In August 2023, the U.S. State Department’s Office of Inspector General released its report on evaluation of 2018-22 adjustments to the Afghan Special Visa Program, which was established in 2009 to resettle “Afghans who had worked on behalf of the [U.S.] in Afghanistan and had experienced an ongoing and serious threat as a result.”
The Report’s Findings
“A. The Department Made Efforts To Streamline Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Processing Beginning in February 2021, but Challenges Remain.” More specifically, “as of December 2022, these actions had not eliminated the significant and growing Afghan SIV applicant backlog. Specifically, the Department increased staffing to process emails and determine applicant eligibility; coordinated with the Department of Defense to verify employment; incorporated new software to help process emails; eliminated a portion of the application process; leveraged posts worldwide for SIV interviews; and established remote consular operations in Doha, Qatar. However, because of an increased interest in the program after [the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in] August 2021, the Department experienced an influx of applications causing a backlog for which the Department had inadequate staffing to process. Without additional dedicated resources to address the situation, the backlog in SIV applications will remain a significant challenge.”
“B. COVID-19 Caused Delays to Afghan SIV Processing and Increased the Backlog of Applicants.” More specifically, “the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the Afghan SIV application process, which in-turn increased the number of SIV applicants awaiting in-person interviews….
Embassy Kabul suspended visa interviews twice: from March 2020 to February 2021 and from June to July 2021 because of COVID-19 outbreaks. However, telework allowed the Department to continue some phases of SIV applicant processing.”
“C. The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program Faces Challenges and Would Benefit From a Strategic Performance Management Approach.” More specifically, “The Department relies on Taliban cooperation for SIV applicant relocation from the country because of a lack of a [U.S.] ground presence in Afghanistan. In addition, the Department has not developed and implemented a strategic performance management approach to resolving the Afghan SIV applicant backlog, and the Department’s Afghan SIV Senior Coordinating Official position has had periods of vacancy and frequent turnover since 2017. Developing and implementing a strategic performance management approach would benefit the Afghan SIV program and help address the SIV applicant backlog.”
“The reliance on Taliban cooperation because of the lack of US diplomatic ground presence in Afghanistan impacts the ability for Afghan SIV applicants to exit Afghanistan and arrive at a US diplomatic post for visa processing.” Indeed, “one of the biggest challenges to SIV applicants departing Afghanistan is the lack of freedom of movement out of Afghanistan, which is dependent on Taliban cooperation. The Taliban’s willingness to approve flights, to allow women to depart Afghanistan alone, to determine the number of aircraft Kabul International Airport can accommodate, and other factors impacted freedom of movement for Afghans.. . .”
As of April 2023, the Department estimates that 840,000 principal applicants and family members remain in Afghanistan with uncertainty where they are in the application process. As of August 1, the U.S. has “issued nearly 34,000 SIVs to principal applicants and their eligible family members while another 80,000 applicants are in process with tens of thousands having begun the applications.
The Report’s Recommendation
The Report then made the following Recommendation: “OIG recommends that the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Senior Coordinating Official, in coordination with the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the Joint Executive Office for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, develop and implement a strategic performance management approach to improve the outcomes of the Afghan SIV program, including establishing goals and measures of success to evaluate progress against those established goals.”
The Department’s Management responded to that Recommendation as follows: “The Department concurred with the intent of the recommendation and requested that OIG revise the recommendation to read “the [Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Senior] Coordinating Official, in coordination with the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the Joint Executive Office for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, continue to implement procedural changes and allocate resources in service of meeting the Department’s Afghan SIV processing goals. The Department should use the efficiency improvements, Chief of Mission (COM) decisions, and visa interview sections included in the quarterly Congressional reports on SIV processing to track progress, referencing the Program Design and Performance Management Toolkit as needed.”
“Additionally, Department comments noted that ‘after reviewing the Program Design and Performance Management Toolkit [mentioned in the finding] …, the Department maintains that Afghan SIV … adjudication is a process, not a program. However, the Department is aware of the value in this toolkit and will utilize it as a reference, as needed, while we continue to assess existing [Afghan SIV] processing goals.”
This blog already has discussed the Taliban’s human rights violations against in-country Afghans who had helped the U.S. troops before their August 2021 withdrawal.
 U.S. State Dep’t, Office of Inspector General, Evaluation of Adjustments to the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program From 2018 through 2022 (Aug. 2023) Hansler, Challenges to Afghan special visa program remain two years after US withdrawal, State Dept, watchdog finds, CNN.com (Sept. 1, 2023) . See also Atwood & Hansler, State Department review of US withdrawal from Afghanistan includes far more findings than White House document, CNN (April 7, 2023)
 U.N. Agency Reports Afghan Human Rights Violations Against Former U.S. Partners, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 26, 2023); COMMENT: Dangerous Life in Afghanistan of Family of U.S. Interpreter, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 29, 2023).