Currently, the Government of the United Kingdom is implementing two main relocation and assistance programs for Afghan nationals: the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS). These schemes are available for Afghan nationals who served UK armed forces, who are in a situation of vulnerability for their political or social activism or who belong to minorities or groups at risk.
This article provides some general details on these programs and the related procedures. For more information, please refer to the Afghanistan resettlement and immigration policy statement.
The UK Home Office set up a dedicated helpline to provide information and support to Afghan nationals on the UK’s evacuation efforts. Call handlers also provide additional support to those Afghan nationals who have recently arrived and are transitioning from managed quarantine accommodation.
The helpline number is +44 2475 389 980 (or 02475 389 980 in the UK).
This helpline is available 9am - 5pm UK time, Monday to Sunday. Please bear in mind that lines might be busy, but they say they will answer as soon as they can.
- Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy
Since April 2021, the UK government has put in place the “Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy” (ARAP), a scheme offering relocation or other assistance to those who served alongside the UK armed forces in Afghanistan, predominantly those who were employed directly, or in certain special cases via contractors, and who are assessed to be at serious risk as a result of such work. It is available to people regardless of rank or role, or length of time served, and builds on the long-standing support already available. The policy provides for the principal applicant to bring their close family members (spouse and under 18 children) to the UK and significantly expands the eligibility criteria from the previous scheme. Other family members may be resettled in exceptional circumstances.
The ARAP scheme remains open to eligible applicants.
It is also possible to make an application outside of Afghanistan and if successful will be supported by Embassies and High Commissions. Current or former staff who believe they qualify should check the eligibility criteria and apply by using the online application form.
Work is underway to support the logistics of relocation of those accepted as eligible for ARAP who are already in third countries and who were identified for relocation to the UK but are not yet in the UK.
Those who are in the ARAP scheme, regardless of when they arrived, will be given indefinite leave to remain in the UK, rather than limited leave which has been the approach up to now.
Those already in the UK with limited leave under the ARAP or the previous scheme for Afghan Locally Employed Staff, granted prior to 2 September 2021, can apply for indefinite leave to remain at any time during their period of limited leave (five years). There will be no charge for changing limited leave to indefinite leave to remain.
Those on the ARAP scheme will be able to apply for British citizenship after five years in the UK under existing rules and subject to the appropriate fee.
- Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme
In addition to the ARAP system, the Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) is supposed to resettle up to 20,000 people at risk, with 5,000 in the first year, in line with the New Plan for Immigration commitment to expand legal and safe routes to the UK.
Who’s eligible for ACRS?
The ACRS will provide those put at risk by recent events in Afghanistan with a route to safety. The scheme will priorities:
- those who have assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for values such as democracy, women’s rights and freedom of speech, rule of law (for example, judges, women’s rights activists, academics, journalists); and
- vulnerable people, including women and girls at risk, and members of minority groups at risk (including ethnic and religious minorities and LGBT).
- Some of those who arrived in the UK under the evacuation programmes, which included individuals who were considered to be at particular risk – including women’s rights activists, prosecutors and journalists - will be resettled under the ACRS.
- People who were notified by the UK government that they had been called forward or specifically authorized for evacuation, but were not able to board flights, will also be offered a place under the scheme if they subsequently come to the UK. Efforts are being made to facilitate their travel to the UK.
- The government will work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to identify and resettle refugees who have fled Afghanistan, replicating the approach the UK has taken in response to the conflict in Syria, and complementing the UK Resettlement Scheme which resettles refugees from across the world.
- The government will work with international partners and NGOs in the region to implement a referral process for those inside Afghanistan, (where safe passage can be arranged,) and for those who have recently fled to countries in the region. This element will seek to ensure protection for members of Afghan civil society who supported the UK and international community effort in Afghanistan. This category may include human and women’s rights activists, prosecutors and others at risk. This process will need some time to work through the details, which depends on the situation in Afghanistan.
Further details on eligibility
- The ACRS will be focused on people affected by events in Afghanistan, who are located in Afghanistan or in the region. While the majority of people resettled will be Afghan, nationals of other countries (for example, in mixed nationality families) will be eligible to be resettled through the scheme.
- Spouses, partners and dependent children under the age of 18 of identified eligible individuals will be eligible for the scheme. Other family members may be resettled in exceptional circumstances.
- Unaccompanied children may be offered resettlement where it is determined that resettlement to the UK is in their best interests and they have been identified as eligible for the scheme and. This is an assessment that will be made with expert partners. Where a child is unaccompanied it may be in the child’s best interest to remain in the region, where they are more likely to be reunited with their family.
- All individuals will be security screened as part of the process, including checks against security and other databases and capturing biometrics. Individuals who have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, terrorism or other serious crimes will not be eligible.
- Those resettled through the ACRS will receive fee-free indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK, the right to work and immediate access to benefits if necessary. They will be able to apply for British citizenship after five years in the UK under existing rules and subject to the appropriate fee.
- All those resettled will be expected to comply with UK laws. Anyone convicted of a serious criminal offence in the UK will be liable to have their indefinite leave revoked.
