The UK Nationality and Borders Bill puts Afghans fleeing the Taliban at risk of being criminalized, warned UN representative for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor.
Ms Pagliuchi-Lor said: “There is something ironic in the way we are so concerned about them [the Afghan refugees] while they are there, but we are ready not to consider them when they come to the UK.”
This rings true even as the Home Office unveiled details of their much-anticipated resettlement scheme for Afghan refugees. Under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS), the government has committed to welcome 5000 people fleeing Afghanistan in its first year of operation, working up to 20 000 places over the next few years. During the height of conflict in 2014-2015, the government resettled a similar amount of Syrian refugees. Compared to the amount of people needing protection, it is almost negligible.
The Home Office purports to give Afghans a “warm welcome” in the UK. The ACRS is meant to provide that, together with the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) protecting Afghans who assisted the UK government in its Afghan operations.
Both schemes are not only limited in their applicability and strict on eligibility, but also fail to prepare the lucky few who manage to qualify for the hostile immigration system in place once they reach the UK. Lack of housing for refugees, slow and complicated administrative processes, and difficulty accessing public funds are just a few of the challenges that lay ahead.
As for those who do not qualify and find their way to the island through other means, a controversial two-tier asylum system which criminalises their means of travel may be awaiting them. The two-tiered asylum system, proposed in the Nationality and Borders Bill differentiates between those who come to the UK through official ways (e.g. through resettlement or family reunion visas) and those who make their way here through more illicit ways. The Bill has been criticised much before on this blog, in the press and internationally. In May 2021, the UNHCR called the two-tiered approach to asylum applications discriminatory and in breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
The UN Representative for the UNHCR confirmed that the Bill could criminalise Afghan refugees trying to escape the Taliban if they travel by illegal routes. If the Bill becomes law, anyone entering the UK by an unlawful route (e.g. small boat crossings) could be barred from applying for asylum ever again. They would not have access to public funds, be disqualified from having their family members joining them, and be at risk of a jail sentence of up to four years.
Resources for those affected by the crisis in Afghanistan are available on the Refugee Council website.
Whether you are an EU citizen or another non-UK national (except for Irish), the same rules now apply for everyone who wants to come work in the UK from abroad. The main route for those wanting to work in the UK is the Skilled Worker Visa, which is open to individuals of all nationalities holding an eligible skilled job offer in the UK from a Home Office approved sponsor. How does this work?
You cannot get a Skilled Worker visa for just any job offer. Eligible skilled jobs are jobs which meet certain skill and salary requirements, set out in Part 5 of the Immigration Rules. If your employer is approved by the Home Office as a sponsor, you will get a “certificate of sponsorship” from them with information about the role you have been offered in the UK. That job description must then meet salary requirements (generally of at least £25,600 per year, unless your job is a shortage occupation job, you are under 26, a recent graduate, in professional training, have a PhD, or work in education or healthcare) and skill requirements (usually at least A-level equivalent). You will also have to prove your knowledge of English, unless you are from an English-speaking country.
On a Skilled Worker Visa, you can stay in the UK for up to five years before needing to extend the visa, depending on your employment contract conditions etc. Once you have a Skilled Worker Visa, you can work full-time in your eligible job, study in the UK, bring your partner and/or children to the UK, do voluntary work, come and leave the UK as you please, and after five years, you may be able to apply to settle permanently in the UK (also known as ‘indefinite leave to remain’) if you’ve lived in the UK for 5 years and meet the other eligibility requirements. This is the main route to settlement in the UK for anyone, including EU/EEA citizens, moving to the UK after 31 December 2020.
EU citizens who started living in the UK before 31 December 2020 can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. The deadline to apply was 30 June 2021, but they may still be able to apply if they have “reasonable grounds” for doing so. Applications are free and so highly recommended - if their application is successful, applicants will not need a visa to work in the UK at all and none of the above applies to them.
If you are not looking to live and work in the UK full-time, but only here to handle business for a short period of time, you may not have to apply for a Skilled Worker visa or have a job offer ready. Some limited business activities are permitted on a visitor visa, and do not. These are called permitted paid engagements; they are business-related activities which visitors can engage in without having the right to work in the UK fill-time, whilst they are on short trip in the UK. They include job interviews, contract negotiations, guest lectures, etc. The details can be found in Appendix V of the Immigration Rules.
If you need legal assistance with the EU Settlement Scheme, or have any other questions, you can contact us here, call us on 020 8142 8211, or send us a question on WhatsApp.