Homeland Security announced Monday that it will waive the usual immigration fees for Afghan evacuees who’ve been paroled into the country since the start of the airlift operation, leaving U.S. taxpayers to pick up the tab for their costs.
The department said not having to worry about the fees will allow the Afghans to settle into their new lives more quickly.
They’ll also get “streamlined” processing to apply for work permits and asylum, which would give them permanent status.
“By providing these evacuees with access to streamlined processing and fee exemptions, we will open doors of opportunity for our Afghan allies and help them begin to rebuild their lives in communities across our country more quickly,” Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
About 70,000 Afghans already have been brought to the U.S., most of them through Mr. Mayorkas’ “parole” authority.
The usual fee for applying for a work permit is $410. The fee to apply to adjust status is usually $1,140. The fee to have biometric data taken is $85.
Congress, in a spending bill this fall, approved billions of dollars in assistance for Afghans, including $193 million for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Homeland Security’s legal immigration agency.
USCIS is supposed to be funded by immigrants themselves, under the principle that immigrants shouldn’t be a burden to the taxpayer. But the Biden administration twice has asked Congress to pony up taxpayer cash to help the agency, which is in financial arrears because it doesn’t charge enough to cover its expanding work.
Humanitarian cases like refugees and asylum-seekers are traditionally fee-free, and those cases have been increasing, forcing USCIS to spend manpower without compensation.
Though Congress approved the money for Afghans, some lawmakers have since raised questions about the scope of the assistance.
Sen. Rob Portman, the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, last week said there are serious questions about the lack of vetting that Afghans were put through before being brought to the U.S.
He urged the administration to keep Afghans at military bases here to undergo a new round of vetting before releasing them.
“We want to know who these people are,” he said in a Senate speech. “They might possibly have a record, a criminal record, they might have terrorist affiliations. And that’s why you need to do the proper screening and vetting.”