Thousands of Afghans recently granted temporary entry into the United States under the new visa lottery program will be allowed to stay, but only to live with relatives here, not to work.
Immigration officials said Friday that only 20 of the approximately 4,400 Afghans approved for admission into the United States this month will be allowed to stay. More than 600 others got immigration approval to stay temporarily for a year and the rest got a waiver of the one-year limit, officials said.
They want to give the others time to resolve certain civil issues in their home country.
The program created by Congress in 1990 granted visas to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The program is now primarily for people from Muslim-majority countries and the state department says these have been on average three times as likely to be turned down or have their applications denied as other groups of applicants. The international acceptance rate for that program is just 4 percent.
Some Republican lawmakers have criticized the rules because they allow immigrants to stay for short periods of time while they apply for permanent residency. Some of those Afghans now approved will have to wait until November 2021 to reapply, officials said.
The latest immigration approval brings the number of Afghans approved for admission into the United States in the new lottery program since it was revamped last year to allow for increased numbers from countries that have a modest rate of immigration to the United States.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said earlier this week it had made seven arrests last week across the country for crimes including identity theft and re-entering the country after being stripped of their legal documents. ICE officials said some of the individuals still wanted for crimes from abroad had taken advantage of the lottery-granting visas, including some who have been on the run since before the lottery’s inception and others who were wanted in their home countries.
“I recognize that in the most recent instances, these individuals’ conduct was avoidable,” John Sandweg, acting director of ICE, said.
ICE officials said they were prevented from releasing the details of some of the immigrants who had been arrested for their safety, pending further investigation.
They include Mehmad Mohammad, who was arrested Monday on a criminal charge of returning to the country illegally after being revoked of his visa. Court records show that when a fingerprint comparison confirmed Mohammad did not return under his new visa, the arrest was made. Mohammad had been deported to Afghanistan before and it appears he entered the United States illegally again.
His attorney, Robert Scott, said Mohammad agreed to be arrested by ICE on a promise that he will be freed from custody pending his immigration hearing if he pays about $2,000 for a passport in Afghanistan and is able to fly back to the United States. Mohammad said his family lacks money for the travel costs, Scott said.
“If my client went to court he would be convicted of illegal re-entry even if he was the victim of an attack that happened here,” Scott said. “I believe he’s a potential victim.”
Just 45 of the Afghan nationals that were approved for admissions into the lottery program were admitted for the 2018 fiscal year, when total slots opened March 1, according to data released by the State Department. They were granted visas based on their low rate of immigration to the United States or their ages, according to the State Department.
The total in the lottery program was more than double the previous year. According to immigration data, the 8,439 Afghans who were approved for admission for the 2017 fiscal year numbered about 2,600.
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