Watch Out for Visa Categories With Expiration Dates

eagleOne of the perennially difficult things about visas to the United States (both temporary and permanent ones) is that many of the categories are not written into the law in stone, but come with expiration dates. If Congress fails to take action to renew the visa category when it sunsets, no more visa category.

That’s bad luck not only for anyone thinking of applying for the visa in question, but typically for anyone who isn’t all the way through the system by the category’s expiration date. Applicants who haven’t either adjusted or changed their status while living in the U.S. or obtained a visa from a U.S. consulate overseas and used it to enter the United States will be stopped in their tracks and refused U.S. status or entry.

In some cases, Congressional renewals seem to happen fairly regularly (if last minute), such as with the R visa for religious workers.  (After reauthorization last fall, the R visa category is now good until September 30, 2015.)

In other cases, however, particularly where the visa was meant to respond to an urgent but not necessarily long-term need, Congress may decide to let the visa category lapse. Such may be the case with the Special Immigrant Visa for Iraqi translators.

This visa (allowing U.S. permanent residence or a green card) has been around only since 2008. It authorized issuance of 5,000 immigrant visas per year through September of 2013 (the government’s fiscal year end) to Iraqis who had served the U.S. government in Iraq.

The idea was to protect Iraqis whose work on behalf of the U.S. makes them potential targets of threats and violence by people in their own country.  According to the International Rescue Committee, “an untold number have been kidnapped or killed.” The trouble is, according to the IRC, the threats have continued after the 2011 departure of U.S. troops from Iraq, and not everyone who qualifies for a visa in this category has succeeded in getting one.

Okay Congress, you’ve got six months to act . . . .