Tens of thousands of Afghan nationals risked their lives to help the US military in Afghanistan, many of them as interpreters alongside American soldiers in combat. They are more desperate than ever to leave now, following the Taliban’s takeover, but a quick, safe passage to the United States may prove elusive.

According to the International Rescue Committee, over 300,000 Afghan civilians have been affiliated with the American mission during its two-decade presence in the country, but only a minority qualify for refugee protection in the United States.

Among them are those who served in the United States military and qualified for special immigrant visas for themselves and their families. Thousands, on the other hand, are stuck in a years-long backlog that is only growing as the situation on the ground deteriorates following the withdrawal of American troops.

Approximately 2,000 of these people, whose cases had already been approved, arrived in the United States on evacuation flights from Kabul, the capital, which began in July. According to refugee resettlement organizations, the most recent arrivals arrived on American soil late on Sunday before being processed at a military base in Virginia. President Biden said in a speech to the nation on Monday that more Afghan families would be airlifted in the “coming days,” but he didn’t elaborate.

As militants tightened their grip on Afghanistan’s territory, refugee advocates expressed concern that thousands of vulnerable people would be left behind, at their peril. The Taliban have closed border crossings, leaving Kabul International Airport as the only way out of the country.

Those who supported the US mission risked death at the hands of the Taliban, according to Jenny Yang, vice president for advocacy and policy at World Relief, which has resettled hundreds of special immigrant visa recipients in recent years.

Since 2002, the US has used Afghans to assist US troops, diplomats, and aid workers. As a result of their association with the United States, many were threatened, kidnapped, and attacked, and an unknown number were killed. As a result, Congress established special immigrant visa programs to provide such workers with a pathway to legal residency in the United States.

However, the programs, which have widespread bipartisan support, have been marred by lengthy processing times.

Applicants must demonstrate that they have worked for the US government or a related entity for at least two years. They must provide a recommendation from an American supervisor, among other documents, to demonstrate that they provided valuable service. They must also demonstrate that they have faced, or are facing, a serious threat as a result of their work for the United States.

Critics claim that the US government has delayed special immigrant visa approvals for several administrations by requiring an unusual amount of documentation as part of a cumbersome 14-step process.

Applicants have faced average wait times of three years, despite Congress’s requirement that it take no longer than nine months. Many people have been waiting for the outcome of their cases for up to a decade. Recipients of special immigrant visas are eligible for the same resettlement benefits as refugees. They arrive with green cards and can apply for citizenship in the United States after five years. They are not, however, classified as refugees, and their admission does not count against the number of refugees that the United States commits to admitting each year.

Since July, the US government has evacuated approximately 2,000 interpreters and their family members whose cases had already been approved. They were transported from Kabul to Fort Lee, a military base south of Richmond, Virginia, and many have since been distributed to cities across the country.

On Monday, Garry Reid, a civilian Pentagon official in charge of the evacuations, said that 700 Afghan allies had been evacuated in the previous 48 hours. He stated that the US would increase its efforts by receiving more departing Afghans at US military bases, but he did not provide a timetable.

Last week, US officials announced that 1,000 personnel would be dispatched to Qatar, where many of those fleeing Afghanistan are congregating, to expedite visa processing.

The Biden administration had also been negotiating with several Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries to temporarily house some people until they could be resettled in the United States.