The 9/11 terrorist attack on the US led to a military conflict in Afghanistan that lasted 20 years.
Thousands of Afghans attempted to flee the country in August 2021 following the Taliban takeover of the government and the US military withdrawal. In the two decades following the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent war, the number of Afghans traveling to the US, temporarily or to immigrate permanently, has fluctuated as the situation in the country changed.
The US has decreased the amount of non-immigrant and immigrant visas awarded to Afghan nationals in the past three years, according to State Department data. Non-immigrant visas dropped by about 45% between 2001 and 2002. However, they slowly began to increase in 2003 and hit an all-time high in 2014 with 4,421 visas issued that year.
Special immigrant visas awarded to Afghan citizens and families who worked with the US military peaked at 16,388 in 2017. On July 30, Congress passed The Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, which immediately authorized 8,000 special immigrant visas for Afghan applicants.
Non-immigrant visas are issued for varying purposes, including employment, tourism, business, and education. These visas have expiration dates and holders must apply for a green card to stay permanently. Non-immigrant visas for Afghans have decreased since 2014 when President Barack Obama reduced US troop levels in Afghanistan by 70%.
Most non-immigrant visas for Afghans are used for business and tourism and typically last three to six months. This visa category decreased the most following 9/11, down by 40%. Diplomatic visas for foreign government officials, treaty negotiators, and their accompanying staff and families, increased the most after 2001, growing by more than 800 new visas in the next six years.
The fewest number of visas for Afghans are granted for family-sponsored relocation and employment. Both have pathways to qualify for permanent residence certified by a green card. Student visa holders can also apply for permanent residency after graduation if they qualify based on skills or future employment.
The special immigrant visa program allows Afghan nationals who were employed by or on the behalf of the US government to resettle in the US for their safety. Applicants must have completed at least one year of service after October 2001 and be under a serious ongoing threat because of their employment. Afghan translators who worked with the US military can also apply for a special immigrant visa. Spouses and dependent children also qualify.
In 2006, Congress created a special immigrant visa program for Iraqi and Afghan translators. The program was later expanded in 2014 to include all Afghans and Iraqis who were employed by the US in any capacity. Over 8,000 more visas were granted to Afghans in the next year as a result. The number of special immigrant visas going to Afghans has since fallen by more than 25% since the 2017 peak.
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