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.  There has been and is so much uncertainty.  So many variables.

For those in the United States already, they are for the most part OK.  Over the next month or two, they may want to focus on digesting what has happened. They can be connected with agencies when they are ready to plan a longer term immigration strategy.  We hope that USCIS will announce Temporary Protected Status and Special Student Relief for Afghanistan soon to add one more degree of security.  Those 10s of thousands arriving after the evacuation are generally spending weeks at military bases, sometimes without great access to communication, and in a rather chaotic situation.  The number of evacuees equals the total number of refugees the US usually resettles in a full year after extensive planning, so it’s a huge undertaking.  The Afghan evacuees may want to get off the military base as fast as possible, but in general they will wait, and take advantage of medical screening/treatment, work card processing and referral to a refugee agency. If they do not speak English, text them a message to share with people on the base, such as “I have a sister in Virginia who is ready to take care of me – her cell phone is ……”

For those in Afghanistan, the situation is incredibly difficult.  We can set up immigration options, but the individuals may not be able to take advantage if they cannot leave Afghanistan. Many NGOs and Congressional offices are working on this, so we can hope.  For now, it seems unlikely that a humanitarian parole application will be expedited for someone in Afghanistan. We may be learning more from the US government at a briefing later this week.  Many of the people are considering dangerous or costly options to try to leave – we hope at some point that the US and other organizations will help negotiate options with third countries for safe passage.

For those in third countries, the goal is to get them to the United States ASAP, especially if their situation is precarious (visa expiring there, no visa, dangerous conditions, no money to stay long, etc.).  Many of the people are on lists such as P-1 or P-2, which now are not being used.  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 quickly, and nervous about the expanded temporary intent requirement for Fs and Js that the Trump Administration added and is still on the books.  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 let someone in.  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.

Parole 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.