State Dept. IG reports over 300K emails from Afghan allies during evacuation were ignored

by ian

Ian Patrick, FISM News

 

The cries from Afghani allies who said they were being ignored after the U.S. withdrawal appear to have credence thanks to a new State Department Inspector General report.

The report, titled “Compliance Follow-Up Review of the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program,” was released in October. It details its findings of how the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) responded to previous suggestions from the Inspector General’s Office (OIG) on enhancing and expediting the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program.

The report says that CA did make some adjustments which “provided minor improvements to quarterly reporting but
did not improve methods for collecting or verifying Afghan SIV application processing times.”

“OIG also found that, despite taking some recommended actions, the Department continues to face a significant Afghan SIV application backlog,” the report said.

Despite increasing the staffing available for the Afghan SIV, it still “was not sufficient to address the existing application backlog while absorbing additional new applications.” These applications came in the form of emails sent to the National Visa Center’s (NVC) Afghan SIV-affiliated email account.

OIG says that, as of May of this year, the account contained “over 325,000 unread messages.”

As of May 2022, the email account had over 325,000 unread messages, and OIG observed that NVC staff were still opening unread emails dated from August 2021. According to Department officials, in May 2021, NVC began increasing its staff dedicated to working on Afghan SIV processing from 9 to 63 members. The new staff were not fully trained until July 2021. In December 2021, NVC estimated that it would need 263 total staff members to process the backlog (about 190,000 emails at the time) in 30 days. Then, in May 2022, NVC officials told OIG that they would be adding 72 additional staff members to assist with processing the email backlog.

As a result of this backlog, the applications for SIVs increased dramatically since the U.S. evacuation in August 2021. The report says “as of May 2022, there were 61,888 principal applications in process and an estimated 259,930 additional eligible family members of those principal applicants, for a total of about 322,000 estimated Afghan SIV applicants.”

“The principal application backlog has been increasing consistently since at least October 2021,” the report says.

OIG suggested more interagency communication and cooperation between the person in charge of the SIV program and other departments, including the Department of Defense (DOD).

Speaking to The Washington Times, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) said the “report outlines exactly what I have seen with my own eyes in my office’s efforts to help our Afghan partners who are still trapped in the country.”

“Some of our cases involve people who submitted their SIV application over a year ago who still haven’t received even an application number,” McCaul added.

Mario Marquez, director of national security for the American Legion, also commented on the matter saying the “delays and dysfunctions, over several administrations, are the reasons so many vulnerable Afghan allies languished in Afghanistan in the first place.”

On its end, the State Department said it “respectfully does not concur” with most of OIG’s recommendations.

The State Department said it has worked extensively with the DOD on developing a “technological solution” to address the email backlog. It claims that by the end of August 2022, “the number of unopened emails from potential applicants was 140, 175.”

“This number continues to drop as the National Visa Center benefits from significant staffing increases and continues to use a technological solution to work through the backlog of emails,” the State Department said.

The Department also blames COVID-19 and the Donald Trump administration for handing them what they saw as a poor SIV program, even going so far as to say it was required to “restart the SIV program” upon review.

DONATE NOW