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Long, complicated process awaits Afghan refugees in Utah

The Utah state flag. (Credit: Adobe Stock)

SALT LAKE CITY — Afghan refugees coming to Utah have a long and complicated process awaiting them. Fortunately, there are agencies ready to assist families looking to make the Beehive State their new home. 

It starts with a warm welcome 

Each refugee who lands in Utah is met by someone from one of the two refugee resettlement agencies in the state, the International Rescue Committee of Salt Lake City and Catholic Community Services of Utah. They are then offered a tiny slice of familiarity. 

“[We] 100% of the time have either a staff member or interpreter with us who is fluent in a language that every adult in a family can speak,” said Refugee Resettlement Program Manager for Catholic Community Services of Utah, Mark Burton. 

The path then differs for people arriving with Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) and people categorized as humanitarian parolees. 

SIVs and parolees

Refugees with a Special Immigrant Visa are typically people who assisted the U.S. military during its two decades in Afghanistan.

Through federal funding, the SIV holders are eligible for a range of different services to help them acclimate to their new homes. 

“For the SIVs, we’ve often lined up housing that they’ll then sign the lease for and move into within their first few days, or first week in the country,” Burton said. 

These refugees are also assigned a two-year case manager. A case manager helps them obtain employment, navigate the healthcare system, and learn about U.S. law.  

“That does cover discussion about culture shock. We talk about the local community, things as simple as recreation and what there is to do; public transportation orientation,” said Burton. 

Who is a parolee? 

There are often negative connotations with the term “parolee.” But this group has nothing to do with prison or law enforcement. 

A humanitarian parolee is someone who was not able to complete the SIV application process. And needed to flee a dangerous situation for their own safety. 

Federal funding is limited for these refugees but they do have the option to apply for asylum. If approved, they would then qualify for the same services and benefits as an SIV holder. 

Catholic Community Services and the International Rescue Committee have both been working with the state, local governments, and the private sector to find housing solutions for the parolee group. 

Despite the federal dollars available, both agencies are requesting donations to assist them with making Utah as comfortable as possible for these weary travelers. 

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