What is a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV)?

By, Kristin Nolan, Guest Blogger

An SIV Visa, or a Special Immigrant Visa, is a special category of immigration visas that apply to three categories of persons: 1) Afghans and Iraqis who have served overseas alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq; 2) religious workers; and 3) those seeking employment-based visas with special circumstances.


Current Status:

The SIV program issues visas in the following categories: Afghan-Iraqi U.S. employees (average of 4,722 per year, between 2007 – 2015; total amount varies per year based on visas granted), religious workers (5,000), and employees (140,000). The numbers of these available visas are subject to administration approval each year. In FY2018, the Trump Administration allocated 3,500 additional visas for Afghan applicants under the FY2018 NDAA for the SIV program.

The Trump Administration’s America First policies and Muslim-majority country bans have affected the SIV program at large, notably in the Afghan and Iraqi SIVs, and in the seasonal worker visas, which help to fuel a majority of summer harvesting seasons, as well as seasonal summer resort towns that often hire workers from the Caribbean. The Trump Administration approved the increase of certain Afghan visas, but has yet to release substantive data on those visas being issued.


Q: How does the SIV program work?

Candidates who meet these criteria must file a petition with USCIS (Form I-360), complete any other forms necessary, and then undergo an interview before being granted an SIV.

The program is managed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the State Department. SIV visas associated with the military are coordinated via the U.S. armed services. Visas for Afghan and Iraqi foreign nationals in association with the military are mandated via the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Q: Can anyone apply for an SIV?

No, SIVs are designed for specific immigration circumstances. Other categories of immigration visas are as follows: tourism & visit visas (for vacationing in the U.S.); business visas (for temporary workers in the U.S.); employee visas (for temporary workers in the U.S. who do not qualify for business visas); study & exchange visas (for those who wish to study or temporarily live in the U.S.); immigration visas (to permanently relocate to the U.S.); and other visa categories (i.e. transit, medical, official government travel, temporary religious worker, crewmember, humanitarian & special visas, and follow-to-join refugees & asylees). To learn more about different types of visas, please visit the State Department website.

Q: Once you apply, are you automatically granted a visa if you meet the criteria?

It is important to note that the U.S. upholds an extremely rigorous interview and qualification process for candidates to immigrate to the United States. This procedure is to ensure safety for U.S. citizens, as well as ensure that candidates meet qualifications for entry. The process is often lengthy, spanning years, and is highly bureaucratic, involving multiple forms and documents that can be difficult to interpret. Those who make it through this process are typically affluent in their country of origin, or extremely resourceful, contrary to popular belief. The process can also take enormous resources on the part of the applicant, costing up to thousands of dollars in form fees and other circumstantial items, such as interpretation services from English to local language, travel fees, and other such items.

A common misconception about immigrants and refugees is that they just simply cross a border and work illegally, or come to ‘mooch’ off the U.S. benefits system. While illegal border crossings do occur, the majority of immigrants and refugees pay taxes and add to the local and national economies across multiple industries. Those who have arrived legally have often worked very hard to gain admittance to the U.S.

Q: Can SIV holders get a Green Card or pursue U.S. citizenship?

Yes. Upon arrival in the U.S., an SIV holder is granted Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status and will also receive a Permanent Resident Card (also known as the “Green Card”). Green Card holders may apply for U.S. citizenship after residing in the U.S. for a period of five (5) years, after passing all associated citizenship exams.

To learn more about SIVs, please stay tuned for our upcoming posts on military SIVs, religious worker SIVs, and employment-based SIVs.


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