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House passes bill to expand and accelerate visa process for Afghans who helped Americans

The growing threat to Afghan interpreters
What could the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan mean for the local interpreters who helped 04:52

Washington — The House on Thursday passed a bill to expand and accelerate the special immigrant visa process for Afghans who helped Americans forces who are stranded in the country as the U.S. prepares to withdraw combat troops by August 31

The House's bill would eliminate excess paperwork and increase the number of visas granted to eligible Afghans. 

Afghans who fear retribution from the Taliban after working alongside American forces are placing their hopes on the Biden administration's promise of evacuations. But even if evacuated, applicants still need to complete the full SIV process, which can take years to finish. 

The ALLIES Act, passing 407-16, would eliminate certain redundancies in paperwork identified in the 14-step process as well as increase the number of available visas by 8,000. The bill comes after the HOPE for Afghan SIV Act, passed by the House last month, which focuses on clearing medical examination requirements. 

US Afghanistan
In this June 25, 2021 photo, former Afghan interpreters hold placards during a demonstrations against the US government, in front of the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Mariam Zuhaib / AP

"The American handshake must matter. Our Afghan partners stood with U.S. troops on the frontlines, including me. We can't abandon them now," tweeted Rep. Jason Crow, who introduced the bill. 

The current number of applicants is over 20,000, but about half have yet to complete the initial stages of the application. Currently, the SIV program will continue even after the military withdraws, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price. 

The Defense Department has agreed to allow the use of Fort Lee in Virginia to temporarily house the initial tranche of 750 applicants and their families as they finish the process.

The applicants and their families will travel on commercial flights expected to begin next week.  

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a press conference Wednesday said the initial group would only need to stay at the installation for a few days to complete the process. 

The interagency team is evaluating other locations overseas to host 4,000 applicants and their families who have received chief of mission approval but are not as far in the visa processing. 

"These are friends of the United States who have done exemplary and courageous work, and we take our obligations to them and to their families very seriously," Austin said on Wednesday. 

Austin called the task of evacuating the Afghans who helped the U.S. military "urgent." 

In a joint press conference Wednesday, Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley updated reporters on the withdrawal of U.S. forces, and Milley said the Taliban had overtaken about half of the districts and appears to have the "strategic momentum." 

"We're monitoring very closely. I don't think the end game is yet written," Milley said. 

Ahmad Parwiz, an Afghan American living in California, is anxiously awaiting for his brother's SIV to process. 

His brother worked for the U.S. government as a contractor and applied for an SIV 5 months ago, waiting in a Taliban sympathetic neighborhood.  He and his family are banking on the Biden administration's evacuation plan to take them out of Afghanistan as they remain in the early stages of the application process. 

As of Wednesday, they have not heard anything about being selected for evacuation. Until then, they are hiding in their homes. 

His brother's greatest fears almost came true when his son was kidnapped on his way to school. The National Directorate of Security intervened and were able to save his son, but in the exchange one of the kidnappers was killed, according to Parwiz.

"He's really worried about what happens if the Taliban take the city or they seek to take revenge for the killing of the gang member," Parwiz told CBS News on July 8.

The family believes the boy was targeted due to his father's work for the U.S. Now the family fears retribution as they await any word from the U.S. 

"He didn't have any plan to come to the U.S. until these recent events and when the U.S. announced full withdrawal from Afghanistan. So he decided to apply because like everyone else, he's worried about the safety of his family" says Parwiz. 

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