In just one week, over a million people have fled Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion. This ‘incredibly fast-rising exodus of people’, as UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi describes it, has prompted a swift and forceful expression of support from the EU and particularly from the states neighbouring Ukraine. While many European countries, including Ireland, have waived visa requirements for Ukrainians, offering a three-year temporary protection status, the UK government has retained but modified its visa requirements for residents of Ukraine.
On 2nd March, the Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that eligibility criteria for visas have been relaxed, so that people coming from Ukraine no longer have to meet the standard language requirements and salary thresholds. The ‘Ukrainian Family Scheme’ also broadens the category of family members that British nationals and settled citizens are permitted to bring to the UK. The category now includes parents, grandparents, adult offspring and siblings. Visa application fees have been waived, and the government has committed to extend work permits for some temporary Ukrainian workers.
The government estimates that several hundred thousand Ukrainians are now able to come to the UK. However, many organisations have voiced their concerns that these numbers are not realistic under current rules, and that the changes to increase access don’t go far or fast enough. The ