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Safe and Legal (Humanitarian) Routes factsheet – August 2023

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The UK has a proud history of providing protection for those who genuinely need it through our safe and legal (humanitarian) routes. Since 2015, we have offered a safe and legal (humanitarian) route to the UK to over half a million men, women and children seeking safety, as well as family members of refugees. In fact, the UK is one of the largest recipients of UNHCR referred refugees globally, second only to Sweden in Europe since 2015.

Our UK Resettlement Scheme, including Community Sponsorship and the Mandate Resettlement schemes, allow us to support the most vulnerable refugees direct from regions of conflict and instability. Through these schemes, the UNHCR refers refugees they have assessed as in need of resettlement to the UK.

Our safe and legal (humanitarian) routes are some of the most generous anywhere.  However, we cannot accommodate everyone who wants to come to the UK and we are not able to open a bespoke route for every situation.

It is our longstanding principle that those in need of protection should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. For many people, it is in their best interests to stay close to the region or in a neighbouring country where there are often similarities in culture and language, and can be supported by international organisations, including the UN.

How many people were offered safe and legal (humanitarian) routes?

  • Between 2015 and June 2023, we have offered places to over half a million (533,449) people seeking safety. This includes:
    • 260,362 people under Ukraine Visa and Extension schemes, of which at least 179,500 have arrived in the UK
    • 176,407 BN(O) status holders and their family members, 147,649 of which were granted to those out-of-country. 123,800 people are known to have arrived in the UK following an out-of-country grant.
    • 50,169 vulnerable people and children as part of Afghan resettlement and relocation, the Syrian Resettlement programme and other resettlement programmes (e.g. UK Resettlement scheme, which has resettled 2,307 since its launch in 2021)
    • 46,511 family reunion grants since 2015
  • The UK is one of the largest recipients of UNHCR referred refugees globally, second only to Sweden in Europe since 2015.

Which nationalities has the UK helped – other than Afghans, Ukrainians, and Hong Kongers?

  • Our safe and legal (humanitarian) routes have provided refuge for people from all over the world.
  • The top nationalities on resettlement routes from 2015 to March 2023 include people from Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia.
  • The top nationalities who have come to the UK through the Family Reunion route from 2015 to March 2023 include people from Syria, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Pakistan.
  • Data on the nationalities that have come to the UK through our safe and legal (humanitarian) routes can be seen in the quarterly Immigration System Statistics: How many people do we grant protection to? - GOV.UK (

How can people from countries like Iran come to the UK through safe and legal routes?

  • The UK is committed to supporting those directly from regions of conflict and instability.
  • Where somebody has a link to the UK, they may be eligible for our family routes, while our UK Resettlement, Community Sponsorship and Mandate schemes are accessible to refugees who have been assessed for resettlement by the UNHCR.
  • There are additional safe and legal routes for people to come to the UK to work or study provided they meet the requirements of the relevant immigration rules under which they are applying. For example, through our Displaced Talent programme, we are supporting refugees to access skilled worker visas where they meet the criteria.
  • If someone has come to the UK legally, and circumstances in their home country change, such that it is no longer safe for them to return home, they can claim asylum.
  • Those who wish to claim asylum should do so in the first safe country they arrive and typically those fleeing humanitarian disasters remain in the region in which they have been displaced. There are no visa routes to enable people to claim asylum in the UK from overseas – just as there are no ways to apply for asylum from outside many other countries, such as Sweden or Germany.

Will you create a new safe and legal route?

  • We are committed to providing routes, including exploring new routes, to safety for vulnerable people across the globe, but we must first grip the rise in illegal migration and stop the boats.
    As the illegal migration bill sets out, an annual number of people coming through on safe and legal routes will be set by Parliament and in consultation with local authorities.

How does the UNHCR assess people for resettlement in the UK?

  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) role is to identify those living in formal refugee camps, informal settlements and host communities and assess whether an individual is a recognised refugee and is able to be prioritised for a resettlement place based on their specific level of risk. We work closely with the UNHCR to identify those who would benefit most from resettlement in the UK.
  • The UNHCR resettlement categories are:
    • Legal and/or Physical Protection Needs;
    • Survivors of Violence and/or Torture;
    • Medical Needs;
    • Women and Girls at Risk;
    • Family Reunification;
    • Children and Adolescents at Risk;
    • Lack of Foreseeable Alternative Durable Solutions.
  • The caseload of those we resettle is determined in discussion with UNHCR and in line with their projected global resettlement needs.
  • The UNHCR recognise refugees as those who are deemed unable to return to their original home country or remain in their host country.
  • The number of refugees we resettle every year through the UKRS depends on a variety of factors including future government funding commitments and local authorities’ capacity for supporting refugees.

What safe and legal routes does the UK offer?

