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Biden administration to let Afghan evacuees renew temporary legal status amid inaction in Congress

House hearing on Afghanistan withdrawal
House Oversight Committee holds hearing on withdrawal from Afghanistan 05:33

The Biden administration is planning to allow tens of thousands of Afghans brought to the U.S. after the Taliban takeover of their homeland to apply to stay and work in the country legally for at least another two years, as efforts in Congress to legalize them have stalled, four people familiar with the plan told CBS News.

The decision by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will give Afghan evacuees an opportunity to renew their temporary work permits and protections from deportation under a humanitarian immigration policy known as parole, which was used on a massive scale in 2021 and 2022 to resettle them.

Eligible Afghans will be allowed to submit an online application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to request a renewal of their parole classification, the sources said, requesting anonymity to discuss the policy decision before its public announcement. The agency, one of the sources said, is planning to start accepting renewal requests in June.

USCIS will set up at least five support centers across the U.S. to connect Afghans with lawyers in the coming months so they can help evacuees apply for parole renewals and immigration benefits that grant them permanent legal status, such as asylum, the sources added. The centers will also offer health care, job placement assistance and other services to help Afghans integrate into American communities.

Angelo Fernández Hernández, a Homeland Security spokesperson, said the department was working to "provide guidance" to Afghans paroled into the country "as soon as possible."

"DHS remains committed to supporting Afghan nationals paroled under Operation Allies Welcome, and we continue to explore opportunities to provide avenues for humanitarian relief," Fernández Hernández added.

The Biden administration's move will serve as a much-awaited reprieve to tens of thousands of Afghans who were bracing for the prospect of losing their ability to work and live in the U.S. legally this summer. The first group of evacuees brought to the U.S. in 2021 were set to lose their parole status in July.

Afghan refugees arrive at the a U.S. naval base in Spain as part of Operation Allies Refuge on Aug. 31, 2021.
Afghan refugees arrive at the U.S. naval base in Spain as part of Operation Allies Refuge on Aug. 31, 2021. Maria Jose Lopez/Europa Press via Getty Images

During the chaotic military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, the U.S. evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans, alongside American citizens, U.S. residents and third country nationals. The Biden administration then used the parole authority to admit 77,000 evacuees after vetting them at military bases overseas.

While the use of parole allowed the U.S. to admit Afghans without having to go through the years-long refugee or visa processes, it also meant that evacuees would face an uncertain legal future, absent intervention from Congress. 

Unlike immigrants who arrive in the U.S. with refugee status or certain visas, those brought to the U.S. via parole don't have a direct path to permanent residency and are only given permission to stay in the country on a temporary basis — two years in the case of the Afghans.

The White House and a bipartisan group of lawmakers have pushed Congress to give evacuated Afghans a chance to become permanent residents. But efforts to pass the proposal, known as the Afghan Adjustment Act, have floundered without sufficient support from congressional Republicans, some of whom have said the Biden administration did not properly vet the evacuees.

President Biden's administration has used parole at an unprecedented scale, most recently as part of a program designed to discourage Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans from crossing the southern border illegally by letting them fly to the U.S. legally if they have American sponsors. The administration has also relied on the authority to accept tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees since the early days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Since the 1950s, Congress has moved to legalize different groups brought to the U.S. under the parole authority, such as Cuban exiles, Hungarians fleeing Soviet rule and refugees escaping war-torn Southeast Asia following the fall of Saigon. But the prospect of lawmakers passing the bill to legalize Afghan evacuees is less certain amid the intensifying partisan stalemate in Congress over immigration issues. 

The decision to allow Afghans to apply for parole renewals comes just weeks after the Biden administration announced similar relief for more than 20,000 Ukrainians processed along the southern border last year whose permission to stay in the U.S. was set to expire this spring. 

While many Afghan evacuees are eligible for permanent status through special visas for those who assisted U.S. military forces or a fast-track asylum proceeding, only a small number had been granted these benefits as of earlier this year, according to government data first reported by CBS News. 

"For us, the Afghan Adjustment Act is more than a bill before Congress. It cuts to the core question of whether the U.S. keeps its promise of protection to its allies," said Helal Massomi, an Afghan evacuee and policy adviser at the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a U.S. resettlement group.

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