Taliban fighters stand guard in front of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

Taliban fighters stand guard in front of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. Rahmat Gul / AP

Biden Administration Seeks Civilian Feds to Deploy in Helping Relocate Afghan Evacuees

Employee volunteers will go to both domestic and international sites as U.S. struggles to respond to chaotic scenes in Afghanistan.

The Biden administration is soliciting assistance from federal civilian employees as it prepares to handle the relocation of an influx of Afghan nationals after the government there collapsed. 

The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development are seeking Foreign Service Officer and civil service employee volunteers to deploy to domestic and international locations to process arrivals and work on visa applications, according to an internal email sent out on Monday. The employees would serve on temporary assignments of 60-90 days and deploy to Washington, Dulles International Airport, Fort Lee in Virginia or Qatar to start, though more employees may be asked to “surge locations that may be established as the situation evolves.” 

U.S. officials in recent weeks have ramped up efforts to relocate Afghans who provided critical services in support of American military and civilian operations throughout the war and who now may be in danger. Estimates have put the outstanding numbers of individuals qualified for  the Special Immigrant Visa program in the tens of thousands. The Biden administration launched Operation Allies Refuge last month to assist those individuals as the U.S. prepared for its full military withdrawal from Afghanistan, but the timeline and processes for it have been thrown into chaos as the Taliban swiftly took control of the country. The interagency effort involves the State Department, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Defense Department, the Health and Human Services Department and others. The government has so far relocated 2,000 SIV recipients to the U.S. 

Civil servant volunteers deployed to Qatar will help staff a temporary relocation site while evacuated Afghans await visa processing. Those in domestic locations will help receive the evacuees and process them on to their final locations. Their responsibilities could include a range of activities, such as providing direct support, planning refugee flow options, coordinating with non-governmental organizations and hosting congressional delegations. Employees must clear their potential participation with their supervisors before applying. 

The State Department declined to provide further details on its solicitation ahead of a scheduled briefing Monday afternoon, including how many employee volunteers it is seeking. 

Afghans arriving at Fort Lee will only spend a few days there, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby has said. U.S. personnel will conduct final medical screenings and other administrative requirements before sending them elsewhere for resettlement. USCIS last month established a temporary field office and a “mobile biometrics processing station” at the installation to expedite processing. Afghans seeking Special Immigrant Visas begin their application process by filing a petition with USCIS. Those who arrive in the United States will receive benefits through HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. 

Kirby said on Monday the Pentagon was looking to identify two additional installations to bringing in more Afghan nationals, allowing the department to temporarily house 22,000 people. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that State was pursuing all possibilities for relocating Afghan nationals. 

Some in Congress are pressuring the White House to do whatever it takes to evacuate the Afghans, many of whom risked their lives to support the United States, regardless of the usual processes. 

“America and our allies must drop the onerous visa requirements where a typo can condemn an ally to torture and death, and the military must continue the evacuation for as long as it takes,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass. 

State and Defense, meanwhile, have raced to evacuate their own civilian employees from Kabul. The departments said over the weekend that all diplomatic staff had been safely brought to the airport there, though videos have shown chaotic scenes as planes sought to take off. The Biden administration previously said it would leave only a “core diplomatic presence” in Afghanistan. President Biden has deployed 6,000 troops to secure the airport in Kabul and “enable the safe departure of U.S. and allied personnel from Afghanistan via civilian and military flights,” State and Defense said in a joint statement on Sunday. 

“Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals,” the departments said.

Price on Monday declined to say how many federal employees were currently at the Kabul airport awaiting a departure, noting only that some embassy staff were pulled out starting in April. All flights, both military and civilian, in and out of the airport have been temporarily suspended while U.S. forces seek to restore order. Both Kirby and Price said U.S. citizens aiming to leave Afghanistan should shelter in place until receiving other instructions from State.

This story has been updated with additional information.