Bipartisan bill seeks to help Afghan interpreters obtain visas

PHOTO: Visa application form.Playteekid/Getty Images
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A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced legislation Wednesday that seeks 2,500 additional visas for Afghans who assisted U.S. forces by working as interpreters.

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Last week the U.S. Embassy in Kabul stopped interviewing Afghans who had applied for special immigrant visas -- intended for interpreters who risked their lives by working alongside Americans -- because of a shortage of remaining visas.

A State Department bulletin posted online warned of the shortage, saying the number of visas allocated by Congress under the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009 would run out by June 1 of this year, so no further interviews for applicants would be conducted after March 1.

The bill introduced Wednesday that seeks to increase available visas is sponsored by four senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee: Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz.; Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

"This legislation would ensure the continuation of this vital special immigrant visa program and send a clear message that America will not turn its back on those -- who at great personal risk -- stand with us in the fight against terror," McCain said in a statement.

“It’s imperative that Congress act quickly to approve more visas," Shaheen added. "This is a matter of life and death for interpreters and other support staff. As we speak, many of them are being hunted down by the Taliban and other terrorists. We have a moral obligation to protect the thousands of Afghans who put themselves, and their families, at risk to help our soldiers and diplomats. To abandon them now would be a stain on our nation’s honor. There’s no excuse for Congress to not act in a bipartisan way to approve these additional visas as it has done in the past.”

The National Defense Authorization Act passed in December added 1,500 additional visas for Afghan interpreters. At that time, The New York Times reported that 13,000 applications were pending.

The White House announced last week that it was reviewing the U.S. policy in Afghanistan.