MODERATOR: Hey everyone, good morning. And thanks so much for joining us for this background briefing on updates to the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa process. This call will be on background attributable to senior administration officials and embargoed until the call’s conclusion.
Joining us today, just for your knowledge but not for your attribution or reporting, is [Senior Administration Official One], [Senior Administration Official Two], [Senior Administration Official Three], and [Senior Administration Official Four].
We’ll have some time for questions at the end, but I will for now turn it over to [Senior Administration Official One].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you very much, and thanks, everybody, for joining us today. I am really pleased to discuss our ongoing efforts to improve the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa, SIV, program.
The Biden administration remains committed to the thousands of brave Afghans who stood side-by-side with us and the United States over the course of the past two decades. Over the past year and a half, we’ve undertaken significant efforts to improve the SIV program. As we work to expeditiously process SIV applications while safeguarding national security, we’ve also taken steps to make the process more efficient. We’ve surged resources to this vital program and conducted a review of every stage of the statutorily required application process to explore where we can streamline it wherever possible.
As a result of that, starting July 20th, all new Afghan SIV applicants – and the majority of applicants already in contact with us – will no longer be required to submit a separate Form I-360 petition for special immigrant status to USCIS. The elimination of this 19-page form will greatly ease the administrative burden on applicants and reduce processing time.
Since the law still requires applicants to file a petition, we’ve determined the requirement is now met when applicants file the DS-157, which is already part of the application for chief of mission approval. This means that most SIV applicants will no longer have to deal with multiple federal government agencies to complete their SIV chief of mission approval and petition applications. The State Department will process these applications from start to finish.
On behalf of the State Department and the Bureau of Consular Affairs, I want to reiterate our commitment to improving and streamlining this process as we continue to welcome our Afghan allies to the United States. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. Next, let’s go to [Senior Administration Official Two].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Hi. Thank you and good morning, everyone. As mentioned, I’m with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. And the Department of Homeland Security has been working very closely with the Department of State to extend protection to vulnerable Afghans and to provide key assistance in the resettlement effort for Afghans who have been evacuated to the United States since last year.
Through Operation Allies Welcome, or OAW, the U.S. has welcomed roughly 80,000 Afghans to this country. USCIS has issued over 71,000 work permits to those Afghans who were evacuated, and USCIS has also streamlined processing and waived fees for other key benefits for which Afghans may apply. We’re also allocating key resources at OAW welcome centers that have been opening across the country.
Transitioning the adjudication of SIV petitions to one agency rather than two – in this case, the Department of State – is consistent with administration efforts to break down barriers, create efficiencies, and eliminate unnecessary burdens in our immigration system. As a result of this change, Afghan applicants will now only have to interface with one federal agency rather than the multiple agencies that were required in the previous process.
We estimate that this will reduce processing time for applicants and also provide a significant reduction in the administrative burden that they face.
We at USCIS will work closely with the Department of State to ensure that this transition is seamless and to reduce any confusion or misunderstanding for those seeking SIV benefits that may result from this transition.
As noted, there may be some instances in which Afghans already in the SIV process may still be required to file the I-360 form with USCIS, but that will not be the routine process for new applicants, and we’ll be providing detailed information for those who are already in the pipeline so that they know which process they need to follow. For those Afghans who do still need to file an I-360 with USCIS, please know that we’re committed to efficiently and fairly adjudicating these petitions as quickly as possible.
We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Afghans who fought alongside U.S. service members, and USCIS will continue to explore policies and procedures that strengthen our humanitarian values and extend protections to the most vulnerable. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. Next let’s go to [Senior Administration Official Three].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Thank you. Good morning, everybody. My role for the last two years has been [Title]. So since we started the surge last spring, we have been averaging around 2,000 cases a month processed through the chief of mission approval process. So if you follow Afghan SIVs at all, you will hear a lot of discussion about pre-COM and post-COM. That’s – COM is chief of mission. It’s only one part in the process, but it’s a very critical part and we have been moving those faster than they’ve ever moved before.
