U.S. Special Immigration Program directs more than 5,000 Afghan refugees to Canada

The US State Department referred more than 5,000 Afghan refugees seeking admission to the United States to a parallel program in Canada, where wait times for permanent residency are shorter.

State Department officials confirmed to VOA that those referred to the Special Immigration Program do not simultaneously go through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

“We are working with Canada to return up to 5,000 refugees to Canada, independent of our ongoing resettlement efforts in the United States,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA.

On the Canadian side, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said Afghan refugees referred by the United States arrive in Canada from third countries, where they have been since fleeing Afghanistan.

Masuma Haidari, 37 and a software engineer in Afghanistan, is one of the beneficiaries of the partnership between the two countries. She was able to leave Afghanistan in August 2021 and lived in North Macedonia for over six months.

Private organizations helped her leave Afghanistan and follow the program that brought her to Canada.

Haidari told VOA that she was about to get the keys to her first apartment in Calgary, Canada.

Afghan refugees are welcomed after arriving in Canada on August 4, 2021.

“It’s not bad,” Haidari said. “The government is helping us with money and we (have to) manage to cover all the costs.”

But with her background in software engineering and having worked for the Afghan government, she hopes it will come in handy in her new Canadian life.

“I think the technical experiences will be useful in Canada. I’ll try to [transfer] my degree, my education and also I will be ready to find a job in the IT industry,” she added.

Although Haidari can start a new life, thousands of people still hope to leave Afghanistan.

Rescue efforts

U.S. Army veterans, former intelligence and defense officials and others have volunteered their time to save those still in Afghanistan through newly formed groups like the all-volunteer Operation North Star. , or Task Force Pineapple, which is a public-private partnership.

Getting people out of Afghanistan is only part of the problem.

According to the Operation North Star website, they have nearly 500 Afghans in third countries and over 2,000 Afghans in safe homes in Afghanistan. Equally challenging was guiding Afghans through the complex process of resettling in the United States, including finding safe homes, leaving Afghanistan, finding a third country, applying for a refugee program, and arriving in a new country. .

The US immigration system includes a patchwork of complex laws to regulate the flow of refugees seeking to enter the United States. The United States runs a strict vetting process to determine who to accept for resettlement, and the process can take two to five years.

Slow processing in the United States is prompting some private groups to look elsewhere for permanent accommodation for evacuees, with immigrant-friendly Canada emerging as a favored destination.

So far in fiscal year 2022, which began October 1, 2021, 133 Afghans have been admitted to the United States through USRAP. In fiscal year 2021, that number was 872. Under the Special Immigrant Visa program, which is for those who served as interpreters and translators or who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government , the United States admitted 1,545 refugees in fiscal year 2022.

Jordan Kane, a US-based Operation North Star volunteer, said it was difficult to obtain US refugee status for Afghans whose resettlement had been recommended by the US Embassy in Kabul, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or a designated NGO. After removal, it still takes at least two years for applicants to arrive in the United States.

“Thousands of Afghan refugees who had been granted limited referrals to the U.S. resettlement process were given the option of moving to the Canadian process, with female leaders fleeing Taliban threats receiving preference,” Kane told VOA.

The US refugee admissions program has been significantly reduced under the Trump administration, leaving fewer resources within the government and resettlement agencies to handle the significant increase in refugee applications and arrivals.

Resettlement to Canada

Once the United States identifies Afghan refugees who meet eligibility and admissibility criteria, they are then accepted for resettlement in Canada.

“As government-assisted refugees, Afghan refugees become permanent residents upon arrival and have access to the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP),” said IRCC Communications Officer Jeffrey MacDonald.

The Canadian government provides temporary housing and up to 12 months of income support.

“Monthly levels of income support for housing, food and incidentals are guided by the provincial or territorial social assistance rates where the refugee resides and vary according to family size, configuration and city ​​of residence,” MacDonald said in an email to VOA.

A refugee, whose file has been transferred to Canada, is identified for security reasons only as “Farishta”. She was a women’s rights activist and a prosecutor in the Afghan Attorney General’s Office.

“The Canadian program Farishta is applying to is unique,” ​​Kane said. “Like the United States, Canada has a resettlement program for Afghans who worked for them, who are mostly male military interpreters. However, unlike the United States, Canada also has an admissions program for other groups of Afghans targeted by the Taliban, including female leaders, which is great.

The Women at Risk program recognizes women and girls who are particularly vulnerable in refugee situations and prioritizes their resettlement in Canada.

“But Canada shouldn’t be the only country watching over women like Farishta,” Kane said, adding that “the United States and other NATO allies need to copy this program to make sure we let’s not abandon Afghan women”.

The Canadian government is committed to accepting 40,000 Afghan refugees. This number includes the 5,000 people referred thanks to the partnership with the United States. From August 2021 to March 2022, the country admitted 8,815 people in all available refugee categories.

Canada has a biometric verification process that refugees must complete before entering Canada, according to Oliver Thorne, executive director of the Vancouver-based Veterans Transition Network.

“Although these are Afghans who have risked their lives to support and in many cases save the lives of Canadian soldiers, our government policy will not allow them to enter Canada without biometric verification,” said Thorne at VOA.

Thorne said Canadian government policy must align with the urgency of these evacuation efforts and allow biometrics to be performed after arrival in Canada.

“Without this, evacuations will continue at a slow pace, leaving brave and deserving Afghans at risk of retaliation from the Taliban,” he added.

MacDonald of IRCC responded that the biggest barrier “is not the Government of Canada’s processing capacity, it’s the situational and environmental factors on the ground in Afghanistan. These are challenges that we work on every day, the efforts of the Government of Canada are not lacking.

Nonetheless, private groups give Canada credit for taking in a number of Afghans who may not be eligible for resettlement elsewhere. Most countries offer visas to a limited number of Afghans who worked directly for them, refugee advocates said.

As for Farishta, she had hoped to resettle in the United States, Kane said.

“The United States was Farishta’s first choice because she has more friends there, but she sees Canada as a great option. … Two reasons for this: like many educated Afghans, she is already fluent in English. Second, Canada has more generous resettlement benefits than the United States,” Kane said.

Ryan H. Bowman