In the wake of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in August 2021, Greenberg Traurig embarked on a pro bono campaign to assist hundreds of Afghan nationals in applying for humanitarian parole. These individuals, many of whom spent decades working alongside the United States in Afghanistan, faced uncertain futures. GT, in a cross-practice initiative including the firm’s Immigration & Compliance Practice, assisted Afghan humanitarian parole applicants, working closely with their U.S.-based financial sponsors.
Extensive processing times are one of the obstacles in the humanitarian parole process. While U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) aimed to adjudicate these cases within 90 days, in reality, many cases were taking approximately two years to process. USCIS acknowledged this delay, stating it would take time to work through the unprecedented number of parole requests received since fall 2021, with the goal of returning to normal processing times by the end of fiscal year 2023. In the beginning of summer 2023, there was a noticeable increase in both approvals and denials, as well as requests for additional evidence, being sent out by USCIS. However, a significant portion of these responses were denials.
The lengthy processing times may have dire implications for the applicants and their families. Many are living in limbo outside of Afghanistan, awaiting the processing of their parole applications. The constant need to move to find safety in other countries, such as Pakistan, has fractured some families. Many applicants also registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but this was not a safe option for all those relocating due to fear of exposure.
Changes in circumstances in the nearly two years since the initial applications were submitted, for both U.S.-based financial sponsors and Afghan beneficiaries abroad, have made it difficult to meet USCIS’s additional requests. Despite these obstacles, GT has helped many families.
GT’s Northern Virginia team, for instance, recently assisted a family of six in receiving humanitarian parole approvals after responding to a request for evidence (RFE). GT filed responses to the RFEs that were approved this summer in a case that had its own set of challenges.
The affiliated financial sponsor stepped forward to support more than 50 other humanitarian parole applications, leading USCIS to question the sponsor’s ability to meet the financial support threshold adequately due to the high number of beneficiaries. To demonstrate the sponsor’s financial ability, GT used an asset worksheet that detailed properties, assets, bank accounts, investments, real estate, and vehicles. The GT team also obtained a letter from a local business pledging additional financial support.
Another obstacle arose because the family had relocated to Pakistan, requiring proof that they still needed humanitarian parole for protection in the United States. The family was reluctant to register with UNHCR out of concerns about exposing prior military affiliations and incurring potential reprisals from Pakistani authorities. GT included reports from international human rights organizations, highlighting that the family was caught in the broader turmoil of the Taliban’s reprisals against former security force members both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
After USCIS’s International and Refugee Affairs Division received the response to the RFE, the agency acted swiftly. Within three weeks, the division issued approvals for the entire family and referred the case to the consular post abroad for further processing.
*Past results are not guaranteed.