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FAQs about Afghan refugees

Learn more about the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program and refugees coming from Afghanistan, plus how you can help in Pittsburgh. Please note that the situation is rapidly changing, so we will try to keep this information as updated as possible.*


What is the SIV program?

The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program was created by Congress in 2009 to ensure protection of Afghan civilians who worked with the US government or military. Through the program, qualified individuals can receive a special visa for themselves and their family members to come to the US. Since its creation until now, around 18,000 Afghan refugees (SIV applicants and their families) have come to the US through this program.


What are the SIV qualifications?

SIV applicants must be Afghan citizens that have proof of employment with the US government or military for at least one year and have a favorable recommendation from a General, Flag Officer, or Chief of Mission in their chain of command. In July, the qualifications were expanded to include those who also worked with allied forces.


What is the vetting process of an SIV?

In order to apply, individuals must submit a packet of information that includes a passport, proof of qualified work for the US government or military, proof of screening and background check by the US military or government, and a letter of recommendation from the General, Flag Officer, or Chief of Mission in their chain of command. 

Once those documents are submitted, they must also submit family records including biographical information, birth certificates, marriage certificates, and other necessary documents. 

Once those documents are verified, the applicant has to attend a visa interview at the US Embassy, conducted in English. All family members listed on the application must attend and be fingerprinted. Before coming to the US, the entire family must also receive medical clearances. At this point, the visa may be issued right away, but often, the process takes much longer. Prior to the current crisis, the SIV application and vetting process took almost two years to complete.

Currently, there is an effort to expedite the process, starting with 700 applicants and their family members who are completing the final steps of the vetting process at Fort Lee, VA.


What about the other Afghan refugees?

The US government has issued a Priority 2 (P-2) for certain Afghan individuals and their family members who do not qualify for SIV status. These individuals include those who worked for the US government or military but did not meet the minimum qualified time; those who worked in Afghanistan with a US-funded program or project; those who worked with US media companies and non-governmental organizations. Applicants must receive a nomination for this status by a US government agency or the most senior US citizen employee at a US-based media outlet or NGO. Applicants must also leave Afghanistan on their own and start the process in a third country. The application process is expected to take 12-14 months and applicants will go through rigorous vetting, just like SIV applicants.

Other Afghan citizens may be eligible for Priority 1 status under the US Refugee Admissions Program, which would follow the typical course of refugee resettlement. Individuals would be referred by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), the US Embassy, or another designated NGO and go through extensive vetting before eventually coming through the US refugee resettlement process. This process can take several years.


What is the COVID status of arrivals?

As of July 30, Afghans flying to the US had to have a negative COVID test before coming to the country, and some have been offered vaccines before flying. In Pittsburgh, we are ensuring that COVID tests are administered quickly after their arrival and that the family and staff take necessary precautions to protect everyone’s health and safety. Families will also be given information about masking, social distancing guidelines, and vaccines.


What assistance will SIVs have on arrival?

As part of the resettlement process, each SIV will be met at the airport. We will then bring them to a furnished home and make sure they have clothes, food, and basic essentials. In the days following their arrival, we will provide essential, immediate, and longer term assistance, including but not limited to referrals to human services benefits, set-up of medical appointments, enrollment in school, paperwork, ESL class referrals, peer group guidance, transportation support and help getting a job.


How can I help?

JFCS is collaborating with AJAPO and several other local organizations to ensure successful resettlement of Afghan SIVs coming to Pittsburgh. You can help by donating, giving needed items, and providing volunteer support. Find out more here: jfcspgh.org/help

We have a number of ongoing needs that are open on a rolling basis including purchase of gift cards and other items – sign up to donate an item here.


I’m in Afghanistan, and I need help.

The International Refugee Assistance Program is working to help Afghans find resources and options available to them, as well as prepare various applications for visas and refugee status. Please reach out to them to find out how they might be able to help. If you need help getting documentation of qualifying employment for the SIV or P-2 status, please fill out this form and someone from the University of Pittsburgh Center for Governance and Markets will contact you.


*Information up to date as of 8/20/21