The UK has introduced special immigration provisions for some Afghan civilians who were previously employed by the UK government, and a resettlement scheme for certain groups of people in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. It has not introduced concessions for other Afghans with links to the UK. For example, Afghan family members of UK residents are subject to the same visa requirements as other nationalities.
The GOV.UK page Support for British and non-British nationals in Afghanistan provides an overview of UK immigration routes potentially relevant to people in Afghanistan and provides contact details for people in need of assistance from the UK Government.
There are no functioning visa application centres in Afghanistan. Afghans can apply at a centre in a neighbouring country if they judge it is safe to travel and can obtain the necessary permissions to enter the country.
Resettlement and relocation schemes
The UK has established bespoke immigration routes for some people affected by the situation in Afghanistan.
The Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS)
The Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) aims to resettle in the UK up to 20,000 people over the next few years.
It launched in January 2022 and around 6,300 places have been used so far for referral pathway 1 which is for people who arrived in the UK under the summer 2021 evacuation exercise (‘Operation Pitting’).
The two remaining referral pathways launched to some eligible groups of people still in Afghanistan or neighbouring countries in summer 2022. In the first year of operation they are expected to provide resettlement to:
- Up to 2,000 Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries, referred by the UN Refugee Agency under pathway 2. Four people have been resettled under pathway 2, as at the end of September 2022.
- Up to 1,500 eligible at-risk Garda World and British Council contractors and Chevening alumni (and family members), under pathway 3. Over 11,400 expressions of interest were submitted under this pathway during the 8-week application window. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has begun to notify applicants of its eligibility decisions. No-one has arrived in the UK through pathway 3 so far. Over 750 people (main applicants and dependants) have been identified as eligible in principle and are at varying stages of the relocation process.
The ex gratia and ARAP schemes for former employees
Some Afghan civilians (and family members) who were previously employed by the British government and fear reprisals from the Taliban may be eligible for relocation in the UK.
- The ex-gratia redundancy and resettlement scheme ran until 30 November 2022. It catered for people who worked directly for HMG on 1 May 2006 and had served for more than 12 months.
- The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) is open to any current or former staff employed by HMG in Afghanistan since 2001 assessed to be at serious risk of threat to life. Eligibility is regardless of employment status, rank or role, or length of time served. The scheme is open-ended and there is no limit or quota on the number of people eligible.
As at 3 November 2022 over 11,600 individuals had been relocated to the UK under the ARAP scheme (including during the August 2021 evacuation). The Ministry of Defence estimates that around 4,600 Afghans (including dependants) are still eligible for relocation. Around 1,600 of these people have already received a relocation offer. Not all are expected to relocate.
There are over 72,200 ARAP applications still waiting a decision, the vast majority of which are anticipated to be ineligible for relocation.
Issues and concerns
Criticisms common to the ACRS, ARAP and ex gratia schemes include:
- That the eligibility criteria should be broader, to reflect better the level of demand and UK’s moral obligations to the Afghan people.
- That the pace and scale of resettlement/relocation efforts is insufficient, leaving vulnerable people at significant risk.
- That the schemes fail to provide all at-risk Afghans who have links with the UK with a safe and legal alternative to an irregular journey.
- That reception arrangements for Afghans brought to the UK are failing to support effective integration. In particular, the use of hotels as bridging accommodation and lack of progress in resolving barriers to finding suitable long-term accommodation.
Many of these issues were raised during a Backbench Business Committee debate on the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme: Pathway 3, held on 19 January 2023.
Other immigration routes
Depending on their circumstances, Afghan citizens who are ineligible for the above schemes might be able to qualify for another UK visa route, such as:
- Refugee family reunion rules: Available to ‘pre-flight’ immediate family members (partners and dependent children) of adult refugees.
- Family visa rules: Apply to other types of family case, such as relatives of British citizens and people settled in the UK. Subject to significant application fees and more onerous eligibility requirements.