MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us today for this call to discuss the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 Designation for Afghan Nationals.
This call, as you know, is on background. For reporting purposes, our briefers should be referred to as senior State Department officials.
Just for your knowledge, and again, not for reporting, our briefing today will begin with remarks from [Senior State Department Official One], [Senior State Department Official Two], and [Senior State Department Official Three] will also be on the line to take your questions after [Senior State Department Official One]’s opening remarks.
All contents of this call are embargoed until the conclusion. As you’ll hear from the operator, you can enter the question queue at any time by dialing 1 and then 0.
And with that, I will turn it over to our first speaker. Please, go ahead.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks so much, [Moderator], and thank you all very much for joining us this morning. I’ll start with just some brief opening remarks and then we all look forward to taking your questions.
So today, the State Department is announcing a Priority 2, or as we call it, a P-2 designation granting U.S. Refugee Admissions Program access to certain Afghan nationals and their eligible family members.
The U.S. objective remains a peaceful and secure Afghanistan. As part of the President’s efforts to assist Afghans who have supported the U.S. Government’s efforts in Afghanistan, we are working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with and for the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement in the United States. Cases referred to this program will be processed in third countries, once the applicants are outside of Afghanistan.
Those eligible for referral include:
One: U.S. Government, including U.S. Forces Afghanistan employees and contractors, including interpreters and translators, who do not have the minimum time in service to qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa or SIV.
Second: International Security Assistance Force employees, including interpreters and translators, who do not have the minimum time in service for an SIV.
Resolute Support employees and contractors, including interpreters and translators, who do not have the minimum time in service for an SIV.
Four: Afghans who work or worked for a U.S. Government-funded program or project in Afghanistan supported through a U.S. Government grant or cooperative agreement.
And lastly, Afghans who are or were employed in Afghanistan by a U.S.-based nongovernmental or media organization that does not require U.S. Government funding.
Many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members are at risk due to these U.S. affiliations and are not eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa because either they did not have qualifying employment, or they have not met the time-in-service requirement to become eligible; however, they may be eligible for a P-2 referral, and thus, to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
As noted, this P-2 designation also expands eligibility to Afghans who are or were employed in Afghanistan by a U.S.-based media organization or nongovernmental organization. Referral information for how these U.S.-based media organizations or NGOs can be found at WRAPSNET.org. That’s wraps with a W, W-R-A-P-S, dot O-R-G.
Once we begin processing these cases, we will work with our resettlement partners in the United States to welcome these Afghan refugees to their new communities. Refugee resettlement would not be possible without the support of state and local governments, our resettlement partners and affiliates, nongovernmental organizations, faith-based organizations, advocacy groups, and the tens of thousands of volunteers across the United States who participate in this program.
Similar to the Afghans who are eligible for or have received a Special Immigrant Visa, the P-2 designation expands the United States commitment to honor those who served alongside our military and diplomats on the ground. Their support was essential to our operations. Our continued support for and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan includes offering this unique form of protection to those who are particularly vulnerable as a result of their affiliation with the United States, and maintains our promise to show our gratitude for their extraordinary service.
I thank you, and we now look forward to your questions. Over.
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, as a reminder, if you would like to ask a question, press 1, then 0 on your touchtone phone. You will hear an indication you’ve been placed into the queue and you may remove yourself from the queue by repeating the 1 then 0 command. We ask that you please pick up your handset and make sure that your phone is unmuted when you – before you press any buttons. Again, for questions, press 1 then 0.
MODERATOR: We’ll start with the line of Jennifer Hansler, please.
OPERATOR: Your line is open. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. I was wondering if you could give us a timeline of how quickly you anticipate processing all of these referrals. Will it be done before the end of the month when the military withdrawal is complete? Do you have an estimate of how many people might be eligible for these referrals? And was there a particular impetus for announcing this now rather than when you announced Operations Allies Refuge? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks so much, Jennifer. Let me see if I can remember all of them. So the first is the time horizon for how quickly we can process. So the first step in this process is really referrals and we would hope that that can start immediately.
