Vermont will become the new home for dozens of displaced Afghans in the coming weeks, Gov. Phil Scott's office announced on Thursday. The U.S. State Department notified state officials this week that the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) has been approved to welcome up to 100 refugees from Afghanistan to the state.
Vermont is one of 46 states that will be destinations for some of the Afghan refugees evacuated as the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban resurged. New Hampshire and Maine will both welcome 100 Afghans as well, according to the Associated Press. California will take 5,200 people, the most of any state.
In August, Scott sent a letter to the State Department expressing his desire to resettle Afghans in Vermont. He said in Thursday's release that the U.S. has "a moral obligation to help the people of Afghanistan, who did so much to help us in the war on terror." Welcoming refugees "also strengthens communities, schools, our workforce, culture and economy," Scott wrote.
State refugee office director Tracy Dolan, who assumed that role on August 30 after working as the Vermont Department of Health's deputy commissioner, said in the release that the approval "is a wonderful opportunity for Vermont’s communities and for our businesses who are very interested in expanding our workforce and filling our job vacancies.”
The Vermont chapter of USCRI, a national nonprofit resettlement agency, will work with the State Refugee Office, part of the Vermont Agency of Human Services, along with schools, employers, landlords, and health and social service programs to welcome the Afghans. Before arriving in Vermont, refugees will receive work authorization and complete medical and security screenings. In recent weeks, USCRI Vermont has put out the call for volunteers on Facebook and has said that "an enormous number of Vermonters" have contacted them asking how they can help Afghan families.
In an interview on Friday, Dolan said refugees will likely begin arriving in Vermont in early October through the Burlington International Airport. The first group will be settled in Chittenden County. Volunteers will temporarily host refugees in their homes until they can secure more permanent housing, Dolan said. USCRI will initially be looking to those who have housed refugees in the past to serve as host families. The state is also working to identify another community — outside of Chittenden County — to settle a second wave of refugees. Dolan said that location is yet to be determined, but it must have housing infrastructure and opportunities for employment and education.
According to a report posted on USCRI's website this month, many of the Afghans evacuated from Kabul will enter the U.S. under "humanitarian parole," which is granted when there are "urgent humanitarian reasons." Between 1975 and 1979, the U.S. accepted around 170,000 Vietnamese refugees as humanitarian parolees. Afghans will be eligible for that status for two years, which will allow them to work in the U.S., but does not qualify them for federal benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Dolan said that the parolee status also gives refugees a small one-time cash payment of $1,225 and temporary medical coverage for health screenings. But the White House has also asked Congress to pass a short-term continuing resolution by October 1 allocating $6.4 billion to the processing and resettlement of Afghan refugees. The state is hopeful that the federal support will come through, Dolan said, but Vermont is also looking to see if any additional money is available through Federal Emergency Management Agency or the American Rescue Plan to support resettlement.
The State Department this week also gave the green light to a new refugee resettlement office in Brattleboro, to be run by the Ethiopian Community Development Council, an agency that works with refugees around the world. ECDC will submit its own proposal to the State Department and hopes to welcome an additional 25 Afghans to Brattleboro in the coming months.
Updated 8/17/2021 with information from Tracy Dolan.