Grenfell Tower survivors with an uncertain immigration status could become permanent UK residents, the Government announced on Wednesday.
This latest announcement is a change to the one-year amnesty originally offered to survivors of the fire, which was condemned by lawyers and campaigners representing victims.
The Home Office said on Wednesday that those affected by the blaze, which killed about 80 people in June, will have a chance to obtain permanent residence, subject to security and criminality checks.
Separately, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said that all Grenfell survivors currently living in hotels will be out of emergency accommodation by Christmas.
Immigration minister Brandon Lewis said in a statement today:
“Our initial response to this terrible tragedy was rightly focused on survivors’ immediate needs in the aftermath of the fire and ensuring they could access the services they need to start to rebuild their lives.
“However, since the Grenfell Tower immigration policy was announced, we have been planning for the future of those residents affected by these unprecedented events and listening to their feedback, as well as the views of Sir Martin Moore-Bick.
“The government believes it is right to provide this specific group of survivors greater certainty over their long-term future in the UK, subject to their continued eligibility and the necessary security and criminality checks being met.”
The Home Office said the new policy was that after the initial period of 12 months of limited leave to remain in the country, survivors would be able to apply for further periods of leave, building up to five years.
At the end of the five years, if they had not committed any offences, they would be given permanent residency, the Home Office said.
Eligible survivors have until November 30 to come forward and be granted their first period of limited leave to remain.
Relatives of survivors or victims of the tragedy will be able to stay in the UK for up to six months from their date of entry, it was also confirmed today.
Moyra Samuels, from campaign group Justice4Grenfell, welcomed the change in policy, saying it was a “step forward” but expressed concerns about how the policy will be implemented.
“Immigration needs to know this. We cannot have policy by newspaper announcements. We need to have policy where, actually, it is implemented,” Samuels told HuffPost UK.
“I think it’s a step forward, but I do think that we need to make sure it does filter down.”
Samuels said she is not aware of any survivors coming forward to take up the offer of a one-year amnesty.
The Home Office gave survivors of the fire, who were in the country illegally, a window of protection from deportation to encourage them to come forward to authorities.
But Ismet Rawat, from BMELawyers4Grenfell, told HuffPost UK at the time that the one-year “so-called amnesty” was a “travesty”.
Her comments in August came after the deadline for signing up for the amnesty was extended to November 30.
Rawat added: ”(It provides) no real protection.. leaving any such residents at peril of immediate deportation once that 12 months ended.
Concerns were also raised that valuable evidence about the events surrounding the fire would be lost without people’s cooperation.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the former judge leading the inquiry into the disaster, also urged Theresa May to consider the long-term immigration status of survivors.
He wrote to the Prime Minister that he feared his investigation would be weaker without their evidence.