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The United States aims to conclude its military mission in Afghanistan on August 31, 2021. Two weeks ahead of that date, the Taliban have taken power in Afghanistan and thousands of Afghans are attempting to flee the country. As we consider approaches to global humanitarian aid, this article provides some context on our current Afghan community in the United States and Minnesota.

Our Afghan community is relatively small.

Nationally, nearly 125,000 people report having Afghan ancestry. In Minnesota, the estimate stands around 500 people.

People of Afghan ancestry compose less than 1% of every state’s population. California is home to the largest Afghan population, with more than 50,000 residents reporting Afghan ancestry. California’s Afghan population is more than twice the size of Afghan communities in any other state.

Thousands of Afghan immigrants have resettled in the United States through the Special Immigrant Visa Program.

Special immigrants are people who may qualify for permanent, employment-based admissions to the United States. In 2009, Congress passed legislation to provide Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to Afghans who work as translators, interpreters, and in other positions performing sensitive activities for the U.S. government in Afghanistan. The visa program allows wartime allies and their families, who may fear for their safety after supporting the U.S. mission, to resettle in the United States.

Annual caps on SIV arrivals under the program have ranged from 1,500 to 4,000 immigrants per year, with the ability to carry unused visas over to subsequent years. Nationally, SIV arrivals peaked between October 2016 and September 2017, when nearly 17,000 Afghan immigrants came to the United States through the visa program.

Fewer Afghan immigrants have been admitted to the United States as refugees.

A refugee is a person who has experienced persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion. Nearly 500 Afghan refugees have been admitted to the United States since October 2020. In recent years, at least three times the number of Afghan immigrants have come to the United States through the SIV program compared to refugee resettlement programs.

Here again, California is a primary destination for Afghan refugees. Since October 2020, about one-third of all Afghan refugees have initially resettled in California. No Afghan refugees have resettled in Minnesota this year. In fact, over the last 10 years, only four Afghan refugees initially resettled in our state. When Afghan refugees and immigrants arrive in Minnesota, most tend to establish residence in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

Want to learn more?

This is only a small glimpse at our Afghan community locally and nationally, meant to provide context on our neighbors and communities. If you want to dig deeper, here are a few resources:

  • Show me the data! The Refugee Processing Center (RPC) maintains current and archived data records of refugee and SIV arrivals by region, state, and nationality. The RPC is operated by the U.S Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
  • Show me more data! Minnesota’s Refugee and International Health Program monitors nationality, initial county of resettlement, demographics, and disease trends among newly arriving refugees. The program is operated by the Minnesota Department of Health, in partnership with local health departments.
  • Tell me about federal immigration policy. Learn more about federal immigration policy on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
  • How did we get here? The history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is long and complex, but several national news outlets are doing a strong job of reporting on current and historic events. I rely on daily reporting by MPR News, The Daily powered by The New York Times, Post Reports from The Washington Post, and Consider This from NPR. I’m curious to know…whose reporting do you trust?
  • Who are the people in the SIV program? A 2019 PBS Independent Lens documentary "The Interpreters" follows the lives of three interpreters from Iraq and Afghanistan via the SIV program, and the hardships they and their families face.