‘My targets in life vanished’: Afghan college students rocked by US visa denials | US overseas coverage


Yalda Azamee blinked again tears as she stared down on the American consular officer.

“He didn’t even give me an opportunity to elucidate myself; he rejected me immediately. He didn’t even take a look at my paperwork,” she mentioned, dashing out of the US embassy constructing on to the streets of Islamabad to cry.

It was the second time her utility for a US scholar visa had been rejected.

To get a scholar visa, candidates like Yalda must show that they don’t intend to immigrate to the US. The consular officer must consider that the applicant will depart the US after commencement.

“For nations like Afghanistan or others the place there’s warfare, or different issues, it may be notably exhausting to point out that you just intend to return residence after you end your research in the US,” mentioned Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration legislation professor at Cornell College.

The destiny of Afghan college students is especially troubling this month, which marks two years for the reason that chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan ended the nation’s 20-year warfare. Earlier this yr, the nationwide safety council reported that the Biden administration ought to have began evacuations earlier.

“We actually have failed the folks of Afghanistan in so some ways, going extra broadly than simply Afghan college students,” Yale-Loehr mentioned.

Yalda’s life had been consumed by grief and terror since she noticed armed Taliban marching previous her Kabul condominium. After the Taliban toppled the Afghan authorities and recaptured management of the nation, Yalda and her mom fled to Pakistan.

She struggled to regulate to refugee life, however Yalda clung to her childhood dream of pursuing greater schooling in the US.

Simply weeks after she made the perilous journey out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Yalda utilized to high graduate applications at US universities. In spring 2022, Yalda was accepted to Columbia and to New York College – and the latter provided her a full scholarship.

“It restored the hope in my coronary heart. I begin dreaming about my future once more,” she mentioned.

That glint of optimism was snuffed out months later, when the US embassy – for the second time – rejected her request for a scholar visa.

Yale-Loehr mentioned the visa rule, generally known as the “immigrant intent” check, is a part of why college students from Africa and the Center East face greater visa denial charges than college students from western European nations.

“It’s principally the discretion of the consular officer that decides whether or not the individual overcomes that requirement,” he mentioned. “It actually will depend on the consular officer and whether or not they’re feeling beneficiant that day or not.”

The entire variety of scholar visa denials rose between 2015 and 2022, in line with a latest report by Shorelight and the Presidents’ Alliance on Increased Training and Immigration. The group’s evaluation of state division information discovered that the denial fee for Afghans is among the many worst on the planet (although college students in some African and central Asian nations face equally dangerous odds).

In response to a spokesperson for the US state division, visa functions are thought-about on a “case-by-case foundation”.

“The coed’s intent to depart the US upon the conclusion of their research doesn’t suggest the necessity to return to the nation from which they maintain a passport,” the spokesperson added.

In idea, Yalda might have proved she deliberate to return to some third nation after ending her graduate research in the US. However she doesn’t have monetary or familial ties to any nation apart from Afghanistan and the US.

Returning to Pakistan will not be an possibility. The nation has not adopted the UN Refugee Conference of 1951, which confers a authorized responsibility on nations to guard folks fleeing critical hurt.

Pakistani officers started a nationwide crackdown on Afghan refugees in summer time 2022. Lots of of Afghans had been allegedly deported from Pakistan earlier this yr, and hundreds extra have been detained.

Fearing the wrath of Pakistani immigration officers, the Azamees haven’t left their home in months. They depend on the eldest Azamee daughter, Rukhsar, for assist.

Rukhsar Azamee got here to the US in 2015 to review at New York College.

“I hoped Yalda would come be with me right here in New York,” she mentioned, with a heavy sigh.

Rukhsar devised a system to discreetly ship sources to her household. For the previous yr, she has been wiring cash to a trusted acquaintance in Pakistan: he takes a minimize off the highest, then delivers groceries and medication to the house of her mom and youthful sister.

“For me, an important factor is that they’re out of quick hazard, and in Pakistan, at the very least they can’t be instantly focused by Talibs,” Rukhsar mentioned.

She tried to stay optimistic. After Yalda’s first scholar visa utility was rejected, the sisters went to work compiling paperwork which may assist persuade the consular officer that she deserves to review in the US. They’d written proof that she had spent two years advocating for gender equality in Afghanistan, working as an information analyst for UN Girls.

None of it mattered. The consular officer didn’t look by way of Yalda’s utility.

“The second you are available, and the officer realizes, ‘Oh, it’s your second time making use of,’ then it’s over – they barely take a look at you,” mentioned Rukhsar. “Yalda is a younger girl with lots of expertise, [and] two years of her life have been taken from her. Who is aware of what number of extra years it is going to take?”

For Afghan college students pressured to return to Afghanistan, failure to acquire a scholar visa feels doubly devastating.

Bahram Emrani, a legislation scholar who labored carefully with US civilian and navy officers earlier than 2021, was a part of a choose group of Afghan legislation college students who participated in authorized coaching and clinics hosted by the US Company for Worldwide Improvement.

In April 2022, months after Emrani and his household fled to Pakistan, he obtained what seemed to be a life-changing e mail. The College of Pittsburgh’s legislation faculty provided him admission and a full scholarship. He simply wanted to safe a scholar visa.

Within the August, Emrani walked into the US embassy in Islamabad.

“I watched everybody else who was interviewing – the entire course of appeared actually clean,” Emrani mentioned. “There was a queue of individuals earlier than me, they walked out smiling, so the whole lot appeared OK.”

His utility was rejected a couple of minutes after Emrani handed the consular officer his Afghan passport. It was the identical response Yalda Azamee had obtained on her second try to receive a scholar visa: Emrani had failed the “immigrant intent” check as a result of he was from Afghanistan.

“My targets in life vanished so abruptly,” he mentioned.

Pakistani immigration officers pressured Emrani to return to Afghanistan later that yr.

The College of Pittsburgh deferred Emrani’s admission by a yr, providing him further time to safe a scholar visa.

A spokesperson for the college mentioned some Afghan college students “acquire approval for his or her visas after a number of makes an attempt, and there may very well be federal laws enacted that may make it simpler for folks like Bahram Emrani to come back to the US”.

However no such laws has been enacted. Emrani and his household are caught in Afghanistan for the indefinite future and due to Emrani’s recognized affiliation with the US, he lives in fixed concern of Taliban retaliation.

“Life in Afghanistan now’s simply surviving, and me and my household are surviving,” Emrani mentioned. “I don’t need to be optimistic once more.”

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