Managing Expectations: Supporting Afghan Scholars, Students, and Families

Managing Expectations: Supporting Afghan Scholars, Students, and Families

Contributed by Dan Berger, member of the Presidents’ Alliance Legal Advisory Council.
Dan Berger is a partner with Curran, Berger, and Kludt Immigration Law.

One of the hardest parts of immigration advising for Afghan clients now is managing expectations given the many variables and ever-changing circumstances. I have written before about the challenge of immigration advising at times of change, but the level of uncertainty for Afghan cases goes beyond anything I have seen in almost 25 years of practice.

For the most part, those  in the United States already are ok, because most have some kind of temporary authorization such as F-1 student or were paroled in as part of the evacuation.  For the most part, Afghans in the United States can focus on digesting what has happened over the past six months as they work to  connect with legal services to plan a longer term immigration strategy (note: there is a one year filing deadline for asylum, notably for the evacuees, and that deadline does not apply to Afghans in status such as F-1 students or J-1 scholars.) I hope that USCIS will announce Temporary Protected Status and Special Student Relief for Afghanistan soon for an added degree of security, and expanded work permission.

Those tens of thousands arriving after the evacuation are generally spending weeks at military bases, sometimes without good access to communication, and in a rather chaotic situation.  The number of evacuees exceeds the number of refugees the US usually accepts in a full year after extensive planning, so resettling them is a huge undertaking.  The Afghan evacuees may want to get off the military base as fast as possible, but in general they will have to wait.  During this time, they can take advantage of medical screening/treatment, work card processing and referral to a refugee agency. 

For those in Afghanistan, the situation is incredibly difficult.  Individuals may not be able to take advantage of U.S. immigration options if they cannot leave Afghanistan. Humanitarian parole applications are prioritized for people outside of Afghanistan, so even that option is remote.  Some are considering dangerous and/or costly options as they seek leave – I hope that the US and other organizations will help negotiate options for safe passage.

For those in third countries, the goal is to get them to the United States as soon as possible, especially if their situation is precarious (e.g. visa expiring, no visa, dangerous conditions, no money to stay, etc.).  Many of the people are on lists for possible future refugee resettlement such as P-1 or P-2, but that is not helpful or prediatable.  Some are being sponsored for F (student), J (exchange) or H-1B (professional worker) visas at schools in the US.  They are trying to get visa appointments, and nervous about the expanded temporary intent requirement for Fs and Js that the Trump Administration added – see

For those without a visa option, many have humanitarian parole (HP) applications pending.  HP is a Hail Mary pass asking the US for discretion to enter, with some HPs are being requested or supported by schools.  There are so many being filed, all with expedite requests, that it may be hard to flag those that are particularly urgent (in a third country in a precarious situation).  It may take political pressure, or even going to court to get these approved.

HP is a particularly valuable tool (we hope) for these Afghan cases.  I have been touched to see people who have a visa option (green card, F, J, etc.) say “I won’t leave without my sister, mother and grandmother.”  A 15 year old boy who was evacuated would not leave without a 10 year old he had befriended.  Afghan students in the US (or their schools) are filing parole not just for nuclear family members, but for those who lived with them. We are not sure how the Administration will treat these applications for extended family.  But the parole application is a way to tell an individual story at a time when the US government has its hands full working with over 100,000 evacuees, and the original P-1/P-2 plan is not happening.

Overall, managing expectations is difficult with so much uncertainty. Keep listening, providing the best information you can, and support policies that will help relieve some of the uncertainty. This article summarizes some of the challenges. The Evacuate Our Allies coalition, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services  are two of many nonprofits actively supporting positive immigration policies for Afghans since the Taliban takeover.  It will take advocacy to focus attention on those Afghans outside the United States when resettling the evacuees is taking most of the government’s bandwidth.