WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both houses of U.S. Congress to establish a path to American citizenship for thousands of Afghan evacuees admitted to the United States on temporary immigration status, the sponsors announced on Tuesday.
The bill also would expand eligibility for Special Immigration Visas (SIVs) beyond Afghans who worked for the U.S. government to those who fought alongside U.S. forces as commandoes and air force personnel, and to women who served in special counterterrorism teams.
Identical versions of the bill were introduced days before the first anniversary of the final U.S. troop withdrawal and the chaotic evacuation operation that ended America's longest war and saw the Taliban overrun Kabul.
"We must keep our commitment to provide safe, legal refuge to those who willingly put their lives on the line to support the U.S. mission in Afghanistan," Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer, co-sponsor of the House bill with Republican Peter Meijer, said in a statement.
Three minority Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham, joined three majority Democrats in introducing an identical version of the Afghanistan Adjustment Act in the thinly divided Senate, enhancing its chances of passage.
Even so, a congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the measure likely will face "resistance" from anti-immigration Republicans.
Many of the 76,000 Afghans flown out in last year's evacuation operation entered the United States on humanitarian parole, a temporary immigration status that typically only lasts up to two years.
The legislation would allow those evacuees to apply for permanent legal status if they submit to additional background checks.
Generally, those Afghans only can gain permanent legal status in the United States by applying for asylum or through SIVs, programs beset by major backlogs.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Sam Holmes)