The UK offers seven different safe and legal routes:

UK Resettlement Scheme

  • The global resettlement scheme is open to vulnerable refugees around the world. Individuals coming through this scheme are assessed and referred by the UNHCR according to their criteria, which is based on people’s needs and vulnerabilities.
  • People coming via this route only move to the UK once suitable accommodation is in place for them. Since its launch in 2021, the UK has taken refugees through this route from countries including Ethiopia, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen.
  • Since the first arrivals under the new UK Resettlement scheme in March 2021, 2,307 refugees have been resettled in the UK via the UKRS, as of June 2023.

Community Sponsorship

  • Community Sponsorship enables civil society - friends and neighbours, charities and faith groups - to directly support refugees resettled in the UK as they start their new lives in safety.
    • Since the scheme began in 2016, a total of 1,034 refugees have been resettled through Community Sponsorship, including 39  since the start of the ACRS, according to the latest published data (year ending March 2023).

Mandate Scheme

  • The Mandate Scheme, launched in 1995, is a global scheme that resettles refugees who have a close family member in the UK who is willing to accommodate them.
  • The publication of the data relating to the Mandate Resettlement scheme commenced in 2008. Since then, as of June 2023, 453 individuals have been resettled through this scheme.

Family Reunion

  • Our refugee family reunion policy provides a safe and legal route for families to be reunited. This allows immediate family members (partner and children under 18, and over 18 in exceptional circumstances) of those granted protection in the UK to join them here, if they formed part of a family unit before the sponsor left their country to seek protection.
  • There are separate provisions in the Immigration Rules to allow extended family members to sponsor children to come here where there are serious and compelling circumstances. In addition, refugees can sponsor adult dependent relatives living overseas to join them where, due to age, illness, or disability, that person requires long-term personal care that can only be provided by relatives in the UK.
  • There is also discretion to grant leave outside of the Immigration Rules which caters for extended family members in exceptional circumstances.
  • Our family reunion policy has reunited many refugees with their family members; 46,511 family reunion visas have been granted since 2015, with over half issued to children.

Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme

  • In January 2022, we announced the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), one of the most generous schemes in UK history. This response to the situation in Afghanistan will give up to 20,000 people at risk a new life in the UK, through a safe and legal route.
  • The ACRS prioritises those who have assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for values such as democracy, women’s rights and freedom of speech, or rule of law (for example, judges, women’s rights activists, academics, and journalists); and vulnerable people, including women and girls at risk, and members of minority groups at risk.
  • Around 9,800 eligible people have already been granted settled status through the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).

 Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP)

  • The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), launched on 1 April 2021, offers relocation to eligible Afghan citizens who worked for, or with, the UK Government locally in Afghanistan.  The ARAP recognises the service of eligible Afghan citizens and the risks arising to them and their dependent family members due to their work.
  • Since April 2021, we have relocated around 11,500 Afghans to the UK under the ARAP scheme.
  • As of the end of June 2023, we have granted settlement to 6,353 individuals since April 2021, in addition to 1,400 former staff and families who were relocated between 2013 and March 2021 under the previous ex-gratia scheme for Afghan interpreters.

 Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas)

  • On 31 January 2021, the UK Government launched the Hong Kong BN(O) Immigration route in response to China’s passing of the National Security Law which significantly impacts the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.
  • Over 176,407 BN(O) Hong Kong visas have been granted as of the end of June 2023, of which 123,800 have arrived in the UK.
  • On 30 November 2022, the BN(O) route was expanded to enable adult children of BN(O) status holders who were born on or after 1 July 1997 to apply to the route independently of their parents. This will ensure this cohort who were not eligible for BN(O) status and who may not have been able to apply to the route previously, can now choose to make the UK their home.
  • The BN(O) route is not a refugee resettlement route, but is a safe and legal route to the UK for those eligible.

Ukraine Schemes

  • In response to Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, we launched one of the fastest at visa schemes in UK history.  The UK Government has devised three bespoke visa routes for the people of Ukraine, working in close communication with the Ukrainian government.
  • The UK Government has devised three bespoke visa routes for the people of Ukraine, working in close communication with the Ukrainian government.
  • 179,500 Ukrainians have now arrived safely in the UK through our Ukraine visa schemes.
  • As of June 2023, the UK Government has issued 233,771 visas under the Ukraine Schemes, of which 161,500 visas have been issued under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. We have also extended permission to stay to 26,591 Ukrainians who were already present in the UK.
  • Ukraine visa scheme data is updated weekly here: Ukraine Family Scheme, Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme (Homes for Ukraine) and Ukraine Extension Scheme visa data - GOV.UK (

Do you provide other support for refugees other than safe and legal routes?

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office provide humanitarian aid and support to refugees around the world. Some examples include providing £95m to aid refugees and vulnerable people in Jordan and humanitarian support for Rohingya people in Bangladesh.

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