We went from around eight people on that team – the ASIV team, the Afghan SIV team – back in January of 2020 – I mean – yeah, to – 2021 to now over 50 that are working on this every single day, and they pass them then on to the chief of mission approver with recommendations averaging about a hundred a day that we go through. So those are yet another part of the process that’s moving much faster than it ever has before to plug into all of these other efficiencies that we’re building in. So pending questions at the end, that’s it for me. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. And now we’ll go to [Senior Administration Official Four].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR: Thanks much and good morning, everyone. I’m really here – happy to be here joining this call to really emphasize that support for Afghanistan remains a key administration priority. I think that’s – or hope that’s fairly clear just from the remarks shared so far, that the United States is determined to ensure processing for those in the relocation pipeline and help alleviate the suffering of Afghans by standing with them as they work to build their economy.
As the world’s leading humanitarian donor to Afghanistan, we have provided more than 775 million in humanitarian assistance since last summer. We also continue to work to facilitate access to 3.5 billion in Afghan Central Bank assets held in the United States for the benefit of the Afghan people. The Department of Treasury has issued licenses to enable a broad range of economic activity and we are working closely with the World Bank as well as the UN to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance directly to the Afghan people.
There has been some degree of cooperation with the Taliban on free passage. This is an issue we continue to engage on including in our most recent engagement in Doha on June 29 and 30, so just a couple weeks ago. At the same time, we have been clear to the Taliban that to earn legitimacy and credibility, they will need to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Afghans. So needless to say, we continue to measure the Taliban by their actions.
I hope that’s helpful. That’s all I have. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. Some of our speakers have hard outs, but we’ll try to take a few questions. Again, this is on background attributable to senior administration officials. Operator, can you please remind participants of instructions on how to ask questions?
OPERATOR: Certainly. Ladies and gentlemen, once again, if you would like to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You will hear acknowledgment that your line has been placed in queue. You may also remove yourself from this queue by pressing the 1 then 0 key again. One moment, please, for the first question.
MODERATOR: Operator, let’s go to the line of Matt Lee.
OPERATOR: Thank you, and Mr. Lee, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, there. Can you all hear me? Yes, you can, because I can hear from other phones in the bullpen.
MODERATOR: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Happy Monday. Two things real brief. One, does this have anything to do with the stuff that was published in the Federal Register a week or so – or two weeks ago maybe that talked about the FTOs? Because it doesn’t seem to. That seems to be something different.
And then secondly, I am not really familiar with this form, but I just took a look at it online and it seems to me that although removing the burden of having to fill this form out and sending it to DHS or CIS – the information that it asks for, it would seem to me they’re going to have to provide anyway even if it’s only to State. Is that correct? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Hi, this is [Senior Administration Official Two]. I can speak quickly to the first question. I would say that I think what you’re referencing are the exemptions, the TRIG exemptions that were published in the Federal Register notice a couple of weeks ago. And it’s not related to this process change other than I would say that those exemptions can be applied to SIV applicants. So there are terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds that apply to the SIV process, and so those exemptions that were published to the extent applicants qualify for them – and they’re always applied on a discretionary basis and a case-by-case basis. But to the extent that an SIV applicant would qualify for one of those exemptions, they could be applied to SIV applicants, which would potentially make them eligible for the benefit where they otherwise wouldn’t be.
MODERATOR: And USCIS, would you be able to address the other part of Matt’s question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I can address part of it, although I want to defer to State on the information that is collected on the new forms. I mean, I think it’s – the bottom line is that yes, we still need all of the necessary required information in order to process the benefit. But it will be one form instead of two, and I think that the new, revised form that will be submitted to the State Department, while it still contains all of the critical information, I believe is a shorter form to fill out than the 360. But I’ll defer to State if you want to speak to the new form.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. Thank you very much, [Senior Administration Official Two], for that. I can speak to that a little bit. Totally agree that the information that’s contained in the new form is what is needed and what’s been determined to be needed by the various agencies involved. There were a lot of redundancies in the previous process that will be eliminated in this.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. Operator, let’s go to the line of Stef Kight with Axios.
OPERATOR: Very good. And that line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for having this. Two questions. First of all, curious if you all have any estimate on just how much time this could potentially save applicants for the Special Immigrant Visa with these changes, just kind of any sense of how much time you’re expecting this to save applicants as well as officials working on these cases.
