By, Kristin Nolan, Guest Blogger
An SIV Visa, or a Special Immigrant Visa, is a special category of immigration visa that applies 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.
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.
For Special Immigrant Visa FAQs, visit the first article in our series here.
Q: How does the SIV program work for those who served with the U.S. armed services?
The SIV for Afghans and Iraqis is provided by the U.S. Armed Forces (in conjunction with the State Department) for those who have served alongside the U.S. military overseas and who face persecution as a result of that work in their home communities. According to the Pew Research Center in 2017, the U.S. has employed over 70,000 Afghan and Iraqi citizens in the past decade, as war efforts continue. As of December 2017, 48,601 visas have been issued to Afghan employees and their families, whereas 21,961 have been issued to Iraqi employees and their families. There are three types of visas within this category:
- SIVs for Afghan and Iraqi Translators/Interpreters: These are individuals who provided translation or interpretation services for the U.S. armed forces. They are often embedded with U.S. personnel in convoys or in military outposts for lengthy amounts of time. This program was launched under the NDAA in FY2006, and was intended for 50 personnel. In FY2007 and FY2008, the program allocated 500 additional visas per year. This number was reduced in FY2009, back to 50 visas annually. The peak year for visas awarded under this program was 1,116 visas in FY2008.
- SIVs for Iraqis who were employed by/on behalf of the U.S. Government: Those who provided other services, (i.e., driving, support services, guards, etc.) to the U.S. military in Iraq during the ongoing war. This program was launched under the NDAA in FY2008 and was intended to distribute 5,000 SIVs between 2008 and 2012. The program has been extended twice. Applicants must have served between March 20, 2003 – September 30, 2013 for a period of one (1) year or more. These visas also allow for immediate family members (spouse and children under 21) to immigrate with the individual; however, family members do not count toward the total allotted visas issued to Iraqis employed by the U.S. military. As of February 2016, the State Department has issued 867 of the 2,500 SIVs granted to Iraqi personnel and their family members.
- SIVs for Afghans who were employed by/on behalf of the U. Government: Those who provided other services, (i.e., driving, support services, guards, etc.) to the U.S. military in Afghanistan or the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) during the ongoing war. This program has allotted a total of 14,500 visas since December 2014 via the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009. Requirements are that an applicant must have served for a minimum of two (2) years between October 7, 2001 and December 31, 2020. These visas also allow for immediate family members (spouse and children under 21) to immigrate with the individual; however, family members do not count toward the total allotted visas issued to Afghans employed by the U.S. military or ISAF. As of February 2016, the State Department has issued 48,601 SIVs granted to Afghan personnel and their family members.
Q: What is the breakdown of Afghan vs. Iraqi SIVs granted?
Numbers are still being released, but in February 2016, the Congressional Research Service put forth a report entitled Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Programs, detailing the breakdown of visas issued under the program:
SIVs for Iraqi and Afghan Translators and Interpreters
SIVs for Iraqis and Afghans Who Worked for the U.S. Government
Additional data is always being issued. Rejection data is not widely available; however, in FY2007, the U.S. rejected approximately 2,700 applications from Afghanistan.
Q: What have Afghan and Iraqi candidates for SIVs done for our country?
Both Afghan and Iraqi citizens have worked with the U.S. government in many capacities. Often, they serve as translators/interpreters, but have also served as drivers, guards, cooks, and other military support, among other positions. Very often, these individuals work closely alongside U.S. military personnel or were/are embedded in convoys, risking their lives not only on the battlefield and in routine military patrols, but also in their home communities, for working with the U.S. military. This work can also affect their families, and has enabled U.S. military personnel to conduct their day-to-day lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to having supported the war effort.
 Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Programs. Congressional Research Service. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/R43725.pdf February 26, 2016. Pg. 11