Afghans, weeks from losing their jobs, wait to hear if they can stay in the U.S.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Two years ago, the U.S. took in tens of thousands of Afghans fleeing their collapsing country in Operation Allies Welcome. They were given a temporary immigration status called humanitarian patrol - parole, allowing them to live and work in the U.S. The program was scheduled to end for many in coming weeks. The Biden administration announced in May it would extend the program to the relief of those 77,000 Afghans who risked their lives working for the U.S. military. But concern is growing as Afghans wait to find out their status. Some are weeks away from losing their jobs. Texas Public Radio's Paul Flahive reports.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).
PAUL FLAHIVE, BYLINE: Men sit with folders and plastic grocery sacks bulging with documents at the Center for Refugee Services in San Antonio. Many of them need help filling out government forms. A new one arrived the week before, asking for updated contact details.
FLAHIVE: Aryan is among the men sitting and waiting to speak with a legal aid. He's one of tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees waiting for his humanitarian parole to be extended. Like everyone we interviewed for this story, he gave his first name because he's worried about the safety of his family. Humanitarian parole gets Aryan food stamps, Medicaid and, most importantly, the ability to work. He's been driving for an app-based food delivery service for months, but he just got a text from them.
ARYAN: (Non-English language spoken).
NIKKIBLA ESAS: Right now he receives a text message from the company that your work authorization is going to expire. Maybe we close your platform.
FLAHIVE: Center translator Nikkibla Esas explains Aryan was told if he can't get the company proof his immigration status is secure, he'll be terminated. This man's work authorization expires on September 21. And in Texas, that means his driver's license will also expire and could take months to renew with new documents, leaving the real possibility that he won't be able to send money back to his wife and child in Afghanistan or afford his rent here.
ARYAN: (Through interpreter) Yes, I worry a lot regarding this issue because I can - I maybe cannot work. So I have a family in Afghanistan. I want to support them. If I don't have a job, I don't have a work. So how can I - I have a lot of expenses here also, in Afghanistan also. So I'm worried, and I'm really concerned about it.
FLAHIVE: A DHS official told NPR they were processing applications and extensions quickly but had little power over how states issue licenses. The state has no expedited process for Afghans.
ALEX KRAUSS: OK. Let me just read through this law one more time and make sure that we didn't miss anything. And then we can sign it.
FLAHIVE: A line to speak to attorney Alex Krauss spills into the lobby. Krauss has been volunteering here since May to help Afghans.
KRAUSS: Some days, I'll be sitting in here, like, and it's just nonstop until the place closes. I think right now it's going to be busy like this for a while, especially if they're sending these letters out.
FLAHIVE: Krauss says it's a complicated process. Afghans who already applied for asylum or for another immigration status were automatically considered for an extension. But thousands of others had to use a form that they described as confusing.
KRAUSS: So you have to select this option that says applying for reentry into the United States. But they're already here.
FLAHIVE: The form is used for many things, including as a request to return from travel abroad.
KRAUSS: And the fact is you wouldn't know that unless you visited one webpage on the immigration services website, right? There's no, like, affirmative thing that they've done to make people know that not only do they need to fill out this form, but they maybe filled it out incorrectly.
MARGARET CONSTANTINO: Please have a seat, sir. Feel free to close the door.
FLAHIVE: Center director Margaret Constantino speaks with Khwari, an evacuee who works for a food preparation business. He likes the job.
KHWARI: No, it's good for me. Now I'm maybe two months. I'm supervisor now. I'm training.
FLAHIVE: He recently got an email from the government that he thinks is important and came to the office to print it off.
CONSTANTINO: Yes. And it says he - if - your automatic extension is for 540 days.
KHWARI: Yes, yes.
CONSTANTINO: So you're not going to lose your job.
FLAHIVE: That's welcome news for a room filled with other men waiting for some indication they belong here. For NPR News, I'm Paul Flahive in San Antonio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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