Legislative Update: Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program (FY 2019)

Elaina Stephenson and Fiona Tomlin

September 19, 2018

Our military has a strong, strategic tradition of depending on local allies. Throughout U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan, thousands of locals have provided mission support as interpreters, translators, cultural advisors, logisticians, and as contractors for the U.S. embassy, USAID, and other agenciesAs veterans, we understand the lifeline that is the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program and are concerned about the fact that there were no visas in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

NDAA Failed to Authorize SIVs

In previous years, Congress authorized additional Special Immigrant Visas through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) annually. Those visas must be paid for. Those funds must come from savings from other mandatory spending programs as required by law through the Budget Control Act. This year the necessary offsets to pay for the program in compliance with the Budget Control Act were unavailable, and therefore no visas were included in the version of the bill that passed. (In simpler language: for a lot of complicated budgeting reasons, they could not find the money to pay for it.)

This does not mean the fight is over. As always, our approach must be tenacious, but also solution-oriented and strategic. While it is disappointing that SIVs were not included in the NDAA, another path exists. There is overwhelming bipartisan, bicameral support for this program, and we believe we can secure the visas through the appropriations process. 

A Path Forward: Appropriations

Congress can allocate visas for the program through House and Senate Appropriations Committees. This has been done before. For instance, in May 2017 Congress allocated an additional 2,500 visas through the appropriations process.

Of note, both the House and Senate State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee reports for Fiscal Year 2019 affirmed the critical role of the SIV program. The Senate report states: “It is the sense of the Senate that the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program is important to the national interests of the United States.” Congress knows how important this program is and just needs to find a way to make the necessary visas available for it.

How You Can Help

The critical moment is now. Soon, members of the House and Senate appropriations conference committees will convene for conference. Leading up to that, we want to encourage Senate Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and his fellow appropriators to allocate a minimum of four thousand additional visas to address the current backlog and protect this lifeline for our Afghan allies. Get involved by participating in our action alert here: https://vfai.quorum.us/campaign/14139/