Here at Blue Ridge Literacy, our learners represent a wide variety of backgrounds, coming from many different countries, cultures, and experiences. But one common way our learners come to us is through SIVs. SIVs, or Special Immigrant Visas, grant lawful permanent residency to individuals from Iraq or Afghanistan who were employed by the U.S. government, especially as translators or interpreters. When the armed forces were stationed in the two countries, they needed the help of locals dedicated to their cause to help them communicate in Dari, Pashto, Kurdish, and Arabic. These translators served the United States alongside soldiers, often at a cost to themselves. After their employment ended, many faced threats from groups who opposed the U.S. mission, and they began to seek safety elsewhere. The SIV programs were created in response to this, welcoming to the country the men and women who served it at great personal risk.
Every year since the SIV programs began in 2008, a certain number of visas are allotted for applicants. Individuals who were employed by the government for at least one year may apply for residency along with their spouses and any unmarried children under the age of 21. The application process requires an interview and background checks, as well as verification that all official communication during employment was in support of the U.S. mission. Once in America, SIV holders become eligible for federal benefits like resettlement programs, supplemental security income, and food assistance programs.
According to the Congressional Research Service, from 2008 through October 2018, 79,000 people were granted special immigrant status. Legislation determining the number of available SIVs changes annually, but nonprofits and lobbyists work to increase this number and expedite the application process. Overall, the establishment and continuation of the SIV programs attempts to recognize the considerable contributions of the Iraqi and Afghan nationals who risked their lives alongside American soldiers.
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