National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan falsely claimed during a White House press briefing Monday that the Trump administration had not processed a single Special Immigrant Visa for Afghan allies since March 2020.
While no Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants were interviewed at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul from March 2020 through the end of the Trump administration due to COVID-19, quarterly reports from the State Department show that thousands of Afghan SIV applications were processed and issued in that timeframe.
“When we took office in January, the Trump administration had not processed a single Special Immigrant Visa since March of 2020 — in nearly a year,” Sullivan said at the press conference Monday, contradicting State Department data.
During the three-month period between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, before the Biden administration took office, 1,321 Afghan SIVs were issued according to a State Department quarterly report on the program. The Chief of Mission (COM) Committee decided to approve or deny at least 3,273 Afghan SIV applicants during these three months, the report shows.
The State Department issued another 286 SIVs to Afghan allies between April 1 and Sept. 31, 2020, according to quarterly reports, and COM made decisions on at least 2,838 SIV applicants during that six-month period, the reports show.
The SIV process is a 14 step process that, under the Trump administration, could take 1,000 days to complete. COM approval is just the fourth step of the process, whereas in-person interviews at the embassy are the 12th step. These interviews did not occur during the final 10 months of the Trump administration because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sullivan said during Monday’s press conference that the Biden administration’s efforts to streamline processes trimmed “months and months and months” off of the SIV approval process.
Visa services at all U.S. embassies and consulates around the world faced temporary suspensions in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the State Department.
Even then, a very small number of Afghan SIV applicants were able to interview in alternative locations while embassies closed in 2020, according to the State Department reports.
Following an in-person interview, SIV applications go through a final round of administrative processing. If approved, applicants are instructed to obtain a medical exam, after which they may receive a visa.
The White House did not return a request for comment when asked about Sullivan’s statement.
Data from the Refugee Processing Center (RPC), a program operated by the State Department, shows that the number of SIV arrivals from Afghanistan to the U.S. shrank during the Biden administration’s first months in office.
In December, the last full month of the Trump administration, the RPC tracked 449 Afghan SIV arrivals. This figure dropped to 173 Afghan SIV arrivals in April before spiking to 1,173 arrivals in July.
When asked about these figures on Thursday, a White House spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation that it reduced the timeline for issuing SIVs by more than 50% from January through May, allowing for the issuance of 5,641 visas from April to July.
The spokesperson said that the figure is “the most Afghan SIVs the program has ever issued in a quarter in its history and shows this was a priority from the start of the administration.”
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