The State Department is preparing to launch the next evacuation phase for thousands of Afghans who served in interpreter and other jobs for the United States -- and their family members -- whose lives may be in danger.
The second wave of roughly 4,000 Afghans and immediate family members will not go to the United States, but instead to a third nation, State officials said in a Wednesday briefing with reporters. There, they will complete their processing to receive a Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, which is necessary for them to come to the United States.
State officials said negotiations are ongoing with the countries where the second group of Afghans could be housed temporarily and would not name the locations. Politico on Tuesday reported that negotiations to house the Afghans at U.S. military bases in Qatar and Kuwait were in their final stages.
The troubled SIV process is notoriously slow and bureaucratic, and many Afghans have waited years for their visas to be granted. With the United States rapidly withdrawing from Afghanistan, concerns are at a fever pitch that the Taliban may retaliate against those who worked for the U.S.
The Biden administration announced plans earlier this week to bring about 750 Afghans who worked for the U.S. and their immediate family members -- roughly 2,500 in all -- to America for the final stages of their visa application processing. This mission was dubbed Operation Allies Refuge.
Most of this first group of evacuated Afghans, who will arrive starting next week, will go to Fort Lee, Virginia, for roughly seven to 10 days.
They are near the end of their visa application processes and have already gone through a thorough background check, Tracey Jacobson, director of the State Department's Afghanistan task force, said during the Wednesday briefing. Once their processing is completed and approved, they will be free to live in the United States.
Jacobson said the department will work next on relocating about 4,000 applicants and their family members who are not as far along in the process. This second group of evacuees will include applicants who have received approval from State's chief of mission in Afghanistan but have not completed other steps, including the full background check, she explained.
The second group could be in for a longer stay than those at Fort Lee, because more work needs to be done to process their applications, said a State official who was authorized only to speak on background and not to be identified by name.
It will be up to the Afghans themselves to get to Kabul, where an international airport is located, the official said.
There are now a little over 20,000 SIV applicants, the official said. However, about half of those have not yet completed the earliest stages of the application process, and the department cannot move forward with their cases until they do.
Jacobson encouraged people who want to help Afghan or other refugees to reach out to local resettlement agencies to donate supplies, volunteer or sponsor someone.
"I know many Americans will want to welcome and help these Afghans who dedicated themselves to the United States mission in Afghanistan," she said. "We've already had inquiries from some of them."