The translators promised visas but made into refugees by the U.S. Army

Julius Motal reports: Working for the US Army in Afghanistan can get you killed, but there’s a silver lining.

The US Army offers its Afghan translators the right to request the Special Immigration Visa (SIV). It’s a program initiated by the US to help certain foreign employees leave their home countries and get on a path to permanent residency in the states—usually for protection from groups like the Taliban. For the last four years, the program has been renewed in the National Defense Authorization Act. This year, however, both the House of Representatives and the Senate failed to vote for the allocation of more visas, which could imperil remaining applicants.

Through that program, Muhammad, a former US Army translator in Afghanistan that I met in the port of Piraeus, Greece, should already be in the US. But like several other forgotten Afghan translators who served the United States, his visa has not come through. After being laid off by his army base in 2014, Muhammad fell into a bureaucratic gap between the United States’ promises to its employees in Afghanistan, and its rocky attempt to withdraw from the country.

Muhammad applied for the SIV in 2014. He was rejected in May 2015. According to the rejection email, his application was ruled invalid on the grounds of “Lack of faithful and valuable service.” Muhammad says that’s because he was fired—but not for lack of faithfulness or value. 2014 was simply the year that the Obama administration started closing army bases, in an early phase of withdrawal from Afghanistan. With fewer bases and fewer troops, fewer translators were needed. Muhammad was downsized by government contractor Mission Essential.

So in January 2016, he decided to make a go of it on his own. He paid $5,500 in smuggling fees to be trafficked from Afghanistan to Iran, from Iran to Turkey, and then from Turkey to Greece. By the time he arrived in the port of Piraeus in March, the 22-year-old’s life had been reduced to the phone in his pocket, the clothes on his back, and a sheaf of papers from his job with the United States Army.

His service and his perfect English together, in theory, put him in a better position than most refugees, but because he is Afghan, he isn’t even eligible for any of the expedited European relocation measures that the Syrian and Iraqi refugees sheltering in the port can claim. [Continue reading…]

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  1. The immigrant visa number allows you to apply for permanent resident status. If you are outside the U.S. when a visa number becomes available, go to the nearest U.S. consulate to complete the paperwork. If you are a foreign national without U.S. family ties, your employer can sponsor you for a green card.