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Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan Nationals

Amidst the United States’ departure from a 20-year war in Afghanistan, the United States Congress passed The Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, which provided 8,000 new Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for Afghan nationals to come to the United States at the close of the war. The 2021 Act works in conjunction with the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009, which authorized the issuance of SIVs to Afghan nationals who meet certain requirements. Recipients of an SIV are given lawful permanent resident status upon admission to the United States and will be issued a Green Card after admittance to the United States. 

Who Qualifies for a SIV? 

Afghan nationals qualify for the SIV if they: 

  • Are a national of Afghanistan; 
  • Were employed by or on behalf of the United States government in Afghanistan; or 
  • Were employed by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), NATO-led Resolute Support Mission (RSM), or a successor mission as an interpreter or translator for U.S. military personnel; 
  • Were employed for a minimum of one year in either of these capacities between October 7, 2001 and December 31, 2023; 
  • Are facing or have faced ongoing serious threats as a consequence of their employment;
  • Provided faithful and valuable service to the U.S. government, or ISAF, or a successor mission, and this is documented in a positive letter of recommendation or evaluation from the Afghan national’s senior supervisor or a more senior person; 

How Many SIVs are Available? 

While the Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 allocated 8,000 SIVs, this was an increase from what had already been allocated for Afghan nationals since 2014. In total, the SIV program for Afghan nationals has allocated 34,500 SIVs since 2014. 

What is the Process to Apply for a SIV? 

In order to apply for a SIV, a qualifying Afghan national must be able to prove his or her eligibility for the visa. This can seem like a complicated process, but when taken step by step, it can be very manageable. 

Step One: Apply for a Chief of Mission Approval 

The first required step to receive a SIV is to apply for a Chief of Mission approval. The application for a Chief of Mission approval requires applicants to have access to email and the ability to scan and save all of the required documents from the list as PDF files, and be able to submit these documents via email. The U.S. Department of State will communicate with the applicant and send all instructions to the applicant over email. Thus, it is recommended that applicants use the same email address to communicate with the Department throughout the application process. 

When applying for Chief of Mission approval, an applicant must submit required documents by email to [email protected]. The email must also contain the principal applicant’s name as it is written in the passport or tazkera, and the applicant’s date of birth using the DAY-MONTH-YEAR format. The email must include as attachments the following documents: 

  • Verification of Employment in Afghanistan
      • A letter from employer’s Human Resources department confirming applicant’s employment for at least one year, and includes (if employed by or on behalf of U.S. government): 
        • Applicant’s full name; 
        • Applicant’s Date of Birth; 
        • U.S. government contract or subcontract held by applicant’s employer;
        • Applicant’s job title and job location; 
        • Applicant’s start and end date for employment; 
        • Reason applicant no longer works for employer, if applicable; 
        • The letter writer’s name, signature, and contact information;
        • A thorough description of applicant’s work for employer
      • A letter from employer confirming employment by the ISAF or a successor mission for at least one year, and includes (if employed by ISAF or ISAF member nation):
        • Applicant’s full name; 
        • Applicant’s date of birth; 
        • English language copy or translation of the applicant’s contract with employer; 
        • Applicant’s job title and job location; 
        • Applicant’s start and end date for employment; 
        • Reason applicant no longer works for employer, if applicable; 
        • The letter writer’s name, signature, and contact information;
        • A thorough description of the applicant’s work for his or her employer.
  • Letter of Recommendation 
      • A letter from a direct, senior supervisor who knew applicant personally, ideally a U.S. citizen supervisor who knows applicant personally, and includes (if employed by or on behalf of U.S. government):
        • Applicant’s full name; 
        • Applicant’s date of birth; 
        • Applicant’s badge number (if available); 
        • Applicant’s job title and job location; 
        • Confirmation that recommender was/is applicant’s supervisor or more senior person; 
        • The date the author began and stopped supervising applicant;
        • Supervisor’s name, title, corporate or U.S. government/military email address, personal email address, and phone number; 
        • Statement that applicant provided faithful and valuable service to the U.S. government; 
        • Statement explaining any ongoing threat applicant has experienced or is experiencing; 
        • Statement about whether applicant poses serious threat to national security of United States; 
        • Statement describing applicant’s specific work duties and where the duties were performed. 
      • A letter from an immediate supervisor or the person currently occupying that position, or a more senior person, and includes (if employed by the ISAF or successor mission): 
        • Applicant’s full name; 
        • Applicant’s date of birth; 
        • Applicant’s badge number (if available); 
        • Applicant’s job title and job location; 
        • Confirmation that recommender was/is applicant’s supervisor or more senior person; 
        • The date the author began and stopped supervising applicant;
        • Supervisor’s name, title, corporate or U.S. government/military email address, personal email address, and phone number; 
        • Statement that applicant provided faithful and valuable service to the U.S. government; 
        • Statement explaining any ongoing threat applicant has experienced or is experiencing; 
        • Statement about whether applicant poses serious threat to national security of United States; 
        • Statement describing applicant’s specific work duties and where the duties were performed. 
  • Submit Form DS-157, Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application
      • Applicants must fully and completely fill out all of Form DS-157 without leaving any boxes blank. If an applicant needs additional space to answer the questions on Form DS-157, he or she may attach additional sheets of paper. 
  • Evidence of Afghan Nationality
      • Applicants must submit a scanned photocopy of their tazkera with an English translation, or applicants can submit the biographic data page of their Afghan passport to evidence their Afghan nationality, or a photocopy of the front and back of the applicants’ National Identity Card.
  • Statement of Threats Received Due to Applicant’s Employment 
      • Applicants must write, sign, and date a brief statement describing the threats faced as a result of employment by or on behalf of the United States government in Afghanistan or by ISAF or successor mission. 
  • Employee Badges 
      • Applicants must submit, if available, a scanned copy of their identification badges for any periods of employment by or on behalf of the U.S. government, ISAF, or a successor mission. 
  • Biographic Data 
    • Applicants must provide biographic data for the principal applicant, including: 
      • First name; 
      • Last name; 
      • Any other names or aliases; 
      • Mother’s name; 
      • Nationality; 
      • Passport number; 
      • Date of birth; 
      • Place of birth; 
      • Gender; 
      • Marital status; 
      • Email address and phone number; 
      • Work location (base or city and province); 
      • Residence location (base or city and province).

