DHS and DOS Announce Exemptions Allowing Eligible Afghans to Qualify for Protection and Immigration Benefits
On June 14, the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State took steps to ensure that vulnerable Afghan citizens who supported and worked with the United States in Afghanistan can qualify for protection and other immigration benefits in the United States.
Generally, any individual who is a member of a “terrorist organization” or who has engaged or engages in terrorism-related activity as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is “inadmissible” (not allowed to enter the United States) and is ineligible for most immigration benefits. The problem for many Afghan nationals is that the definition of terrorism-related activity is relatively broad and may apply to individuals and activities not commonly thought to be associated with terrorism. Examples may include providing food, helping to set up tents, distributing literature, or making a small monetary contribution to a terrorist organization or a terrorist member.
Accordingly, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Attorney General, exercised their discretionary authority to create three new exemptions, which can be applied on a case-by-case basis, to ensure individuals who would otherwise be eligible for the benefit or protection they are seeking are not automatically denied. These exemptions will help to ensure that individuals who have lived under Taliban rule, such as former civil servants; those required to pay service fees to the Taliban to do things like pass through a checkpoint or obtain a passport; and those who fought against the Taliban are not mistakenly barred because of overly broad applications of terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds (TRIG) in our immigration law.
The new exemptions may apply to the following: Afghans who supported U.S. military interests, specifically Afghan allies who fought or otherwise supported those who fought in the resistance movement against the Taliban, and Afghans who took part in the conflict against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Individuals employed as civil servants in Afghanistan at any time from Sept. 27, 1996, to Dec. 22, 2001, or after Aug. 15, 2021. This could include teachers, professors, postal workers, doctors, and engineers, among others. Some civil servants held these positions before the Taliban announced their so-called “interim government” and continued in their roles due to pressure, intimidation, or other hardship. Individuals who provided insignificant or certain limited material support to a designated terrorist organization.
The United States has welcomed more than 79,000 Afghans through Operation Allies Welcome, an unprecedented historic effort, providing them with work authorization, immigration benefits, and other support as they begin their new lives in America. With the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the number of refugees is expected to continue to rise. As stated by Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the new exemptions “will allow eligible individuals who pose no national security or public safety risk to receive asylum, refugee status, or another legal immigration status, demonstrating the United States’ continued commitment to our Afghan allies and their family members.”