Thousands of Visas for Iraqis Who Collaborated with US Go Unused
March 24, 2013 - 9:03 am
A program that supplied special visas for Iraqis who helped the American rebuilding effort is set to end this year with only 5500 of the 25,000 documents allocated.
Both Democrats and Republicans are urging the Obama Administration to renew the program and make a better effort to find Iraqis who wish to come to the US because they may be in danger from terrorists and others for their activities supporting our efforts.
As the nation marks the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, Republican and Democratic lawmakers are urging the Obama Administration to continue the visa program, which is set to expire at the end of September, and reform the application process to aid those who want to move to the U.S. Earlier this month, 19 members of Congress sent a letter to the Obama Administration with their concerns that also includes the special visa program for Afghanis who have worked with the U.S. in that war.
“Often, sterling (visa) applications are denied, and perhaps for good reason, but under the current program, the Chief of Missions (COM) at Embassies Baghdad and Kabul can approve or deny letters with little transparency into how that decision was made,” the letter stated. “Further, (visa) applicants have no means of challenging or appealing an adverse COM decision.”
The U.S government created the Special Immigrant Visa for Iraqis in 2008 with the aim of helping them move to the United States faster than the often protracted refugee process. The visa was made for men and women who risked their lives while working for businesses or reconstruction operations that helped U.S. forces in Iraq. The program allotted 5,000 visas annually until 2012. That limit only counts primary visa holders and not their families or dependents.
Advocates say the requirements to apply for the visas can be unnecessarily onerous, with extensive paperwork, timelines and agencies involved. The application process requires recommendations from U.S. military personnel, for example.
The application also requires a “police certificate” from Iraqi authorities, which are not trusted by many Iraqis looking to apply, Mufrej said.
“The responsibility of the United States to the Iraqi people did not end with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq,” said Bob Carey of the International Rescue Committee, one of the largest refugee settlement organizations in the country.
Like Mufrej, Iraqis who were known to work for the U.S. government were often the target of killings, violence, kidnapping, death threats and other harassment.
This seems unnecessarily complicated, although vetting people to make sure they aren’t terrorists or criminals should be a rigorous process. And there are other programs that have brought tens of thousands of Iraqis here, including a refugee program that has seen 80,000 Iraqis settled here.
There is a backlog of 1500 Iraqis looking to acquire the Special Immigrant Visa. It’s time we made a better effort to implement this program and protect those that risked so much to help us.