It was an offhand comment, blurted out in frustration. It may have destroyed Shoaib Walizada’s chances of earning a cherished visa to the United States.
Mr. Walizada, who interpreted for the U.S. Army for four years until 2013, said that he had complained one day, using profanity, that his assigned combat vest was too small. When the episode came to light later that year, Mr. Walizada’s preliminary approval for a visa was revoked for “unprofessional conduct.”
Mr. Walizada, 31, is among thousands of Afghans once employed by the U.S. government, many as interpreters, whose applications for a Special Immigrant Visa, or S.I.V., through a State Department program, have been denied.
The program, established to relocate to the United States Iraqis and Afghans whose lives are threatened because they worked for the American military or government, has rejected some applicants for seemingly minor infractions and others for no stated reason.
Now, as American troops depart and Afghans experience a growing sense of anxiety and despair, the visa applications have taken on renewed urgency. With the Taliban taking advantage of the U.S. withdrawal, many former interpreters say they are more likely than ever to be killed.
“I get phone calls from the Taliban saying, ‘We will kill you’ — they know who I am and that I worked for the Americans,” Mr. Walizada said. He has delayed marriage because he does not want to put a wife at risk, he said, and he has moved from house to house for safety.
The slightest blemish during years of otherwise stellar service can torpedo a visa application and negate glowing letters of recommendation from American commanders. In the last three months of 2020 alone, State Department statistics show, 1,646 Afghans were denied one of the special visas, which are issued to applicants satisfying demanding requirements and rigorous background checks even though interpreters would already have passed security screenings. [Continue reading…]