Afghan family in hiding wins waiver on biometric tests for UK visas

<span>Photograph: Javed Tanveer/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Javed Tanveer/AFP/Getty Images

The home secretary has waived a blanket requirement for Afghans applying to join British family members in the UK to do biometric tests, after a high court challenge.

A judge ruled on Thursday that a mother and five children, currently in hiding in Afghanistan, would not need to do the tests before attempting to escape to the UK.

The family, who want to join their British husband and father in the UK, were required to submit biometric details on their visa application form but did not have anywhere in Afghanistan where they could obtain tests.

The family’s lawyer said it was too dangerous for them to leave their hiding place to get biometric tests done in a neighbouring country.

Related: High court hears case of Afghan family unable to get to UK without biometrics

The ruling could help about 100 families in a similar situation who are thought to be in hiding in Afghanistan.

While Ukrainians have been allowed to travel to the UK without getting their biometrics – photos and fingerprints – done beforehand, the same concession has not been applied to Afghan families who are dependants of a British citizen. The rationale is to protect national security and immigration control.

After the family brought the case, the home secretary conceded that they could apply to come to the UK without submitting biometrics, with the case considered on its merits.

Before the case was brought, the home secretary said the biometrics requirement would not be waived. The judge, Mr Justice Knowles, said in his judgment the change by the home secretary was a “crucially important development”.

The family was not airlifted out of Kabul last August because of a lack of space on evacuation flights, even though they had received emails from the British authorities inviting them to come to the city’s airport that month after the Taliban takeover.

The father of the family had been living part of the time in the UK and part of the time in Afghanistan.

He was with his family when the Taliban took control, but made the difficult decision to leave them in hiding in January this year and return to the UK alone as he believed that as a British citizen he would put his wife and children’s lives at greater risk if the Taliban found them.

His wife and children are in hiding, living in a single room. The five children, aged between eight and 17, cannot play outside, for fear of being identified.

The case was brought against the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence.

The two main grounds of challenge were the biometrics point and the rules that do not automatically entitle the family to indefinite leave to remain in the UK, unlike some other groups of Afghans brought to safety. The judge found in favour of the government on the latter point.

Nina Kamp, of Duncan Lewis solicitors, representing the family, welcomed the decision about the biometrics.

“This is a major victory as it will provide a potential way out of Afghanistan for this family and others in their situation.

“For now, the ability of the mother and her five children to leave their dire circumstances in Afghanistan is a priority. We are delighted for our clients that this is now a real possibility.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The taking of biometrics information, in the form of a facial image and fingerprints, is vital to protecting national security and our border.

“In most circumstances, overseas applicants are required to enrol their biometrics before coming to the UK. However those facing exceptional circumstances can request for the requirement to enrol their biometrics to be waived or deferred.”