News report | | 24/06/2022 | ±2 minutes reading time

The US government has recently relaxed some of the strict requirements that Afghan citizens must fulfil if they want to immigrate to the United States.

Strict immigration rules for Afghans to be relaxed

The US government has recently relaxed some strict immigration rules for Afghans seeking to settle in the United States. Until recently, Afghan citizens who held civilian positions or paid for government services under the yoke of the Taliban regime were not eligible for visas to the United States. The US government feared that they could have ties to a terrorist group. The Biden administration has made it known that this is no longer the case.

Both the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State have pressed the US Government under the Immigration and Nationality Act to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis for citizens who would otherwise be entitled to a visa. This allows the government to offer protection to Afghans who pose no risk to national security. It also allows them to obtain permanent immigration status in the United States. All Afghans who worked as civil servants during the Taliban regime between September 1996 and December 2001 and after August 2021 are eligible.

Still, many immigration rules remain unclear

Afghans who have applied for admission to the US through Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), a special programme introduced by Congress in 2009, are required to submit, among other things, a letter of recommendation from an executive from a US project in Afghanistan. According to the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a private organisation in the US, for many years, applicants were asked to have the letter of recommendation verified by a US citizen, or to have a US citizen sign it even if the supervisor was not a US citizen.

It is not yet clear whether this requirement has been removed. According to IRAP, the US State Department does ask for these signed letters, but Congress has never imposed this requirement. The State Department did say that applicants should try to obtain such a letter, and reiterated that the requirement has not been dropped completely.

IRAP believes that this requirement creates unjustified obstacles and difficulties for applicants who, under certain circumstances, cannot find or know a US citizen to sign this letter. This has also become increasingly difficult since the US military and other US personnel have withdrawn from Afghanistan. This is especially true for Afghans who have been laid off or forced to change their contact details.

No residence permit needed? Then apply for an ESTA

Travellers from the UK, Ireland and other EU countries who do not intend to settle permanently in the United States and only want to stay there for a short time have to apply for an ESTA. An ESTA is an electronic travel authorisation that allows for visa-free travel to the United States. The ESTA is valid for two years from the date of granting and costs £39.95. An ESTA allows you to stay in the USA for up to 90 days.