The Senate unanimously passed an extension to the U.S. visa program for at-risk Afghan translators who worked alongside U.S. troops on Friday, shortly after the number of available visas ran out and hours before Congress was set to leave for summer break.
The move to authorize an additional 1,000 visas was a small spot of bipartisan unity amid congressional gridlock, as senators bickered over final legislative actions before heading to August recess. The House of Representatives also passed the measure by unanimous consent on Wednesday.
The program—which provides U.S. visas for Afghan military translators who are living under threat of Taliban retribution attacks—has been criticized over the years by refugee advocates for its bureaucracy, opaqueness, and slow pace.
However, advocates say that recent reforms to the program have improved it to the point where this is the first year the U.S. State Department has run out of the number of visas it was authorized by Congress to distribute.
“The State Department ran out of visas for the first time ever in Afghanistan. It’s great but we need more,” said 1st Lt. Matt Zeller, who runs the group No One Left Behind and has been on Capitol Hill this week lobbying along with the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project for an additional 1,000 visas.