outcry

A U.S. soldier speaks to Afghans, aided by an interpreter / AP
• March 2, 2016 5:15 pm


The U.S. State Department said this week that it would scrap its rule changes to the visa program for Afghan military interpreters, which advocacy groups said had retroactively made thousands of applicants ineligible for the program.

The rule change was just the latest obstacle for the Special Immigrant Visa program, which provides visas to Afghan interpreters who worked for the U.S. military and now find themselves under threat from extremists.

Congress agreed last year to change the minimum employment period for applicants from one year of U.S. government service to two years. The State Department began applying this policy retroactively to interpreters who had applied months or years before the law was passed.

Advocates estimated that the decision would impact as many as 3,300 interpreters and their families who are on the waiting list.

But the State Department reconsidered the policy after an outcry from Congress and the media. The New York Times reports that interpreters who applied before Sept. 30, 2015, will no longer be subject to the two-year requirement:

Testifying before the Senate recently, Mr. Kerry did not defend the retroactive implementation of the rule, which he called "grossly unfair and dangerous."

He said State Department lawyers were reviewing the matter and that he hoped there would be a prompt resolution to the problem.

On Monday, the State Department notified Congress that the issue had been resolved.

Interpreters who submitted applications with the embassy before Sept. 30 will have to prove that they worked for the American government for one year, not two, the State Department said in an emailed statement. It said officials were reviewing all cases that had been rejected solely as a result of the two-year criterion and would "proactively reach out to these individuals" to get their cases back on track.

The State Department said it would also reach out to applicants who were wrongly rejected over the past few months. One of these interpreters was a young Afghan named Dave, whose struggles with the visa process were highlighted here by the Washington Free Beacon.

Published under: Afghanistan, State Department