With the collapse of the former Afghan republic in August 2021, Azizullah Jahish suffered two losses.

The new Taliban leadership fired him from his job as a civil engineer at the Ministry of Urban Development. Around the same time, he was informed that a U.S. Fulbright scholarship he expected to launch in 2022 had been canceled.

Due to “significant barriers,” an email sent to Jahish from Fulbright administrators said, “the selection process for the 2022-2023 academic year will not continue.”

Jahish was among the 140 semifinalists, some of them women, who expected to begin their graduate programs at U.S. universities in 2022.

Now the US State Department says it is considering resuming the flagship educational scholarship program for Afghanistan for the next academic year.

“We continue to work on the safe resumption of the Fulbright program for Afghan students. “While conditions on the ground have not changed, we are making plans for the 2023-2024 academic year of the Afghanistan Fulbright program,” a State Department spokesman told VOA.

“For that cohort, we are considering the 2022-2023 semifinalist applicants.”

The semi-finalists have already gone through most of the aptitude and testing procedures, including an English language requirement, which all applicants must pass in order to be considered for the scholarship.

“This is the best news,” Jahish told VOA, adding that he chose Texas A&M University for his master’s degree in water resource management.

The United States evacuated more than 124,000 individuals from Afghanistan last year. For fear of retaliation from the Taliban or loss of jobs and rights among new leaders, many Afghans have also migrated out of their country over the past 10 months.

One Fulbright semi-finalist who did not want to be named due to security issues said many of her cohorts had already left Afghanistan.

To stay in touch and exchange information, the semifinalists created a WhatsApp group.

“Some contacts in the WhatsApp group have changed their numbers and country codes,” Jahish said, adding that most were still in Afghanistan.

The US embassy in Kabul, which previously ran the Fulbright program, remains closed and Afghans wishing to travel to the US must submit visa applications to a third country.

Unlike students who receive scholarships from U.S. academic institutions and have to pay visa fees, Fulbright applicants do not pay for visas or airline tickets.

No new applications

About 4,000 foreign students from dozens of countries receive Fulbright scholarships annually. Since its inception in 1946, more than 400,000 students and academics from 160 countries have participated in the program.

The State Department has said it does not accept new applications from Afghans for the 2023-2024 cycle. It is also uncertain whether Afghans will be able to apply for the academic year 2024-2025.

From 2003 to 2021, more than 950 Afghans received Fulbright scholarships, mostly for two-year master’s degree programs.

The U.S. also spent more than $ 145 billion on other reconstruction and humanitarian and development projects in Afghanistan during the same period.

When the US-backed Afghan government collapsed last year, the US government stopped all development aid, including the Fulbright program, to Afghanistan. However, the US has remained the largest humanitarian donor to the country and has pledged more than $ 750 million in humanitarian aid over the past year.

“The United States has a lasting commitment to the people of Afghanistan,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said in a statement on Tuesday, announcing $ 55 million in funding for an earthquake response in Afghanistan.

“It is essential to build a people-to-people relationship, especially after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Such cultural, academic and human connections are more important than ever,” Mohsin Amin, a former Fulbright scholar from Afghanistan, told VOA.

Despite deep divisions between the Taliban and the US government and widespread accusations that the Taliban are targeting Afghans who had links to US programs in Afghanistan, Mohsin said Afghan Fulbright scholars would still be able to work in the country.

“I believe that some of the Fulbright scholars in the non-profit organization and the private sector are in Afghanistan, and some are retained by the Taliban in their positions of government,” Mohsin said, adding that the Taliban must also respect the technical expertise provided by the US educated Afghans bring. in Afghanistan.

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