04.16.20

Leahy And Lankford Urge State Department And DHS To Exercise Discretion And Grant Relief To Vulnerable Refugees And Special Immigrant Visa Holders

. . . . Senators Urge Agencies To Automatically Extend Validity Periods Of Critical Documents During COVID-19 Crisis

(THURSDAY, April 16, 2020) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) are urging Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf to exercise discretion and automatically extend the validity periods of critical documents for refugees and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders approved for resettlement in the United States until COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted. They emphasized that this small, reasonable measure would provide much-needed relief to refugees and SIV holders – who are among the most vulnerable populations amidst this global pandemic.

In their letter, the senators wrote:  “We write to ask the Departments of State and Homeland Security to take immediate action to ensure that refugees and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) recipients approved for resettlement in the United States are not needlessly harmed amidst this growing COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, we urge you to exercise your discretion, consistent with each of your Department’s policies, to automatically extend the validity periods of all approved special immigrant visas and other refugee-related documents during the course of this crisis.”

They continued:  “Taking this action would be a small but important step to ensure that the United States leads by example in keeping its promises to refugees and SIV recipients already vetted and approved for resettlement in our country, and prevent further harm to these particularly vulnerable populations.”

Full text of the letter is below:

April 16, 2020

The Honorable Michael R. Pompeo

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20520

 

The Honorable Chad Wolf

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security

3801 Nebraska Ave, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20016

Secretary Pompeo and Acting Secretary Wolf:

 

We write to ask the Departments of State and Homeland Security to take immediate action to ensure that refugees and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) recipients approved for resettlement in the United States are not needlessly harmed amidst this growing COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, we urge you to exercise your discretion, consistent with each of your Department’s policies, to automatically extend the validity periods of all approved special immigrant visas and other refugee-related documents during the course of this crisis.

s are among the most vulnerable populations during this global COVID-19 pandemic. Refugees often live in over-crowded camps or urban slums with little to no access to medical care or basic necessities like soap and running water. SIV recipients – many of whom have risked their lives assisting the U.S. military in combat zones – are similarly vulnerable to the impacts of this crisis. Now, many refugees and SIV recipients approved for resettlement in the U.S. have been left in agonizing limbo as COVID-19 has resulted in abrupt and indefinite travel restrictions, including the cancellation of flights around the world.

Therefore, for refugees and SIV recipients approved for travel to the U.S., we urge you to automatically extend the validity periods of approved visas, parole and reentry permits, refugee travel documents, security checks, and any other essential documents necessary for entry into the U.S. until all Presidential Proclamations restricting travel to the U.S. are rescinded and there has been reasonable time for these individuals to travel to the U.S. Refugees and SIV recipients have all gone through an exhaustive, time-consuming process to satisfy all requirements for admission to the U.S. Allowing their visas and documents to expire because of COVID-19 related travel restrictions and interruptions – and thus compelling them to go through the arduous process of reapplying – would be burdensome and unnecessary, causing them renewed hardship.

Indeed, the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual states that visas can be extended or replaced when an individual is not able to utilize a visa during its validity for “reasons beyond the applicant’s control and for which the applicant is not responsible” – precisely the situation we are facing today. The Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) similarly possesses the discretion to extend the validity of documents for those “affected by a natural catastrophe or other extreme situation.” 

Therefore, we strongly urge your departments to immediately and broadly exercise this discretion – without requiring any additional filings, applications, or fees – to automatically extend the validity periods of all approved visas, refugee travel documents, security checks, and other essential documents for refugees and SIV recipients until all Presidential Proclamations restricting travel to the U.S. are rescinded and there has been reasonable time for these individuals to travel to the U.S.

Taking this action would be a small but important step to ensure that the United States leads by example in keeping its promises to refugees and SIV recipients already vetted and approved for resettlement in our country, and prevent further harm to these particularly vulnerable populations.

We look forward to your response.

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Contact:

David Carle (w/Leahy), 202-224-3693

Aly Beley, Kelly Ferguson (w/Lankford), 202-224-5754

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693