The next thing that’s going to determine the time horizon is how quickly people – or how – when they make the decision to actually leave Afghanistan. We have to wait until they are outside of the country in order to begin processing. From that point on, it is a regular refugee resettlement program, and it is a somewhat lengthy process because there is a lot of security screening that goes on as part of the refugee program in itself. That can take anywhere from 12 to 14 months. So that’s the time horizon.
The question on – I’m trying to remember the other two. One was the timing of this announcement. Nothing special in it, just that this takes quite a lot of time to set up, and our first priority had been to really focus on getting the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa processing and relocation started because these are people that are particularly affiliated with us, and so that relocation effort really took a lot of time. But concurrently we were setting this one up, so no special timing.
And I think you may have had a third question that I forgot, and I apologize.
MODERATOR: It might have been the number of people potentially eligible for this.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks so much for the clarification. We don’t have an estimate yet. We’ll have to wait and see how many referrals we get for the program. Thank you.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to the line of Missy Ryan, please.
OPERATOR: Your line is open. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I just want to clarify something that I didn’t quite catch. So did you say that the people need to apply for this outside of Afghanistan, and are these people going to be relocated like the SIV individuals are? And it would be helpful for me if you would be able to just maybe walk through what the steps would be for any particular former employee – how and where do they apply, and then what the steps are, and then when they can actually come to the United States. Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks very much. So to your first question, just to clarify, people are not going to be applying once they get outside the country. What’s going to happen – the process is that individuals can be referred by their employer – not directly, but through their employer – to us through that website that I gave you. Once that happens, they are in our system and we will contact the individual via email to let them know they are now in the system and – for us.
Once they get themselves out of Afghanistan, they alert us that they are now outside of the country, tell us where they are, and then we can begin the processing of their caseload to be presented to the Department of Homeland Security for adjudication. So that is the process of how it works.
I’m going to turn it over to [Senior State Department Official Two] now, [Senior State Department Official Two], to talk a little bit in more detail about how the former employees can access the program.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think – hi, this is [Senior State Department Official Two]. So as – I think as [Senior State Department Official One] said, that the organization itself would need to make the referral, so that would be true of a former or a current employee. Again, this is a requirement we’ve put in place so that we can really verify the employment up front and kind of avoid, I think, some of the issues in terms of trying to determine whether or not there was verifiable and – employment through an organization. So again, you should have lists or other NGOs or media organizations should have lists of their former employees and they would be welcome to submit that through the WRAPSNET.org site.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And it’s [Senior State Department Official One] again. I realized there was one other question about relocation. As I said, Afghans really – they need to be outside of Afghanistan for us to begin the processing. At this time, we do not anticipate relocating P-2 applicants prior to or during the application process. However, we continue to review the situation on the ground, and we continue to examine all options to protect those who served with or for us. Over.
MODERATOR: Thanks very much. We’ll go to Nick Wadhams.
OPERATOR: Your line is open. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks very much. So just two questions. To be clear on that last point, it is the responsibility of the potential applicants themselves to get out of Afghanistan?
And then second, could you give us sort of a bigger, 3,000-foot view of what this says about the U.S. project in Afghanistan, that after 20 years anyone who has an affiliation or previous affiliation with a U.S. entity is under so much threat that they would likely have to seek refugee status in the United States to remain safe from the Taliban? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you. So, first, just to confirm, yes, it is the responsibility of the applicant to get themselves out of Afghanistan.
On your last question, I would just note what the President said on July 30, that although U.S. troops are leaving, we will continue to support Afghanistan through our security assistance to Afghan forces, as well as humanitarian and development assistance to the Afghan people. Obviously, I’m from the Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration, so my focus is on that – the humanitarian piece, and I would just like to add that the U.S. is the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. And just as recently as June 4, we announced an additional $266 million in new humanitarian assistance to help Afghans both inside the country and those who have left. Our total for humanitarian assistance now reaches nearly $3.9 billion since 2002. Over.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to the line of Matt Lee.
QUESTION: I’m driving right now, so I’m not sure if you can hear me. Can —
MODERATOR: We’ve got you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We can hear you.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. So, look, one of my questions was kind of already answered, and that is you really have no idea what the universe of – it says “many thousands” in the fact sheet, but are we talking hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands? You must have some idea.
