Biden administration pivoting to long-term strategy to assist Afghans

The Biden administration is pivoting to a long-term strategy to assist Afghans who worked with or on behalf of the US government. Refugees are pictured boarding a bus at Dulles International Airport on August 31.

By Priscilla Alvarez, CNN

(CNN) -- The Biden administration is pivoting to a long-term strategy to assist Afghans who worked with or on behalf of the US government, according to a senior administration official.

Last year, amid the evacuation out of Afghanistan, the administration stood up "Operation Allies Welcome," a whole-of-government effort to resettle Afghans to the United States. Since then, around 86,000 Afghan nationals have resettled to the US. That operation is now being renamed "Enduring Welcome," with a focus on helping Afghans and their family members who remain abroad.

The administration is doubling down on existing immigrant pathways, like special immigrant visas (SIVs) and the refugee admissions program, to help Afghans interested in coming to the US.

"This commitment does not have an end date -- the commitment to resettle our Afghan allies," the senior administration official told reporters.

"Under Enduring Welcome, we will focus our relocation efforts on three main eligibility categories," the official said, citing family reunification for the immediate relatives of US citizens and legal permanent residents and those who resettled over the past year, special immigrant visa applicants, and the US refugee admissions program.

It's part of an ongoing effort to provide relief to Afghans and streamline processing.

Senior administration officials previously announced they are eliminating one of two forms for most new SIV applicants, a change in process that they said "will shave about a month off of the adjudication time." Removing the form means that the processing will all be done by the State Department, and no longer through United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. But it will still be a very rigorous process.

As of July, there were more than 74,000 applicants in the SIV pipeline -- more than 16,000 of whom had submitted all the documents required for Chief of Mission approval, according to a State Department spokesperson.

As the administration transitions to a long-term strategy, officials anticipate phasing out parole for Afghans on a large scale, like occurred last year, and ending the use of a facility that served as a final pitstop in the US for those resettling in the country.

Earlier this year, the administration contracted the National Conference Center, located in a neighborhood in Loudoun County, Virginia, to be used as a temporary pit stop for Afghan evacuees. The contract runs through the end of this fiscal year.

"We're now able to assign people to their destination communities directly from overseas and so people can travel without a stopover," the senior administration official said.

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