What’s Operation Warm Welcome?
On 31 August, the Government announced ‘Operation Warm Welcome’ to ensure that all those relocating to the UK can access the vital healthcare, housing, education and support into employment they need to fully integrate into our society. This includes English language training for those who need it.
According to this program, all those brought to the UK under ARAP and ACRS will have the right to work, access to education and healthcare and be able to apply for public funds. To ensure they will be supported properly, changes will be made to legislation so that, if necessary, people arriving under ARAP and ACRS do not need to meet the habitual residence test.
They will also receive comprehensive integration support as they start their new lives in the UK. A package of support to acclimatize to the UK, learn English, and find work, will enable rapid self-sufficiency and social integration in UK communities.
Family members of Afghan citizens in the UK
- For Afghan citizens in the UK, the Government’s family reunion policy allows a partner and children under 18 of that granted protection in the UK to join them here if they formed part of the family unit before the sponsor fled their country.
- There are separate provisions in the Immigration Rules to allow extended family to sponsor children to come here where there are serious and compelling circumstances. Refugees can also sponsor adult dependent relatives living overseas to join them where, due to age, illness, or disability, that person requires long-term personal care that can only be provided by relatives in the UK.
- Family members of refugee people in UK can follow the family reunion procedure, more details here.
Close family members of British citizens (and settled persons) evacuated or called forward as part of Operation PITTING
- The UK Home Office will grant indefinite leave to remain in the country to this group of evacuees, waiving the settlement fees for this group. They will not be required to meet the usual requirements, such as English language skills or minimum income requirement.
- This is the same approach as those evacuated under the ARAP scheme and other priority groups relocated to the UK under Operation PITTING and eligible for the ACRS.
- The UK Government will also give indefinite leave to remain to those who were called forward by the UK government but were not able to be evacuated or were evacuated to third countries.
Afghan family members of British citizens and settled persons who were not notified they were eligible for evacuation under Operation PITTING
For other non-UK family members of British citizens and settled persons who were not called forward as part of Op PITTING, or who are not offered resettlement under the ACRS, they will need to apply to come to the UK under the existing economic or family migration rules.
They will be expected to meet the eligibility requirements of their chosen route, which includes paying relevant fees and charges and providing biometrics. There is currently no option to give biometrics in Afghanistan.
The British Embassy in Kabul has suspended in-country operations and all UK diplomatic and consular staff have been temporarily withdrawn. The UK is working with international partners to secure safe routes out of Afghanistan as soon as they become available, but while the security situation remains extremely volatile. The UK Government recommends people in Afghanistan do not make applications and pay application fees at this time as they will not be considered until biometrics are provided.
Those Afghans who are outside of Afghanistan and able to get to a Visa Application Centre (VAC) to provide their biometrics are able to make an application in the usual way.
- UK Immigration System
Afghan nationals can apply for visas to enter the UK under the UK's immigration system if eligible. Details on UK immigration routes can be found here.
All UK visa application centers in Afghanistan are currently closed. However, applications for UK visas by Afghan citizens will be accepted at any UK visa application center globally.
In order to claim asylum in the UK, you will need to have arrived in the UK and will need to demonstrate that you are unable to return to Afghanistan due to your fear of persecution. The eligibility criteria for an asylum claim can be found here.
You should apply when you arrive in the UK at the border or the earliest opportunity that arises by contacting the asylum intake unit. Your asylum claim will be registered and you will have a screening interview where your and your family's identity details will be taken, alongside details of your journey to the UK, and you will be asked to briefly explain the reason for claiming asylum.
It is recommended that you seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity upon arriving in the UK. If you cannot afford legal advice, you may be eligible for legal aid and additional support.
When claiming asylum, you will need documents such as passports and travel documents, any other ID documents, and anything that you have that you think will help your application. Information about documents and the initial interview can be found here.
After your screening interview, the UK's Home Office will review your case and decide whether your claim is admissible. If you have passed through another country during your journey to the UK, or have connections to a third country, the Home Office may consider another country should be responsible for your asylum claim, and they may try to see if that country will accept your return so they can process your asylum claim. As such, an asylum claim should ordinarily be made in the first safe country of arrival after exiting Afghanistan.
If your claim is to be considered in the UK you will be sent an Asylum Registration Card ("ARC") to your UK address, unless you have been detained. You will then have a second interview with a Home Office caseworker (known as the "substantive asylum interview"), which is much more detailed. Further information regarding this process can be found here. It is important to keep records of any threats, information you have that you are being targeted, and to share these with the Home Office. You should provide details of all of the reasons that you fear the Taliban. If you have legal representation you should discuss these with your lawyer when you speak to them also.
After the substantive asylum interview, you will need to wait until a decision is made on your asylum claim, which could take at least 6 months. For more information on this, see here.
If your asylum claim is successful you will be granted permission to stay in the UK for five years. After five years you may be eligible to apply for permanent status in the UK. If your asylum claim is unsuccessful you will usually have a right of appeal, or another legal option to consider, which it will be very important to discuss with a lawyer.