And then just secondly, I mean, on the surface of this, this sounds – this is wonderful. It sounds like it’s a great idea. It meets or it would appear to meet concerns that have been expressed by members of Congress and others about people with U.S. affiliations. But if they have to get out of Afghanistan on their own to apply or – not to be referred but to actually start the process, that doesn’t – that seems problematic to me, and I’m not sure how you expect people who might not be able to afford the – are there any countries that they might get to where they couldn’t do this, like Iran, for example? I just am not sure what exactly – it looks good on paper, but realistically, I don’t see how this is going to be a significant thing. If they have to pay for getting out and then do they – can only one person in a family leave the country to apply for an entire family or do they have to get an entire family of five or six out and then pay – not just pay for them to get out but pay for them to live for 12 to 14 months, I think is what you said, somewhere else? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks very much, Matt. So on the universe of people, we really don’t want to project because we don’t know how many referrals. So we did say many thousands because we think it’ll be in the tens of thousands, but we don’t know how much more than that. So we are – because it is a very individual case, right, of individuals making a tough decision to leave their homeland and become a refugee. And so we will wait and see what the referrals bring us now that we’ve announced this program.
I take your point about the difficulty of people getting out and having to get out on their own. This is – this program is meant to expand the aperture of people who have an opportunity to be resettled in the United States beyond the SIVs. So it is our attempt to try and offer an option for people. At this – as I said earlier, at this point in time, unfortunately, we do not anticipate relocating them, but we will continue to examine all the options to protect those who have served with – or for us. And we will review the situation on the ground and our planning will continue to evolve. Over.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to the line of Francesco Fontemaggi.
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?
OPERATOR: Your line is open. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Yeah, I was about to ask about that since it seems to me that the process you described – those people having to be referred and then having to leave the country by their own means – means that they won’t be out of Afghanistan, for most of them, when the U.S. forces leave in one month. So if you can give more details about what you plan to do to protect them while in Afghanistan. And then, also, if you plan to expand this program to others like – who are not U.S.-affiliated, like minorities, the Hazaras or women activists or others who may be threatened by the Taliban? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks very much for the question. So maybe I’ll start with the last one first, in terms of those Afghans who are not U.S.-affiliated in any way or worked for any U.S.-based organizations. There is an existing program as part of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program that is known as our Priority 1, or P-1, program that is specifically designed for people such as those you have described. There are two ways in which somebody can access the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program through its – the P-1 referral. One is if they are well-known to our embassy; our embassy can refer them directly. The other option is for anyone who is fleeing the country and outside the country. They can present themselves to UNHCR, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, for referral to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. So there are options for other Afghans at risk through the P-1 referral process.
I think I neglected to answer a question about family members. I will say the whole family doesn’t have to leave all at once, but they – the family needs to be outside the country for us to process them. That is correct. Over.
MODERATOR: We’ll take a final question or two here. We will go to the line of Joel Gehrke.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. I just wanted to follow up on my colleagues’ questions about these people getting themselves out of the country and that process. I’m wondering: Afghanistan’s passport is one of the weakest passports in the world. Are you doing anything to coordinate with allies or partner countries so that – is there anything about being in this program that would lead those other countries to treat these people who show up without a visa as being eligible for refugee status? In that very limited number of countries where they do have visa-free travel, are you doing anything to coordinate with those countries? Because we can probably anticipate that they’ll be getting a lot of people suddenly. And do you anticipate that what might be analogous – I guess we could call it uncontrolled migration – would put any pressure on your ability to get countries to accept this parallel group of people who you’re trying to evacuate for the SIV program?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks, Joel. That’s a really great question. And there’s a lot to unpack there. So let me start, but then I’m going to turn to my colleagues [Senior State Department Official Three] and [Senior State Department Official Two] to add on. So as we have – as we see in – generally around the world with refugee crises, there is a possibility that large movements of people will seek to find safety by fleeing and crossing borders. This is not unique to Afghanistan; we’ve seen it many times over. There is a process in place by which people who are fleeing and flee with limited documentation have the ability to present what they have, and us, through our case work as well as U.S. Department of Homeland Security interviews, to address those issues. But I’m going turn to [Senior State Department Official Three] and [Senior State Department Official Two] to see what more they want to add about this issue of people crossing borders. Over.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: This is [Senior State Department Official Three]. I’ll just add that in a typical refugee outflow, when refugees arrive at the border they would present themselves also to UNHCR, which is our primary partner on the ground. And they would be providing the international protection in addition to whatever protection might be provided by the government in which the refugee is seeking asylum.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, and this is [Senior State Department Official Two]. I’ll just add one other thing, and that is that we’ve already been in discussions with neighboring countries as well as UNHCR to be prepared for potential outflows. So in a place like Pakistan, it’ll be important that their borders remain open. Obviously, if people go north or if they go via Iran to Turkey – we’ve already seen some arrivals in Turkey – that people have an opportunity both to enter the country as well as to register with either the government or with UNHCR.
MODERATOR: We will go to Courtney Kube.
OPERATOR: Your line is open. Go ahead, please. I’m sorry, I opened the wrong line. One moment, please. Courtney, your line is open. Go ahead, please.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you very much. Two quick clarifications. So just to be clear, the 12 to 14 months, that is from the time someone is referred until potentially accepted? Is that correct? Number two, you mentioned – sorry I’m out of breath, I’m running – you mentioned that these – these other countries that they could go to. Are there any countries where you’ll provide them any housing or any kind of support? And three, you just mentioned that you’ve already seen an influx into Turkey. Can you give us any sense of how many people have gone to Turkey who may be eligible or applying for this new visa? Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks, Courtney. So first question on the time horizon, no, it’s not 12 to 14 months from the time they’re referred. The clock really doesn’t start ticking until somebody has left Afghanistan and we can begin their case processing. So the time horizon is really dependent on when they get out and when we can start the processing of their case.
In terms of assistance in other countries, as in any other refugee situation where people are fleeing the country and showing up in other countries, as I believe my colleague [Senior State Department Official Three] mentioned, there is an international response for that that is organized through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, where people can present themselves either to the government or to UNHCR to seek international protection while they wait for our program. And as part of that protection that is offered it oftentimes includes humanitarian assistance, and so that would be the mechanism by which we would look to have us and other donors support people who are fleeing.
I don’t have numbers on Turkey. I would say we haven’t seen major large outflows of people yet, but we have seen some numbers of people crossing, but not large numbers yet.
MODERATOR: And we’ll take a final question from Quill Lawrence.
OPERATOR: Your line is open. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much for this. I have one question about – so you’re saying that their employee – their employer, rather, the NGO or the contractor or media organization, is going to refer them through this website. And then what sort of certification, what piece of paper or digital form will they have that tells them, okay, it’s now a sensible thing for me to flee to a third country where I will have a decent chance of getting this status? And will any of that be – will the third countries where the SIVs are being processed, is there any idea that they – that some of this processing might also take place in those countries, although they’re not bordering?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks so much, Quill. So on the first question regarding paperwork and documentation, so there is a form that the employing organization needs to fill out and submit. It’s pretty – it just provides some basic bio data for us. And that information is on the website. Once that is received and we confirm that we have all the necessary information we need to open the case, one of the pieces of information we need is a point of contact for the principal applicant himself or herself, an email address by which we can reach them. We will then reach out via email to say that their case has now been referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and to let them know how to reach us once they have gotten out of the country so that we can start their casework. So they will basically have an email from us saying that we’re ready to receive them whenever they move.
In terms of your question about, I think it was third – I’m looking – third countries – sorry, I’m drawing a blank. Can – [Moderator], can somebody remind me what the second question is?
MODERATOR: Yes. Will you help processing within the third countries?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Oh, thank you. Yes, yes. So right now, the plan for processing through – in the third countries for SIV is a separate program than the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. So right now, the anticipation is that we won’t be relocating them to third countries to process, we will process them where they get themselves to and go from there. Over.
MODERATOR: Well, thank you very much to our speakers. Thank you very much for all of you for dialing in, and the embargo is now lifted. Have a good day.