The wrong way to save Afghans: America must make it easier for refugees to come here


This article originally appeared in the New York Daily News.

When U.S. troops left Afghanistan, many Afghans who had supported the United States’ work there became Taliban targets due to their association with the United States. While in theory, Afghans at risk can apply for humanitarian parole to come to the United States, in reality, this option falls grossly short of humane.

Humanitarian parole allows non-U.S. citizens to remain in the United States for a two-year parole period. Applicants must meet certain qualifications to be eligible, such as urgent humanitarian need.

While other immigration options technically exist for Afghans, like the Special Immigrant Visa and the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, those application processes can take years. That delay renders those options nonviable for Afghans whose lives are in danger.  Humanitarian parole is theoretically the quickest way for Afghans to gain admission into the United States, making it the most appealing option for many Afghans hoping to escape the Taliban.

But the application process is nearly impossible for someone in hiding. Applicants must complete several confusing immigration forms and compile many supporting evidentiary documents. The forms are in English legal jargon, which is obviously a problem for many Afghans who do not speak English. Applicants do not always have the required identification documents and supporting evidence. Many applicants are physically separated from their documents. Others had no prior reason to obtain such documents (like a passport), and now such documents are impossible to obtain under Taliban rule. There is also a burdensome $575 application fee for each applicant. Additionally, humanitarian parole applicants must demonstrate they will be financial supported by a sponsor while in the United States. Finding a sponsor can be challenging for someone with no friends or relatives in this country.

Many Afghans are looking for pro bono legal assistance to complete these applications, but U.S. immigration attorneys and nonprofits are swamped with this work.

Filing an application is just the first step. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) claims that it normally processes these requests within 90 days. While USCIS normally receives around 2,000 humanitarian parole applications a year, as of October 2021, they have received over 20,000 just from Afghans. Given the unusually high number of applications, USCIS has predicted that processing them will take longer than normal. As of October 2021, the immigration office only employed six officers to process these requests. 

The U.S. government should have foreseen this increased demand as they were removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and they should have prepared months ago. Afghans who are actively being targeted by the Taliban due to their support for the United States do not have the luxury of waiting through these excessive and avoidable processing delays. 

It gets worse. After USCIS determines an applicant may be eligible for humanitarian parole, that applicant is then required to visit a U.S. consular office. Given that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has closed, Afghan humanitarian parole applicants must travel to another country for this step. This trip is difficult and dangerous, given the Taliban’s control over much of Afghanistan and its borders. 

Applicants who are able to leave Afghanistan potentially have to wait in another country on their own dime for months while they wait for a visa appointment at a State Department embassy or consulate. Only after someone completes this part of the application process will USCIS decide whether to actually grant them humanitarian parole.

Here’s the kicker: Those who are lucky enough to get through all these steps and have their humanitarian parole applications approved must then arrange their own travel to the United States. This can be financially burdensome for large families hoping to travel together, and logistically difficult for people who do not speak English and who do not have connections to the United States. They must find a way to support themselves in a new country, after experiencing unimaginable trauma, with no guarantee they will be allowed to stay in the United States beyond the initial two-year parole period.

Yes, that’s right: Once humanitarian parole beneficiaries arrive in the United States, they must regularize their immigration status, as humanitarian parole is only a temporary benefit. Beneficiaries can apply for asylum, for example, but there are no guarantees those applications will be approved. That’s also a complicated, lengthy and intimidating process.

If the U.S. government is serious about honoring the sacrifice of those who opposed the Taliban, whose lives are now at risk in Afghanistan, it must improve the humanitarian parole application process to accommodate the realities of people depending on this option. This could include distributing the application forms and instructions in Afghan languages, waiving the application fee, altering the consular office visit requirement and hiring more officers to shorten processing times. Otherwise, our promises of coming to the rescue are little more than hollow talk.

About the Author: Amy Godshall is a second-year law student at Cornell Law School. She and other Cornell Law students have submitted humanitarian parole applications for Afghans at risk under the supervision of Cornell Law School professor Stephen Yale-Loehr. Much of the information in this article comes from her own experiences with the humanitarian parole filing process and conversations with various immigration attorneys.

Suggested Citation: Amy Godshall, The wrong way to save Afghans: America must make it easier for refugees to come here, Cornell J.L. & Pub. Pol’y, The Issue Spotter, (November 16, 2021),

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