US House approves offer to add 8,000 visas for high-risk Afghans

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The US House of Representatives on Thursday approved a plan to grant an additional 8,000 special immigration visas to Afghans who the US has helped and risk retaliation as US troops complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan after a 20-year war.

The bipartisan bill, which passed by a vote of 407 to 16, will now pass the Senate. It is also intended to speed up the processing of the visa.

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Representative Jason Crow, a Democrat who led the group funding the bill, said the additional visas would cover all potentially eligible applicants in the pipeline. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged last month that there were about 18,000 potential applicants.

The Special Immigrant Visa program is available to Afghans who have worked with the US government or the US military. The United States has issued 26,500 such visas since December 2014.

President Joe Biden’s administration is under pressure from lawmakers and advocacy groups to begin evacuating thousands of applicants and their families after Biden said the US military mission in Afghanistan would formally end on August 31.

“For too long there has been no sense of urgency necessary to ensure the safety of the people who risk their lives to help Americans in these difficult circumstances,” said Representative Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat.

Concern for the applicants has also been fueled by an increase in fighting between US-backed Afghan forces and the Taliban in recent weeks, with the militants taking territory and capturing border crossings.

The US will begin evacuating special immigration visa applicants from Afghanistan this month and the first batch will be taken to a military base in Virginia while they wait for the process to be completed.

US-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in late 2001 for providing refuge to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the operations used to attack the US on September 11, 2001.

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