Afghan interpreters will be granted permanent right to live in UK, ministers to announce

Kate McCann
Gavin Williamson the defence secretary - PA

Afghan interpreters will be allowed to stay in Britain without being forced to pay thousands of pounds, ministers are set to announce, in a shake-up of immigration policy following the Windrush scandal.

A group of translators who worked with the British army in Afghanistan and later came to the UK feared being forced to leave after it emerged they would have to pay £2,400 to renew their visas when they run out in the next couple of years.

But last night Whitehall sources told The Telegraph that the group will be allowed to stay in Britain and given Indefinite Leave to Remain free of charge, in recognition of their sacrifice.

It follows weeks of controversy over the Government's hardline immigration policy which saw the Windrush generation threatened with deportation if they were unable to prove their right to live in the UK.

Amber Rudd, the Home secretary in charge when the scandal broke, resigned on Sunday and her replacement Sajid Javid signaled at the start of the week that he would make a break from the so-called "hostile environment" policy pursued by Theresa May when she was in charge of the Home Office.

Theresa May and Amber Rudd are both former Home Secretaries  Credit: PA

In this latest shift the interpreters, who have been fighting for their right to stay for some months, will be told they do not have to pay £2,400 and will have the right to remain in the UK for as long as they like.

Although many still fear they will struggle to bring their wives and children to the country, as most still live in Afghanistan and cannot move to the UK because of the tight restrictions on income and savings.

Around 150 interpreters had written to the Home Secretary warning they could be at risk of death if they were forced to leave the UK because of the high cost of the new visa, after being granted a five-year settlement stay after the war.

One translator who worked in Helmand province with the British army and then for the Embassy told this newspaper: "I take my own life in my hands every time I go back to my country, I cannot return to Afgahnistan because I will be killed if I move back there".

Sources said the Home Office will waive the fee and grant the interpreters the right to live and work in the UK, although it is understood this will require secondary legislation, which may take time.

British troops Afghanistan

It came after the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson piled pressure on the new Home Secretary Mr Javid to grant the group the right to stay because of the work they did for the British.

Following the news Mr Williamson told The Telegraph: "I am absolutely  thrilled that we have been able to give our brave and loyal interpreters, who served our armed forces in the harshest and most trying circumstances, this reassurance. 

"It is great that we will waive fees and the Home Office has agreed with me this is the right way to go to show this country is thankful for their commitment and for their bravery to our country and I am thrilled that the Home Office joins me in supporting this campaign."

Mr Williamson is understood to have been calling for the interpreters to be given the right to stay without fees for some months, but the decision is thought to have been triggered by the Windrush scandal. 

The Government has come under attack for its attitude towards some groups of migrants living in the UK after some Commonwealth nationals were threatened with deportation because they could not prove their right to live and work in Britain. 

Earlier this week another group - highly-skilled migrants - highlighted concerns they are being forced to leave because of minor tax mistakes, including filing late tax returns.

One interpreter who asked to remain anonymous, told this newspaper: "We do not deserve these problems in this country. We don't want any more problems and we feel we are part of this community but the immigration rules and the restrictions say I am not from this society. If this was happening to an English person what would be the response to this?"

British Defence Secretary Williamson visits UK troops Credit: Reuters

The interpreters were allowed into the UK under a five-year relocation scheme and once that expires they will need to apply for indefinite leave which would have incurred a fee. It applies to those who served in 2012.

The letter from the interpreters reads: "We took great risk because we believed in the integrity of the British Army, only to be let down by politicians who see us as (a) number and not as people who have sacrificed more for this country than many of its citizens."

Those who have signed the letter state that they have been told to pay £2,389 per person - a sum they say is "so great it is unaffordable for many", with many of their wives and children also told they cannot join them in Britain.

The letter also highlights how those translators whose children have been born in the UK are struggling to obtain documentation for them - and may have to pay £1,200 to apply for a British visa and Afghan passport.