On June 14, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State took important steps to ensure that vulnerable Afghan citizens supporting and working with the United States in Afghanistan have access to U.S. immigration protections and other benefits. This article outlines the requirements for accessing these protections and benefits.

Inadmissibility of Afghan Citizens Engaged in Terrorism: A Long-Standing Principle.

The general rule is that anyone who is a member of a “terrorist organization” or who is or has been involved in terrorism-related activities as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is “inadmissible” (not allowed to enter the United States), and is not eligible for most immigration benefits.

This poses a significant problem for many Afghan nationals, whose activities are generally not considered terrorism-related per se. Examples include providing food, helping to set up tents, distributing literature, or making small monetary contributions to terrorist groups or members.

Eligibility of Afghan citizens who lived under the Taliban regime: An exception enshrined by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State

The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Attorney General, considered the group of individuals who had been denied entry into the United States on the grounds that they were somehow involved in terrorism-related activities.

DHS and DOS have created, through their discretionary authority, three new exemptions that can be applied on a case-by-case basis to ensure that those who would otherwise be eligible for benefits are not systematically denied the protection they seek.

These exemptions will help ensure that people who lived under the Taliban regime, such as former government officials; those who must pay a service fee to the Taliban to do things like pass through a checkpoint or obtain a passport; and those who fought against the Taliban are not mistakenly barred due to overly broad applications of the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds (TRIG) in U.S. immigration law, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press release.

Who is affected by the new exemptions?

The new exemptions may apply to the following individuals:

  • Afghans who support U.S. military interests, particularly those who have or support Afghan allies against the Taliban resistance,
  • Afghans were involved in the conflict against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
  • Government employees in Afghanistan from September 27, 1996, to December 22, 2001, or at any time after August 15, 2021. This may include teachers, professors, postal workers, doctors, and engineers, among others. Some officials held these positions before the Taliban announced a so-called “interim government” and have continued to perform their duties under pressure, intimidation, or other hardship.
  • Individuals who provide insignificant or limited material support to designated terrorist organizations.

It should be remembered that such individuals who are granted an exemption must be thoroughly investigated to prove that they are not dangerous to the national security of the United States.

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