Iraqis Who Served U.S. Seek Visas … and Wait

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from The Wall Street Journal,

After U.S. Suspends Refugee Processing in Baghdad, Thousands Who Helped Americans and Want to Immigrate Are in Limbo.

After enduring attempts on his life while working as an interpreter for U.S. troops in Iraq, Neshwan Kherallah received a visa to settle in the U.S. in 2008. So did some other members of his family, made eligible for resettlement by his service.

But as Iraq has devolved into sectarian conflict, his sister, eligible for expedited refugee resettlement through another program, finds herself in a camp in Turkey, her prospects for immigrating to the U.S. uncertain.

Amid the rise of Islamic State, thousands of vulnerable Iraqis are in a similar state of limbo since the State Department, citing security concerns, suspended refugee processing in Baghdad in June. Many of those affected are minorities such as Mr. Kherallah’s family, who are Yazidis, a group that has been targeted by the militants also known as ISIS.

The refugee crisis in Iraq prompted Congress in 2008 to create a program called the Special Immigrant Visa , which Mr. Kherallah received, to protect those directly employed by the U.S. Also established was a fast-track program extending refugee status to Iraqis with other U.S. connections, such as workers for U.S. media and nonprofits, or relatives of wartime allies, such as Mr. Kherallah’s parents and siblings. Since then, more than 44,000 Iraqis have immigrated to the U.S. under the two programs.

Today, 38,000 Iraqi applicants are awaiting interviews for the expedited refugee program, also known as the Direct Access Program, and the backlog is growing at the rate of 2,000 each month, according to the State Department. A department official said the U.S. is eager to resume processing their cases, but didn’t offer a time frame. Several thousand more are in the pipeline for SIV processing, the State Department said.

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