House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) takes questions as she holds her weekly news conference with Capitol Hill reporters at the Capitol in Washington, July 22, 2021.

Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters

The House approved legislation Thursday that will expand and expedite the special immigrant visa program for Afghans who aided U.S. and coalition forces and may face retribution from the Taliban. 

The bill passed overwhelmingly in a 407-16 vote, with all “no” votes coming from Republicans. It will now move to the Senate. 

The vote comes as U.S. and coalition forces near the end of their withdrawal from Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghans who assisted the U.S. and NATO during America’s longest war are waiting for visa application approvals as the Taliban continues to seize more territory in the war-torn country. 

“The phrase life and death gets tossed around a lot in this chamber. But this bill is truly that for thousands of our Afghan friends. The Taliban is intent on hunting down and killing Afghans who have served alongside Americans the past 20 years,” said Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., who introduced the bill last month with 24 bipartisan members of Congress, on the House floor ahead of the vote. 

“Some members of this body, including me, may not be here today without the service and sacrifice of Afghans who answered the call to serve shoulder to shoulder with us,” said Crow, who served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan as a former Army Ranger. 

The bill, dubbed the Allies Act, would boost the number of special immigrant visas, or SIVs, for Afghans by an additional 8,000. 

It would also remove burdensome application requirements that slow down the Afghan SIV process. This includes a “credible sworn statement” that requires applicants to prove that they face a threat for working for the U.S. government, and a requirement that limits the field of qualified applicants. 

The Allies Act is part of a series of bipartisan bills that aims to ease the visa process under the Afghan SIV Program established in 2009. Last month, the House passed another bill that would allow Afghan allies to undergo a medical examination in the U.S. rather than at a single clinic in Kabul, Afghanistan. 

The House’s passage of the Allies Act also comes as the Biden administration moves forward with plans to evacuate eligible SIV applicants to a safe location while their applications are processed. 

The U.S. is working with allies to secure several overseas locations for approximately 4,000 Afghan nationals and their families under Operation Allies Refuge. Applicants who are nearing the completion of their visa process will be evacuated to the U.S. Army garrison in Fort Lee, Virginia for around seven to 10 days, according to a senior state department official. 

The official added that those eligible for an evacuation flight must travel to Kabul on their own due to the limited U.S. presence in Afghanistan. 

Last week, Biden announced the start of evacuation flights this month for Afghan nationals and their families who assisted coalition forces. 

In April, Biden announced a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, effectively ending America’s longest war. Biden said last week that the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will end on August 31. 

“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “It’s up to the Afghans to make decisions about the future of their country.”

The Pentagon also announced on Wednesday that it had completed more than 95% of the task of withdrawing from Afghanistan. 

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