And secondly, I know this is not exactly related but tangentially related, if you could provide any kind of update on efforts to expedite the refugee process for Afghans as well, especially those in Qatar.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I can speak to the first point. We do anticipate that, at a minimum, this change in process will shave about a month off of the adjudication time, but even more importantly, I think, ease a great administrative burden on the visa applicant. So the process from the U.S. Government side can be eased by a month or potentially more. But I think what we anticipate seeing is the major impact here is that it’ll be a lot easier for the applicants as well.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: On the second one – this is [Senior Administration Official Three] – I don’t think we have any from our PRM bureau on – as a speaker. But I can – on the refugee processing part of it, and (inaudible), as you’re probably tracking, the goal of 30-day refugee processing compared to what it’s traditionally been of 18 months or more –12 to 18 months or more – we’re making really good progress.
In some of those cases, it comes in under 30 days; in some of them, it’s still over. Some of that has to do with the medicals that are required and other vetting. So we’re not – I would say we’re not as far as we would like to be in terms of everybody in that refugee status getting under 30 days, but we’re making good progress. And also, there are hopes that some of these efficiencies can be applied in other parts of the world to drop refugee processing times for refugees in all of those other populations that are in that pipeline. So making good progress, but not under 30 days yet for everybody, which is the goal. Over.
MODERATOR: Thanks. Operator, can we go to the line of Jen Hansler with CNN?
OPERATOR: And that line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing this. I just (inaudible) if you have a count of how many SIV applicants have been processed since the withdrawal from Afghanistan almost a year ago, and how many are still in the pipeline past the chief of mission status, and how many do you expect will still be applying right now? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: I don’t know – this is [Senior Administration Official Three] again – I don’t know that we have a count of everybody since the fall of Kabul, in part because this is always a fluid number. People can apply for SIVs at any time, and a lot of the ones who came in out of the NEO, this 74,000-plus in the immediate post-August period to the States, are still applying. I think our estimate, and it really is just an estimate, is that up to half of those who came in would be eligible. And so they’re – once they’re in the States, they can still apply for that.
The total principal applicants that we have in the pipeline as of last week is 74,274. But that includes pre-COM, and so traditionally the – around 40 – between 40 and 50 percent of chief of mission, or COM, applicants are turned down at that point for either not having the right documentation or not being eligible for various reasons. So you have to take that number with a really big grain of salt there. But that’s – so that’s the total principal applicants.
Of the ones that are post-COMs, so they’ve received their chief of mission approval and are essentially getting ready to get their documents to be able to be relocated, we’re tracking around 10,096 of those principal applicants, and that does not include family members. Usually for family members, we count around four and a half, sort of a average multiplier effect that we’ve found for Afghan families. So with the family members, that would be around 50,000 – 45‑ to 50,000 depending on who they have on their forms. Over.
MODERATOR: Great. We got time for one last question. Let’s go to Camilo Montoya from CBS News.
OPERATOR: And that line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you all for doing this. I want to just piggyback off the last question. And I think you mentioned this, the person from the State Department. Last year DHS provided data to Congress indicating that about 36,000 of the evacuees who were admitted and resettled through parole last year could be eligible potentially for SIV status. Do you have a number of how many of those have received SIV so far? And I know you mentioned many of them are still applying, but do you have a number of how many of those 70,000 or so received SIV and now have green cards, if any – if any?
MODERATOR: [Senior Administration Official Three], can you speak to Camilo’s question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: No, that’s a DHS – once in the States, the processing, especially the green card part of it, we don’t track. As for the chief of mission part, there’s no distinction for where the actual applicants are. So there’s nothing on the forums that says, I am here. I am in America. I am in Afghanistan. So we just process them through. We say, you have the right paperwork. You served at least a year in qualifying employment. You are approved. But on the State side, we don’t have a tracking unless they then reach out to us and say, I want to do my interview in Islamabad, or Istanbul, or I’m in Kabul and ready to travel. But in terms of the adjustments in the States and the green card statistics and things like that, State doesn’t have anything on that. Apologies.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Hi, this is [Senior Administration Official Two]. Yeah, I would just confirm that and just note that those who are in the United States, in order to get their green card, do file the Form I-485 with USCIS and go through that process here domestically. I don’t have the statistic that would speak exactly to your question of how many of the thirty-some thousand have been approved. I do know that currently we have just over 6,000 pending I-485s for Afghan special immigrants. And we continue to work those applications and process green cards for those who are applying from here in the United States.
MODERATOR: Great. Thanks so much, everyone, for joining. As a reminder, this call is on background, attributable to senior administration officials and embargoed until the call concludes, which will be shortly. Thanks again for joining, everyone, and we’ll be in touch.