On September 30, right before the US government shutdown took place, the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program (SIV) was set to expire. EPIC has been working closely with the SIV program since it was instated in 2008. This program granted special immigration status to Iraqis who worked with the United States during the war. This life saving legislation had the potential to be lost among all of the other issues that Congress was tackling prior to the US government shutdown. However, on the night of September 30, the House of Representatives voted unanimously to extend the bill for another three months.
Congress should vote to extend the SIV program again at the end of December. However, the US government needs to take more proactive steps beyond extending the SIV program. At the time of the program’s creation, 25,000 visas were allotted to Iraqi interpreters, contractors, and others who worked with American soldiers. Nevertheless, in the past five years, only 8,000 visas have been approved with approximately 2,000 more awaiting approval, as applicants face a waiting period of several years.
Due to their previous affiliation with the US these Iraqis face increased danger towards their lives and their families. Moreover, they face decreased job opportunities as resentment towards their former affiliation with the US grows. It is the responsibility of the United States government to honor our obligation to these individuals who aided us. The United States government should work with a renewed fervor and commitment to helping these Iraqis obtain their visas to the United States. Rhetoric will never be enough to assist the Iraqis who helped us during the war; the government needs to work more efficiently to approve visas for those eligible for the SIV program, rather than leaving their applications pending for months or years on end.
EPIC recently spoke with Kirk Johnson, the founder of the List Project, a non-profit organization that advocates for Iraqis whose lives are in danger because of their work with the United States and are seeking refuge in our country. Look for the next episode of our podcast, Iraq Matters, to listen to our conversation and learn more about the dangers Iraqis face in their country and the obstacles to the SIV program.
While extending the SIV program for three months was a positive step, the U.S. needs to be encouraged to continue this program until we fulfill our promise of 25,000 visas, and to put forth more effort to approve visas more quickly for Iraqis seeking refuge in the United States. President Obama must put more pressure on the agencies which hand out visas. At the current rate, it would take 17 more years to hand out the allotted 25,000 visas. If you have not yet done so, please take the time to sign EPIC’s petition urging the Obama administration to put Iraq back on the agenda.