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Sections 3.4 and 4.3 of this briefing were updated on 15 December 2021. Other sections have not been substantively updated since 10 September 2021.

A separate Library briefing considers additional immigration categories potentially relevant to Afghan nationals: CBP 9307 UK immigration routes for Afghan nationals.

The UK had a military presence in Afghanistan since October 2001. First as part of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (the UK’s Operation Veritas) and then as part of the International Security Assistance Force (Operation Fingal/Herrick). In October 2014, the UK withdrew all combat troops from Afghanistan and the UK’s role transitioned to one of training and support under NATO’s Resolute Support Mission (Operation Toral).

During Operation Herrick (2003-2014) the UK employed approximately 7,000 local Afghans to assist British forces in overcoming language and cultural barriers and to help them forge relationships with local communities in areas they were deployed in. Of those 7,000 locally employed civilians, 2,850 worked as interpreters and translators for British forces on the frontline, largely in Helmand province. Some of these people are entitled to relocation in the UK, or elsewhere in Afghanistan, and financial support.

Ex-gratia redundancy and resettlement scheme

In December 2012, the UK Government announced the withdrawal of British combat forces and shortly afterwards established an ex-gratia redundancy and resettlement scheme for locally employed civilians. To be eligible, individuals had to be in post working directly for the UK Government on 19 December 2012 and had to have served more than 12 months.

Those whose employment ended before this date, had resigned, or were dismissed for disciplinary reasons, were not eligible. Resettlement in the UK was also only available to local staff, including interpreters, that had worked in “particularly dangerous and challenging roles in Helmand”.

At that time, it was estimated that around 1,200 local staff would qualify for a redundancy package, and around half of those people would be eligible for resettlement in the UK.

The UK also operated an intimidation policy for locally employed civilians who faced threats to their safety, regardless of their role or length of service. Under this policy various support measures were available to local staff, including funded relocation within Afghanistan, and in the most serious of cases, resettlement in the UK.

The ex-gratia scheme and the intimidation policy were widely criticised, however. The criteria for eligibility of the ex-gratia scheme were labelled as “arbitrary” by MPs, Peers and ex-military chiefs, and the scheme was criticised for failing to take account of those who may have resigned because of safety fears. The focus of the intimidation policy on relocation within Afghanistan was also questioned.

Revisions to the scheme

Acknowledging that the eligibility criteria for resettlement in the UK were inadequate, revisions were made in 2018, and again in October 2020. Under the revised scheme individuals are now eligible for relocation if they have been made redundant, or resigned, on or after 1 May 2006 and had 12 months or more continuous service on the frontline in Helmand.

Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy

In December 2020 increasing instability and insecurity in Afghanistan prompted the UK Government to announce a new scheme that would replace the intimidation policy from 1 April 2021.

Whereas the previous policy only provided for relocation to the UK “in the most serious cases”, the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy offers relocation to any current or former employees who face intimidation or threat to life because of their employment by the UK Government. The scheme will operate indefinitely and run alongside the ex-gratia scheme until November 2022, when that scheme closes.

Relocation was not initially offered to people who had been dismissed from employment or were based outside of Afghanistan. Both decisions were widely criticised, particularly by senior ex-military personnel.

Impact of coalition withdrawal

Shortly after the ARAP scheme was announced, the UK Government confirmed that, in line with the United States and NATO, all remaining British service personnel in the country would withdraw by 11 September 2021. The withdrawal of international forces was, however, accompanied by the launch of a major Taliban offensive against Afghan Government forces. Since mid-July 2021 the Taliban has taken control of significant areas of the country, including strategic supply routes, border crossing and a number of provincial capitals. On 15 August Kabul was captured and Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, left the country.

The security situation on the ground increased concerns over those locally employed civilians, and their families, who remain in Afghanistan.

On 1 June 2021, the UK Government announced that applications through the ARAP would be expedited. In August, the MOD confirmed that eligibility for relocation would now also apply to those dismissed for minor administrative offences, and that applications could be made from a third country.

The Government’s decisions reflect that of the United States, which has accelerated its own relocation programme. In early July 2021 the US administration confirmed that existing applicants for relocation considered at risk would be now be moved to a third country while their applications are processed. The US decision led to calls from campaign groups for other coalition nations to follow suit.

In early June 2021 the Taliban issued a statement suggesting that interpreters and others who worked for coalition forces had nothing to fear, if “they show remorse”. However, many Afghans continue to fear Taliban reprisals for their role in assisting coalition forces. Taliban fighters have reportedly been conducting house to house searches looking for former coalition employees and have executed several former interpreters.

Deployment of British military personnel

The UK Government has consistently maintained that it would review its plans for the ARAP scheme should there be “a rapid deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan”.3F0F

On 12 August the Ministry of Defence confirmed that 600 military personnel would deploy to Afghanistan to assist in the evacuation of diplomatic staff and other British nationals in the country and to assist with the acceleration of the ARAP scheme.

December 2021: Changes to ARAP Immigration Rules

Statement of changes to the Immigration Rules HC 913 was laid on 14 December and came into effect on the same day.

The changes put more detailed information about the eligibility criteria for ARAP cases into the Immigration Rules. Previously, some of the scheme’s details had only been set out in policy guidance, and the Immigration Rules did not reflect some extensions announced over summer 2021.

The Government intends that the changes will provide greater clarity over the eligibility criteria for ARAP cases and ensure consistent decision-making across different Government departments. It acknowledges that the new wording of the rules narrows the grounds on which some cases qualify for relocation under ARAP.

Relocation in the UK

The ex gratia and ARAP schemes offer relocation in the UK to eligible Afghans and their pre-existing partners and minor dependent children. There is also some scope for additional family members to be eligible for relocation, depending on the facts of the case.

Following a policy change, in effect from September 2021, Afghans relocated to the UK are now being given indefinite (i.e. permanent) permission to remain in the UK immediately. The previous policy had been to grant permission to stay for up to five years initially with the possibility of subsequently applying for indefinite leave.

Accommodation and integration support in the UK are provided by participating local authorities, with some funding from central government. The Government confirmed a detailed package of funding and support, called ‘Operation Warm Welcome’, on 1 September 2021.

How many people are eligible for relocation in the UK?

It is not known exactly how many Afghans and family members might be eligible for relocation in the UK under the relocation scheme for locally employed civilians.

As of 12 August 2021, almost 3,100 former staff and family members had been relocated to the UK since 2014.

As of 7 December 2021, around 7,500 people had been relocated under the ARAP scheme since 1 April 2021. Of these, around 5,000 people were evacuated in August as part of Operation Pitting.

311 ARAP eligible individuals who had been called forward during Operation Pitting were not been evacuated before the operation ended. As at 10 December, 166 of those people remained in Afghanistan. Some people have been relocated to the UK from third countries.

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