By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday revived an effort to provide visas to move to the United States for Afghans who worked for Americans during the long war in their country and are now stranded, their lives at risk due to that work.
The bill would provide 4,000 Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for the rest of the federal fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, and also try to address obstacles that have prevented Afghans from getting visas under previously passed legislation.
National Public Radio (NPR) reported on May 1 that President Donald Trump's administration had cut by 60 percent the number of U.S. visas provided to Afghans who risked their lives assisting American forces. About 1,650 were approved in 2018, down from more than 4,000 in fiscal year 2017.
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen sponsored the bill with Republicans Thom Tillis, Roger Wicker and Cory Gardner and Democrats Jack Reed, Richard Blumenthal and Tim Kaine.
Backers of the plan said Washington needs to protect Afghans who worked for U.S. forces in order to ensure local support.
Army General Austin Miller, commander of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, sent a letter to Shaheen backing the bill, calling the SIV program critical to success in Afghanistan.
"If the program is not fully resourced, our credibility and the sacrifices made by thousands of Afghans in support of Americans and our Coalition partners could be undermined," Miller wrote.
Shaheen was a lead sponsor of similar legislation passed in previous years, along with late Republican Senator John McCain, who was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
His widow, Cindy McCain, backed the bill, saying McCain would be pleased to know that the bipartisan measure continued his legacy.
Backers said they felt the measure stood a good chance of passing, possibly as a provision of one of the larger must-pass spending bills Congress will consider later this year, despite Trump's efforts to tighten immigration, particularly from Muslim-majority countries.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis)