Arriving in the United States as one of the Afghan evacuees, Muhammad Nazar is surprised to learn that even basic health services in the world’s richest country — one that has also spent millions of dollars improving health care in his home country — aren’t free.
His surprise has now developed into concerns about the potential loss of Medicaid, the state-sponsored health insurance program for low-income Americans that currently covers his family.
To remain eligible for full medical coverage in Virginia, the Nazar family of five must earn less than $49,000 per year before taxes.
“I’m trying to work hard here, but I’m afraid we could lose Medicaid if we’re just making just a little over $49,000 a year,” Nazar told VOA.
Uprooted from his home in Afghanistan, Nizar works 18 hours a day, as a part-time sales assistant and a full-time food delivery driver.
“I have to pay $28,000 in annual rent and utility bills for a two-bedroom apartment, there’s food, clothes, appliances, and everything else to pay,” he said during his lunch break from work.
“I can’t afford health insurance self-financed or with a partial employer contribution… We can still be poor, but we can’t get health coverage.”
Just last month, Medicaid paid more than $4,000 for his children’s dental fees.
“America has the largest economy in the world, and it doesn’t make sense to have an expensive and complicated healthcare system,” Nizar said.
Temporary protection status
The US government has offered Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to tens of thousands of Afghans who have been evacuated to the United States under a program called Operation Allies’ Welcome. Under the program, Afghans can live and work in the United States until November 2023.
Last month, US lawmakers from a bill to support Ukraine removed a provision to create a legal pathway for the permanent settlement of displaced Afghans.
It is unclear how and when the US government will determine the permanent status of the displaced Afghans, but the uncertainty worries some Afghans.
“I’ve seen people who have spent years waiting for their status to be determined, and I’m afraid we fall into the same category,” said Muhammad Nawid, an Afghani who entered the United States in September without a visa and received humanitarian aid. Parole.
While the parole allows Noid and others to remain for now, without changes in US policy, they cannot sponsor the immigration of their close family members who remain in Afghanistan.
Over the past nine months, nearly 15,000 Afghans have immigrated to Canada under a special immigration program called Afghans Welcome.
“Our commitment is to provide protection to at least 40,000 Afghans at risk as quickly and safely as possible,” a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada told VOA.
While most Afghans immigrated to Canada through a humanitarian program and a separate program for Afghans who worked for Canada in Afghanistan, dozens of Afghans also crossed the US-Canada border to seek asylum.
Last year, 416 Afghans sought asylum at Canadian border entry points. Between January and March of this year, 177 Afghans registered their petitions for asylum at the US-Canada border, according to Canadian government figures.
“Canada has shown that it is able to welcome Afghans quickly. They have a robust refugee reception system that has not suffered the same political attacks we have seen here in the United States,” Chris Purdy of Human Rights First, an American based NGO, told VOA .
Immigration in the United States has long been a contentious political area. As of February, there were 9.5 million cumulative immigration cases with USCIS, according to agency data.
There are also allegations of unequal treatment of migrants and asylum seekers.
Last month, in a letter to President Joe Biden, several US senators expressed concerns about the “inconsistency” in the treatment of Afghans and Ukrainians who sought entry to the United States under the humanitarian parole program.
“We commend the administration’s efforts to welcome to our shores all those who have been displaced by war and its consequences. But the divergent policies and requirements for those seeking asylum in the United States depending on their country of origin are of concern to us,” He said the message.
The United States and Canada share data and information about refugees and immigrants.
Under the 2004 convention, refugees must seek protection in the first country they arrive in – whether it is the United States or Canada. According to a study by Harvard Law School.
“A second immigration effort would be a very risky proposition for any Afghan to be brought to the United States,” Purdy said.
Of the 177 Afghans who crossed the border and sought asylum in Canada, 96 were accepted and the rest are on hold. None of them were rejected.
For Nissar, the Afghani evacuee in Virginia, moving his family across the border to Canada appears to be an attractive option, at least in some respects.
“What hurts me is that I will have to restart from scratch…but if Canada offers us a path to a normal life, we will take it,” he said.