Research Report Examining Afghan Evacuees’ Resettlement: Insights and Lessons for Future Humanitarian Populations
Diana Guelespe, Hamutal Bernstein, Jessica Darrow, Soumita Bose, Shruti Nayak, Danielle Kwon
Display Date
Download Report
(701.74 KB)

The abrupt and traumatic evacuation of more than 80,000 Afghans to the US in the fall of 2021 coincided with an ongoing global pandemic and a worsening US housing crisis. The US’s resettlement infrastructure at the time was also weak as it was expanding and transitioning under a new administration after historically low refugee admissions levels in previous years. Afghan evacuees were caught in the middle of this policy shift and have experienced challenges with housing, employment, and the immigration system, among other issues.

Why this matters

We need to examine existing resources and policies to address ongoing services for Afghan arrivals and other populations that may come to the US under similar circumstances. Since the arrival of Afghan evacuees, several other groups have been provided humanitarian parole, a two-year temporary authorization to enter and work in the US without a pathway to lawful permanent residence status, now estimated at over one million. Although they may have distinct experiences from Afghan evacuees, including eligibility for government-funded refugee resettlement services, they may confront similar challenges navigating the immigration system, securing stable employment and housing, and seeking to be reunited with family members. Establishing a framework of policies for these circumstances that better prepare the US government, resettlement agencies, and other groups to meet the needs of people more cohesively during humanitarian crises can lead to improved experiences for all involved and reduce the pressure on existing systems and institutions.

What we found

Among interviews with Afghan evacuees, we found the following:

  • Frequent relocations due to temporary housing placements, poor housing conditions, lack of affordable housing options, and a desire to live closer to family, friends, and an Afghan community delayed evacuees’ ability to establish themselves in their communities sooner.
  • Humanitarian parole permeated several aspects of evacuees’ lives and negatively impacted their ability to secure stable employment. The main challenge was the long delay in receiving resolutions to their asylum cases and work authorization cards. Their immigration status also impacted their mental health because of the lack of clarity on when they would be reunited with family members they had been separated from.
  • Most men and women reported feeling stressed, depressed, and in a state of poor mental health. They primarily attributed this to being separated from their children and family members left behind in Afghanistan and other countries. Men reported employment as an additional stressor, and women reported being homesick and lonely. Both men and women expressed frustration with the US health care system and the long delays to receive medical care.
  • Most women expressed wanting more opportunities to learn or improve their English, get a driver's license, meet other Afghan women to exchange knowledge or skills with them, and get jobs once their children were school age. The availability and cost of child care options and transportation were challenges.
  • Most men and women who worked said their jobs provided adequate income to cover basic expenses, but they could not save money for the future. Several of the men reported working second jobs with ride-sharing companies to earn extra income. Several who had children in the US also reported difficulty in affording leisure activities with their children.
  • Overall, most evacuees reported contentment with their lives at the time of their interviews. They expressed gratitude for the peace, security, opportunities, and freedoms they have in the US but also recognized the hardships of life in the US.

Among interviewees with community stakeholders, we found the following:

  • The Afghan community at these three sites volunteered and contributed a large amount of time and resources and were crucial in aiding resettlement efforts. The main challenge encountered in their efforts was a lack of access to government funding to support evacuees. Stakeholders suggested actively involving the Afghan community and leaders during funding and programmatic planning discussions.
  • The main challenges reported by community stakeholders in the early phase of evacuees’ arrival included insufficient and restricted funding and limited staff capacity to address urgent and ongoing needs. Significant language gaps impeded their work as they sought to support large numbers of arrivals, and as they contended with bureaucratic red tape, staff burnout, and COVID-19 health protocols.
  • Stakeholders identified key gaps in services for the evacuees, including a lack of affordable housing and housing discrimination, direct cash supports, mental health services, legal services, recertification processes for professionals, accessible English language classes, as well as longer-term services.
  • To support response efforts, stakeholders reported drawing on partnership between resettlement agencies and a wide range of other stakeholder organizations, networks connecting stakeholders to coordinate with each other, and a variety of government funding resources.
  • Best practices identified by stakeholders included empowering evacuees and other Afghan community members to act as connectors as they resettled in the US, collaborating with government and organizations to address urgent needs and remove or expedite bureaucratic barriers, bridging the cultural and informational gap between evacuees and the broader community, and fostering social connections with members of the broader local community and other Afghan evacuees.
  • Key recommendations from stakeholder and evacuee interviewees to help meet the ongoing needs of Afghans include (1) passing the Afghan Adjustment Act, (2) quickly reunifying family members, (3) supporting access to mental health services for an extended period and with linguistically and culturally responsive staff, and (4) increasing accessibility of education and employment services.
  • Recommendations for measures that would be helpful for future humanitarian populations include (1) engaging community leaders, groups, and stakeholders that are culturally aligned prior to the arrival and throughout the extended resettlement process, (2) providing extended and ongoing training and orientations for community stakeholders and new arrivals, (3) ensuring agencies, organizations, and groups working with the new arrivals have trained staff who speak their native language, and (4) increasing communication and collaboration across community stakeholder groups.

How we did it

Findings are based on 36 interviews with Afghan evacuees who arrived in the US through the US airlift in the fall of 2021, and 51 interviews with community stakeholders across three study sites—Chicago, San Antonio, and northern Virginia.

Research Areas Immigration Families Race and equity
Tags Immigrant children, families, and communities Immigrant-serving organizations Immigrant communities and racial equity Federal, state, and local immigration and integration policy Refugees and global migration
Policy Centers Income and Benefits Policy Center Office of Race and Equity Research
Research Methods Qualitative data analysis
States Texas Illinois Virginia
Cities San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
Related content