Step Two: File a Petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

After an applicant receives approval of his or her Chief of Mission documents sent by email, he or she must file a petition with the USCIS.

When petitioning to the USCIS, an applicant must submit the following documents to the USCIS’ Nebraska Service Center: 

Step Three: Submit Documents to National Visa Center (NVC)

After the USCIS approves a SIV applicant’s petition, it will be forwarded to the NVC. Once the NVC receives the approved petition, the NVC will contact the applicant by email to request additional documentation. The applicant can email [email protected] with the following documentation for the applicant and his or family members applying for visas: 

Step Four: Attend Visa Interview 

After the USCIS has approved an applicant’s petition, an interview is required to determine the applicant’s eligibility for the SIV. The NVC will forward the applicant’s documentation to the U.S. Consulate or Embassy nearest to the applicant, where the visa interview will be held. 

At the interview, the applicant will be asked questions relevant to his or her eligibility for the visa, and the applicant will be required to provide fingerprints.

Because the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan closed August 31, 2021, applicants may attend an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in another country. An applicant who needs to transfer his or her visa case to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside of Afghanistan that handles visa processing should email the NVC at [email protected] and include in the email the applicant’s name, date of birth, and case number.

When attending the interview, an applicant must bring certain documentation with them, including: 

  • Unexpired passport that is valid for six month after the applicant’s intended date of travel and includes a photocopy of the biographic page; 
  • A military photo identification document, if available; 
  • Civilian identification badges; 
  • Original copies of civil documents (e.g. marriage certificates, takeras or death certificates); 
  • All documents submitted by email to the NVC; 
  • Written evidence of applicant’s intent to immigrate promptly to the United States; 
  • Two recent photographs of each applicant that meet the U.S. Department of State’s photo requirements.

It is important to note that a medical examination of the applicant is typically required prior to the visa interview. However, a determination was made on August 13, 2021 that waived this requirement for applicants who meet the requirements of the SIV. Instead, SIV applicants may attend an interview without the medical examination, but must complete a medical examination in the United States no later than 30 days after admission to the United States. 

Can Family Members of a SIV-Recipient Come to the U.S.? 

The spouse and unmarried children under the age 21 of a qualifying Afghan national (principal recipient) can also receive an SIV and may travel with the principal visa recipient or may travel to join the principal visa recipient in the United States after he or she has been admitted to the United States. 

What is the Cost to Receive a SIV? 

There are no fees for filing a petition or biometric fees. There are also no application fees. However, applicants are required to pay all costs of the medical examination. 

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Sweta Khandelwal

Sweta completed her Masters in Law from the University of California, Los Angeles and her JD from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University in India and has been practicing law for 15+ years getting visas, green cards, and citizenship for 1000+ clients, 100+ companies across 50+ nationalities.

Sweta has been recognized as a ” Super Lawyer, Rising Star,” and as amongst the ” Top 40 under 40″ immigration attorneys in California (American Society of Legal Advocates). She is also the recipient of the Advocacy Award by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Sweta is also a chartered accountant — the equivalent of a CPA. This makes her uniquely positioned to understand the immigration needs of her business clients in the broader context of their corporate objectives.

Sweta is actively involved with immigration issues and immigrant communities in various capacities. She has assumed key roles at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), both at the local and national level. She has been a past chair at the Santa Clara Valley Chapter at AILA and has also been involved in various practice area committees at AILA National. Sweta has addressed multiple conferences/forums in the United States and worldwide on immigration and business issues.

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