US to lift Afghan visa limit under Biden, Congress deal

US to lift Afghan visa limit under Biden, Congress deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) : U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has reached a compromise deal with Republicans in House of Representatives to lift the number of resettlement visas for Afghans who worked for the United States, U.S. lawmakers said on Tuesday.

The congressionally-authorized limit of 38,500 Special Immigration Visas (SIVs), which offer a path to U.S. citizenship, had been expected to be reached sometime around the August anniversary of the 2021 U.S. troop withdrawal.

The Republican who leads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Michael McCaul, said the agreement would allow for 12,000 more visas. The Biden administration and Senate Republican lawmakers had sought 20,000.

“The White House and Congressional leaders have agreed to grant 12,000 Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan nationals who assisted the United States,” McCaul announced during a hearing, adding it would be in the State Department’s foreign operations funding bill.

Representative Jason Crow, a Democrat and Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and led the drive in the House to raise the SIV ceiling, confirmed the 12,000 figure to Reuters.

Still, the agreement falls far short of the demand for visas by Afghans, and the program is set to expire in 2026.

As of March 1, there were more than 80,000 Afghans who were in the visa process, about a quarter of whom had already been cleared for final interviews and vetting outside of Afghanistan, according to a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The announcement came during a hearing by two former top U.S. generals who testified that Afghans who helped the United States were facing a systematic campaign of retribution by Taliban in the aftermath of the U.S. pullout.

The additional visas come despite an immigration backlash fueled by former President Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, and United Nations reports that the Taliban have killed, arrested and tortured hundreds of former officials and soldiers since the Islamists seized Kabul.

“This is a victory,” Crow said.

“It’s not what we originally asked for. That’s what the Senate had approved,” he added. “But it gives us a lot more runway for a longer-term fix and allows us to save more lives.”