Special Immigrant Visa Program, Saved but Insufficient

On Friday the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included a renewal of the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for interpreters, translators, and other allies who served alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan. These allies are often targeted and threatened by the Taliban and other extremists due to their service to the United States. The SIV program is essential to upholding the United States’ promise to protect its partners that sacrificed so much to help it.


The bill is expected to go to a vote before the Senate this week. The SIV program, which historically has had significant bipartisan support, was set to expire at the end of this year. But it faced new challenges to passage amidst growing distrust of refugees and immigrants, particularly Muslims.


Veterans for American Ideals has been dedicated to renewing the SIV program and calling for new visa allocations. In September, we delivered to Congress a letter, signed by VFAI members, veteran organizations, former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, and others. Last week, 29 VFAI leaders convened in Washington, D.C. to urge Congress to take action to save the program.


We are heartened that the program has been authorized for four more years. Thousands of Afghans who bravely served alongside U.S. troops will now find safety and an opportunity for a new life in the United States. However, Congress has only authorized 1500 new visas in addition to the remaining visas from previous years. This is not enough to address the between 11,000 and 15,000 applicants still in the pipeline. Without more visas, we are likely to leave several thousand of our allies behind with one choice: flee or die.


VFAI will continue to push for more visas to be added to the quota through future vehicles, including the upcoming appropriations process. Your voice could still make a difference. We encourage you to write your members of Congress urging them to expand the number of visas. Template letters are available for download here for veterans, and here for civilian allies.