Afghans who worked with the British government and military will be able to move to the UK permanently, the Home Office has confirmed.
The department announced the decision as it revealed more details of how its plan, dubbed Operation Warm Welcome, to help Afghans rebuild their lives in the UK would work.
Former Afghan staff and their family members eligible for the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap), which prioritises relocation to the UK for current or former locally employed staff who have been assessed to be under serious threat to life, will be given immediate indefinite leave to remain as opposed to only five years’ temporary residency as previously permitted.
Those who have already been relocated in the UK with temporary residency can now upgrade their immigration status for free, allowing them access to permanent jobs with unrestricted rights to work.
The UK has already evacuated more than 15,000 people since 13 August, of whom more than 8,000 are Arap claimants.
More than 100 councils have come forward to help families find homes, with more than 2,000 places already confirmed, the Home Office said.
Afghan resettlement minister Victoria Atkins said she is “confident” more councils will sign up to resettlement schemes, with around a third having made firm offers so far.
Atkins said Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick will meet with local government chiefs on Thursday to discuss “how we can make this scheme work fairly across the country”.
“We’ve had firm offers from at least a third of councils and we’re in talks with many, many more, so I’m confident that number will change over the coming days,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Separate to Arap is the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme for citizens deemed most at risk under the Taliban.
Atkins said it is yet to be decided whether those individuals will get indefinite leave to remain.
“These decisions will be made in due course,” she told Sky News. “But I very much hope from the announcements today British people, but also importantly Afghans who have moved to our country very recently, really get the sense of how warm and welcoming the government wants to be towards them.”
All arrivals are being offered the coronavirus vaccine. So far more than 700 arrivals have left quarantine and received their first dose of the jab.
The government has also pledged:
– £12 million to help enrol children in schools quickly, to help with transport, specialist teachers and English language support;
– £3 million will go towards helping families access healthcare and register with a GP;
– £5 million so councils can provide housing support;
– Funding for up to 300 undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships for Afghans at UK universities and adults will also be able to access English language courses free of charge;
– Liaison officers to help families get in touch with councils and other services they may need, as well as help them find accommodation and get a National Insurance number;
– An online “portal” so offers of support, such as jobs, accommodation and donations of clothing and toys, can be registered.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We owe an immense debt to those who worked with the Armed Forces in Afghanistan and I am determined that we give them and their families the support they need to rebuild their lives here in the UK.
“I know this will be an incredibly daunting time, but I hope they will take heart from the wave of support and generosity already expressed by the British public.”
Victoria Atkins, who has been appointed Afghan Resettlement minister, said: “The stability of indefinite leave, the security of access to healthcare and the opportunity of education are the foundation upon which those resettled to the UK can build.”
The government is still developing the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, to take in up to 20,000 refugees who were forced to flee their home or face threats of persecution from the Taliban.
As many as 5,000 could arrive in the first year and will also be offered permanent residency. Some £200 million has been committed to the scheme so far.