The Home Office report on ‘safe and legal’ routes

Legal Updates

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In January 2024, the Home Office published a report on safe and legal routes to the UK as part of its duty under section 61 of the Illegal Migration Act. 

To learn more about this duty, you can read our Legal Update blog outlining the different sections of the Illegal Migration Act here

On this page, you will find the following information:

Safe and legal routes?

The general message of the report is that the UK does not have the capacity or the resources to help everyone who needs it or who wants to settle here. 

The report states that ‘‘under the Illegal Migration Act, the only way to come to the UK to find sanctuary will be through safe and legal routes. This will take power out of the hands of the criminal gangs and protect vulnerable people.’’

Crucially, it does not go on to outline any new routes for people seeking safety in the UK. Instead, it reiterates existing routes which are already in place and available only to certain nationalities or groups:

Global UNHCR Resettlement Schemes 

This includes the UK Resettlement Scheme, Community Sponsorship, the Mandate Scheme. For a simple overview of these schemes, read this Free Movement blog. It is important to note that all three schemes depend on the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to identify those eligible. This means you cannot apply. Grants under the three schemes are relatively low.

Country-specific schemes

This includes the following:

  1. Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) and the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP)

You can read about the Afghan resettlement schemes in our Legal Update here, including eligibility and processes. 

You can read about the many difficulties faced by Afghans and the failure of the British government to welcome them to the UK following the fall of Kabul in the summer of 2021 here

The ARAP scheme is only for current or former staff in Afghanistan employed by the UK government. The ACRS is a separate scheme to the ARAP, and has slightly wider eligibility criteria. However, from January 2022 to January 2023, only 4 people who fled Afghanistan were resettled in the UK under the scheme.

  1. Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas) (BNO) 

You can read more about the Hong Kong BNO scheme and how to apply here. Unlike the other bespoke country routes, this one has a fee of £180 for 2.5 years and £250 for 5 years. Applicants must pay the Immigration Health Surcharge, too, which costs between £1,560 to £3,120.

The Hong Kong BNO scheme has been operating for a few years now, and so the number of grants has dropped – presumably because most people who would want to (or are able to) apply, have done so already. 

  1. The Ukraine Family Scheme, Homes for Ukraine Scheme, and Ukraine Extension Scheme

These schemes were launched following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The Family Scheme reunites Ukrainians with their families already living in the UK, Homes for Ukraine enables Ukrainians to live with a sponsor in the UK, and the Extension Scheme was launched for Ukrainians who were already in the UK on work or other visas when the war started. There are no deadlines on the first two schemes, but the Extension Scheme is only open to people who had permission to stay in the UK on or between 18 March 2022 and 16 November 2023. 

In its research brief published on 30 January 2024, MIZGEN compares the Hong Kong BNO and Ukraine schemes with each other, and to the rights (or lack thereof) of people seeking asylum in the UK. You can read a summary here, and the full report here. The report concludes that:

In the context of the UK’s post-Brexit migration regime and its increasing restrictions on the right to claim asylum, the opening up of bespoke routes for Hong Kongers and Ukrainians to migrate to the UK on humanitarian grounds is often framed as evidence of the UK government’s commitment to provide international protection for the most vulnerable. If contrasted with the curtailment of rights experienced by asylum seekers, the provisions included in the humanitarian visas are certainly more generous. However, as we have evidenced in this report, there are also significant reasons for concern, especially in relation to the temporary nature of the protection afforded to Ukrainians and the restrictions in access to public services for Hong Kongers.”

Family reunion 

If you have received refugee status, you can apply to have your family members join you in the UK. This process is called ‘Family Reunion’. Free Movement and Refugee Legal Support have drafted a user-friendly, detailed guide to family reunion which you can use to understand this process. Read the guide here. From September 2022 to September 2023, there were 6,114 grants of family reunion visas. Importantly, unless they are present in the UK as dependants under your asylum claim, you cannot apply to have family members join you in the UK until you have received refugee status. 

Displaced Talent Mobility Pilot  

This scheme was launched in 2021, and has since been extended. According to the Home Office, “the initiative aims to match up to 200 people with UK employment opportunities, with Syrian and Afghan nationals the most common beneficiaries of the scheme so far”. The scheme was established in collaboration with an international organisation called Talent Beyond Borders, which connects people fleeing their home countries with employment opportunities. In order to apply under the scheme, you need to create a profile on the Talent Beyond Borders website, and they will get back to you to let you know if you have been matched with a business in the UK who will sponsor your employment. Candidates will need to pay the fees and meet all the requirements for a Skilled Worker visa, such as speaking English language. Children cannot apply under this scheme. 

The cap on numbers

Under the duty in section 61 of the Illegal Migration Act, the Home Secretary (now James Cleverly) must create regulations specifying the maximum number of people who can enter the UK under the above schemes per year, and he must decide on this specific ‘cap’ in consultation with local authorities. 

According to the report, the first consultation was opened from 2 October and closed on 9 January 2024 and sought responses from all local authorities in the UK. The responses will now be reviewed and considered before a ‘cap’ figure is presented to Parliament and be applied to all arrivals under the above ‘safe and legal’ routes in 2025


So, to summarise: 

  • The report repeatedly says that “Illegal entry will no longer be a route to asylum”, but also says that “…the [Refugee] Convention is very clear that someone must first be outside their country of nationality or habitual residence… before they can be considered for refugee status… we will not consider asylum claims made abroad and there is no provision in the Immigration Rules for someone to be allowed to travel to the UK to claim asylum.” This is contradictory, because if someone must be outside of their country of nationality/residence in order to claim asylum, but they can’t make asylum claims in the UK from abroad, and they can’t travel to the UK to claim asylum… Where should they be to claim asylum?!
  • The report does not introduce any new ‘safe and legal routes’ to safety in the UK, and instead relies on existing routes which have either stalled, failed, or are extremely narrow in eligibility. 
  • Considerable numbers of people have been resettled under these schemes, however, it seems there will be a cap on these figures come 2025.
  • The government makes no comment or commitment to improve or amend the failures of these existing routes. 
  • These bespoke and country-specific routes have not been expanded, nor have new routes been created for people from other countries in crisis such as Sudan, Yemen, Iran, or Palestine.

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