I refer to my statement to Parliament on 30 October 2007, Official Report, columns 30-33WS. To be eligible for resettlement under the Gateway Protection Programme, former staff must be recognised as refugees by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Staff assessing applications for assistance under the scheme treat each case on its merits, based on the roles or duties of the individual concerned while employed with us. Some employing Departments, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, employ or have employed local staff who are not specifically designated as interpreters, but who operate alongside UK-based colleagues in skilled or professional roles which require the regular use of English and may involve some interpretation or translation duties. We do not, however, maintain an exhaustive list of occupations that would necessarily qualify or disqualify an individual, but seek to make fair and reasonable judgments which meet both the letter and the spirit of the relevant criterion.
I refer to my written statement to Parliament on 30 October 2007, Official Report, columns 30-33WS. Provision for up to 600 places has been made within the Gateway programme over the next two years for staff and their dependants who meet the criteria. The 600 spaces are open to both former and serving staff (including dependants) as defined by the scheme. In practice, however, we expect most serving staff who are eligible and wish to come to the UK to avail themselves of exceptional leave outside the immigration rules and travel directly to the UK from Iraq.
If an individual who had been assessed as eligible for assistance under the scheme were subsequently determined not to be eligible for resettlement in the UK under the Gateway programme, in principle there would be no obstacle to that individual receiving the one-off package of financial assistance instead. We would, however, need to consider carefully the circumstances of the case, in particular the reasons for ineligibility under Gateway.
I refer to my written statement to Parliament on 30 October 2007, Official Report columns 30-33WS. Financial support is provided to all those staff who are considered for resettlement under the Gateway programme specifically in order to allow them to support themselves during the screening process in a third country. This is separate from, and less than, the one-off package of financial assistance offered to all staff as an alternative to resettlement in the UK.
There are a number of stages in the process of considering applications from former Iraqi locally engaged (LE) staff for resettlement under the Gateway programme. Applicants must first be assessed as eligible in principle for assistance under the LE staff assistance scheme. Those who are still in Iraq then need to move to a third country, a process which involves obtaining the consent of the country concerned, and then be screened by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to determine whether they should be recognised as refugees in need of resettlement. Finally, they are screened by the UK Border Agency for admission to the UK under Gateway. The length of time needed for each of these stages can vary according to the circumstances of each case.
No former staff, as defined by the scheme, have yet been admitted to the UK for resettlement. The UK Border Agency is working with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to process the first group of staff who have moved to a third country to undergo the screening process.
The first group of serving staff and their families (three principal applicants and 15 dependants) were welcomed to the UK in April under the scheme with indefinite leave to enter, outside the Immigration Rules.
Applications for assistance under the scheme are assessed in line with the eligibility criteria which are set out in my statement to Parliament on 30 October 2007, Official Report, columns 30-33WS. Once applicants have been informed they are eligible they declare which type of assistance they would like. At 8 May there were 80 applications where a decision on eligibility had not yet been taken.
Eligible applicants who choose the opportunity to be resettled in the UK under the Gateway programme must undergo screening by both the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to determine that they qualify as a refugee under the 1951 Convention, and by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to ensure that any individual who might pose a threat to the UK, or whose presence here is undesirable, is prevented from entering the country. Eligible serving staff (as defined under the scheme) who opt for exceptional leave to enter the UK directly also need to undergo screening by UKBA. At 8 May, 185 principal applicants were being considered under these processes.
Eligibility for assistance is determined by whether the applicant meets the objective criteria which I announced on 9 October 2008, Official Report, columns 27-28WS and 30 October, Official Report, columns 30-33WS. These do not include the degree of risk faced by an individual. But the introduction of the scheme was grounded in a recognition that the circumstances in which our Iraqi locally engaged staff have served have been uniquely difficult.
We have received around 20 applications for assistance under the scheme from staff in third countries that have been assessed as eligible. To qualify for consideration for resettlement to the UK under the Gateway programme, former staff must by definition first be recognised by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as refugees in need of resettlement.
There is no indication at this stage that the 600 places that have been allocated under Gateway over the next two years will be oversubscribed.
Employing Departments and the UK Border Agency are carefully monitoring the number of staff who are eligible and the option they have chosen. Current statistics show that over half of former staff eligible for assistance have opted for the financial package of assistance.
Our latest figures (at 8 May) show that we have received 1,138 applications for assistance under the scheme. Of those, 503 of our former and current staff have been assessed as eligible for assistance and 555 have been assessed as ineligible. A decision is pending in the remaining 80 cases.
Staff across Government are working assiduously to ensure applications are processed and eligible staff receive assistance as rapidly as is practicable. In many cases eligibility can be assessed very quickly but in some cases more information may be required from applicants or checks may be required to substantiate individual claims, particularly if staff left our employ some time ago, before effective decisions can be taken.