Afghanistan: What this means for immigration

Afghanistan and Immigration Issues
The withdrawal of US and UK military forces from Afghanistan in August 2021 has left large numbers of Afghan nationals in that country at risk of persecution from the new Taliban rulers.

In 2019 there were estimated to be 79,000 people born in Afghanistan living in the UK.  Many of these people have fled Afghanistan to escape threats of violence against them and, in many cases, at the hands of the Taliban.  That violence may now be directed at family members who remain in Afghanistan and particularly now that the Taliban are in control of the whole country.

It is understandable that UK-based Afghans are eager to do all they can to assist their loved ones, who may be at risk, to leave Afghanistan and join them in the UK. What options are there currently?

Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP)
This UK government initiative opened in April 2021 has been available to Afghans who were employed by the UK government in Afghanistan. Those eligible will need to have been assessed to be at serious risk of threat to life.  The scheme can be accessed via the online application form and enquiries about the scheme can be made through the contact page.

The UK government is also operating a helpline for non-British nationals in Afghanistan and their family members at (+44)(0)2475 389 980. This helpline does not provide advice on eligibility for the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme mentioned below. 

It is not clear how those eligible may leave Afghanistan now that the general evacuation mission has ended but it is important for those who may benefit from the scheme to register and await advice from the UK government. Those who do enter the UK under the scheme will receive indefinite leave to remain upon arrival.

Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS)
The UK government has announced that they will resettle 5000 Afghan nationals in the UK in the coming year and a further 20,000 in the coming years. Those in the region who are most in need will be given priority, such as women, girls and children at risk.  The UK government is currently setting up the scheme and will publish further details when they are available. The scheme will not be open to those who have already entered the UK through irregular routes. Family members in the UK who are eager to help their relatives to apply under the scheme should regularly check the government’s guidance page for updates and announcements as to when the scheme will open and how those affected might access the scheme. 

British nationals and their family members
The Home Office are assisting British nationals and their family members to return to the UK in various ways. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) operates a global response centre. Those British nationals affected may contact the centre by phoning: (+44)(0)207 008 5000 or (+44)(0)1908 516 666. British nationals in Afghanistan are encouraged to register their presence with the FCDO. The FCDO can assist with travel documentation for those who have lost or do not have their passports or other documentation. They may also issue visa waivers on compassionate grounds. Any British national who has a non-British family member in the region should, at first instance, utilise this service rather than have their relatives apply under the standard Immigration Rules for visas to enter the UK.

Family members of Afghan citizens in the UK
Afghan nationals with refugee status in the UK may sponsor certain family members to join them in the UK under the UK family reunion policy. Spouses and children under 18 years of age are generally included in these rules while other family members may apply but will find it more difficult to succeed in their applications. Sponsors should seek advice before considering applications for any family members. 

Until further notice the British Embassy has suspended all operations in Afghanistan and those wishing to apply for a visa to come to the UK from Afghanistan will need to attend an appointment at an application centre in another country with suitable identification. Afghan refugees in the UK whose close family members have left Afghanistan may be able to now sponsor those family members to come to the UK under the family reunion policy.

It is important to note that the process of applying under the family reunion policy takes many months and the outcome is often uncertain. Entering the UK under the ACRS, once the scheme is opened, may prove to be quicker and easier for those who fall within the prioritised groups.

Other support
The support that immigration practitioners may offer to Afghan nationals who are still in Afghanistan is limited at this time as the usual visa application routes are not available in-country. Details of the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme have also yet to be announced.

At this time we would encourage UK-based Afghan nationals with family in Afghanistan to engage with local support groups such as the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA) and to regularly monitor the government’s guidance page for updates on the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme.