Special Immigrant Visas and Refugee Services

From the Kansas City Star:

[Afghan refugee Mohammed Naseer] Yasini arrived in Kansas City last month and is one of the hundreds of Iraqis and Afghans who move to the United States on a special immigrant visa after serving alongside American troops in their home countries. The visa was created specifically for those whose lives have been threatened because of their work for U.S. forces.

But many of these refugees do not feel special. They arrive here reliant on nonprofit social service agencies and become ensnared in the red tape of securing federal resettlement assistance for housing, employment and health care. They often find they cannot resume the professional careers they once held or had planned in their native countries.

As I’ve pointed out before, professionals have a hard time being re-certified, and some have to go back to school or work in a different field. That’s tough, and they deserve our support and sympathy, but, in professions like law and medicine, it makes complete sense.

I’ve also argued before that we need to improve and expand the range of refugee employment services available to reflect both the professional backgrounds and future aspirations of resettled refugees. In some cases, this would mean resettlement field offices having to hire more employment coordinators, positions for which funding is not readily available.

What federal resettlement benefits they do receive expire in six months for Afghans and eight months for Iraqis, a small time frame to start a new life in a new country that they had risked their lives for, said Bob Carey, vice president for resettlement and migration policy for the International Rescue Committee.

“They are essentially dumped here,” Carey said. “They are not getting shot or killed, but they are not getting the resources they need. It’s comparable to American veterans not receiving the services they need. We’re not serving well those who suffered on behalf of the United States.”

We’re not providing adequate services to refugees, period. That’s the problem. I’m sure Carey didn’t mean to imply that SIV-holders should be offered more assistance than other refugees, regardless of their needs, but readers of this article could have gotten that very idea.

Being sensitive to the unique needs and pre-resettlement circumstances of individual refugees is very different from offering preferential treatment to one group of refugees based solely on their prior relationship with the US military abroad.

I’m an advocate of the former, and strongly oppose the latter.

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