Home U.S. NEWS Afghans in the US grapple with insecurity as congressional reforms stall

Afghans in the US grapple with insecurity as congressional reforms stall

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Afghans in the US grapple with insecurity as congressional reforms stall

By Josephine Walker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Farzana Jamalzada fled Afghanistan after the Taliban took power in August 2021, fearing her work with the US government could put her at risk. Finding refuge in the US, she moved to New York City, where she secured a job at a charity helping pay rent and other necessities.

But her work permits – and those of her husband Farhad – expired at the end of August, leaving them in limbo for weeks while awaiting an immigration interview related to their permanent residency application.

“We really don’t have a lot of savings,” she said. “What should we do if we lose our insurance or benefits? Health insurance is very, very expensive here.”

The struggle with immigration papers is ever-present for the more than 70,000 Afghans who have been evacuated to the United States since 2021 as part of Operation Allies Welcome. Many Afghans, including Jamalzada and her husband, were granted “humanitarian parole” that initially allowed them to live and work in the US for two years. In June, President Joe Biden’s administration extended parole for an additional two years, but the status remains temporary.

A bipartisan coalition of U.S. lawmakers, veterans and advocates is pressing Congress to create a direct route to permanent residency and eventual citizenship for Afghans under legislation known as the Afghan Adjustment Act. But the law failed to gain traction in the Republican-led House of Representatives and has stalled in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority.

According to Danilo Zak, associate director for policy and advocacy at Church World Service, a group that supports refugees, Afghans who entered the US on humanitarian parole can find the path to permanent status challenging find.

“There are many Afghans who simply cannot afford or cannot find immigration assistance,” Zak said.

Unlike some others, Jamalzada and her husband have a path to permanent residency. Through their work in support of the US government, they were eligible to apply for a special immigrant visa, which was available to translators, interpreters, and others assisting the US during its two-decade military operation.

But the US evacuation from Afghanistan began so suddenly that Jamalzada was forced to leave the country before her visa was fully processed, she said.

To obtain permanent residency, unofficially known as a green card, the couple must attend government talks on September 12, leaving them without the right to work for nearly two weeks.

Jamalzada said she hopes Congress will offer Afghans a more direct path to permanent status so that other friends and family already in the US can feel safer.

“You never know what’s going to happen to you,” she said.

(Reporting by Josephine Walker; Editing by Ted Hesson and Daniel Wallis)

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