What Does SIV Mean?

Explore the history of Special Immigrant Visas, where they stand today, and the need to protect and honor them.

November 10, 2021

Following the United States military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August of this year, communities around the United States and the world voiced caring concern for Afghan civilians along with our Afghan allies who served alongside the U.S. military and remain in the country without protection. These Afghan allies are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas, or SIVs, in return for their service to the United States.

We’ve seen many questions come up about SIVs and new Afghan arrivals. Today we will delve into what SIV status means, the history of SIVs, and the current state of SIVs in the United States today.

What is an SIV?

The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) is an immigration program that grants permanent residence to people who aided the U.S. government abroad.

A majority of Special Immigrant Visas are issued to Afghan and Iraqi nationals. Individuals are granted SIV status for their support of the United States government and its affiliates.

To qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa, individuals must meet several requirements:

  • Must be a citizen of a foreign country
  • Must have been employed with the U.S. government or one of it’s affiliates for at least one year between October 7th, 2001 and December 31st, 2023
  • Must be facing serious and perpetual risk of harm due to their employment with the U.S. government or one of it’s affiliates
  • Must provide a letter of recommendation from their senior supervisor, a General or Flag Officer in the chain of command of the U.S. Armed Forces unit that was supported by the individual, or from the Chain of Command at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul

History & Context Behind SIVs

During the United States intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, it became increasingly apparent that Afghan and Iraqi nationals who provided support to the United States government were the target of violence and harm from the Taliban and other extremist militant groups.

In response to this growing reality, Congress passed the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009. This legislation was created to protect Afghan and Iraqi allies of the United States government during and following the military intervention in those countries.


SIVs Today

The SIV program for Iraqis closed in 2014, leaving tens of thousands vulnerable to violence and persecution in their country for their service to the United States. Since 2014, 16,000 of these applicants have received SIV status with nearly 18,000 applicants still waiting for approval.

In 2019, 4,000 SIVs were granted to Afghans, however, for both Iraqis and Afghans, there is a waitlist of tens of thousands of applicants whose lives are in danger.

At least 263,000 Afghan civilians have been affiliated with the United States during the military intervention in Afghanistan, and tens of thousands of these civilians are eligible for SIV status. Over 200,000 Afghan nationals have been internally displaced in the first half of this year alone with projections continuing to rise through the end of 2021 and beyond.

SIV applications are supposed to take roughly nine months in total for processing and approval. This is not the case for many Afghans, however, who frequently wait upwards of 2-3 years for approval.

The Biden Administration recently announced an accelerated SIV admissions process in response to the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in late-August of this year. The accelerated process is projected to apply to 1,250-3,000 Afghan evacuees. These Afghans will arrive as “parolees”, meaning their resettlement case status will not be finalized upon arrival.

In 2022 Hello Neighbor plans to resettle up to 250 Afghan Humanitarian Parolees, SIVs, and refugees. If you would like to support our efforts you can learn more at the link below.


Alan’s Story

The name in this story has been changed to protect the privacy of this individual and his family.

Alan is an Afghan man in the Hello Neighbor community. In 2004, Alan began supporting the United States military in Afghanistan as an interpreter. His hard work and dedication quickly moved him up the chain of command, allowing him to offer insight and guidance in a variety of different project areas.

In 2014, Alan began receiving threats from the Taliban against himself and his family for working with the United States. They demanded he stop his work and repent or they would take his life. Upon hearing this, Alan’s manager insisted he apply for an SIV and in 2015 he began the application process. After nearly two years of waiting for his application to be processed, Alan and his family arrived in Pittsburgh in December of 2018.

Hello Neighbor met Alan in early 2019 when he and his family joined our mentorship program. In speaking about his time with Hello Neighbor, Alan said:

“The most important thing Hello Neighbor offers is their spiritual help. They gave us the feeling of not being alone [in the U.S.]. That if you fall, they will take your hand and help lift you up…I am so appreciative of Hello Neighbor and all in their community working to welcome human beings.”

Alan’s dedication towards hard work and perseverance have remained consistent: he secured a job working at a restaurant during his first few months in the U.S., and has since managed to secure full-time employment working in finance. Earlier this year, Alan proudly purchased a house for his wife and three children in Baldwin, PA.


Stand With SIVs

All of the Afghan families involved with Hello Neighbor are SIVs who put their lives on the line to serve alongside the U.S. military. While they have been relocated to the United States for their safety and protection, many still have family in Afghanistan who are at risk of being persecuted for their relative’s involvement with the U.S. military.

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