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Afghan arrival application fees waived

AP photo | Afghan refugees arrive at Dulles International Airport in August.

Oregon legislators leading the Afghan Arrivals Legislative Workgroup described recent developments at the state and federal levels as “positive” while agencies attempt to streamline the resettlement process, though some critical service areas lack necessary funding, according to Rep. Khanh Pham, D-Portland, and Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland.

The Afghan Arrivals Workgroup convened Sept. 14 to coordinate key aspects of Afghan refugee relocation in Oregon, including housing, legal services, education, child care, employment/workforce development, health care, translation services and community organizing. Officials expect the state’s metro centers to take in most refugees following the collapse of Afghanistan into Taliban control.

About 70,000 Afghans have arrived in the U.S. through Operation Allies Welcome as of Nov. 10. Also from the federal side, the Department of Homeland Security announced Nov. 8 that application filing fees will be waived for Afghan arrivals coming to the U.S.

“The largest funding needs fall within four major areas that the federal government is unable to adequately fulfill,” including emergency management, legal services, housing assistance and case management support, according to the latest Afghan Arrivals Legislative Workgroup update. “Policy subcommittees are formulating policy proposals for potential legislative action to bolster the refugee resettlement program in Oregon.”

The deadline to submit policy concepts for the 2022 Oregon Legislative session falls Nov. 19.

Passage of Senate Bill 778 in the 2021 legislative session established a four staff-member Office of Immigrant and Refugee Advancement with $1.38 million in startup funds, charged with advocating for and coordinating long-term support services, collecting and monitoring data and establishing organizational partnerships.

According to the latest workgroup update, the office has closed the posting for its director position and begun the hiring process.

The Afghan Support Network officially gained nonprofit status the second week of November and continues to focus on immigration support, cultural navigation, service connection and advocacy for Afghan communities in the Portland metro area.

“Part of the mission of the Afghan Arrivals Legislative Workgroup is to identify needs and funding requests that will enable the state and providers to collectively support Afghan arrivals,” the update said. “Because of the unanticipated surge of Afghan refugees and subsequent calls for resources, the total level of state investment needs to be increased.”

The Oregon Department of Human Services Emergency Management Unit plans to serve families for up to three months while they resettle — a mission not included in prior budgets, requiring a funding source to accomplish, the update said.

Afghans accepted into the country under urgent humanitarian circumstances who are seeking permanent immigration status will require legal assistance to make the adjustment in a timely manner and avoid deportation.

The Portland-based Refugee Care Collective compiled restart kits for Afghan families Oct. 28, and furnished a multi-room building for temporary housing.

“We are distributing gift cards for groceries and clothing, as many families are arriving with only a couple sets of clothes,” according to the Refugee Care Collective blog. “We are also currently identifying further temporary housing options, and beginning to pair volunteers with families and youth to walk alongside one another for the coming year.”