As fighting intensifies ahead of the U.S. military pullout at the end of the month, the Biden administration stepped up its efforts to assist at-risk Afghan residents fleeing Taliban attacks.

According to the State Department, “thousands” of Afghans are now eligible to resettle in the United States permanently. Current and former employees of American news organizations, development agencies, and other U.S.-funded relief organizations make up this figure, FOX 13 News reported.

The move, however, comes with a crucial caveat that could severely limit the number of people who can benefit. Applicants must leave Afghanistan to begin the adjudication process in a third country, which could take 12-14 months. The U.S. would not finance their departures or stays there.

“The U.S. objective remains a peaceful, secure Afghanistan,” the State Department said. “However, in light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the U.S. government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement.”

The U.S. Refugee Admission Program’s new “Priority 2” category was designed to address the needs of Afghans who do not qualify for an existing Special Immigrant Visa. Afghans and members of their immediate family who may be in danger due to their country’s affiliation with the United States qualify for Priority 2.

Afghans must be nominated by a U.S. government agency or the most senior civilian U.S. citizen employee of a U.S.-based media outlet or nongovernmental organization to be considered for the Priority 2 category.

President Joe Biden had been urged by rights groups to do more to protect Afghans who were linked with the United States but did not work directly for the U.S. government.

The groups stated the Afghans suffer the same risks as their counterparts covered by the Special Immigrant Visa provisions.

Approximately 20,000 Afghans who served as translators or in other positions for the U.S. government have already registered to resettle in the U.S. under the visa program.

The first group of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants to pass security vetting arrived in the United States on Friday. The majority of the candidates worked as translators or in other positions for U.S. troops or diplomats. The first 221 people are part of the 2,500 who will be taken to the United States in the coming days.

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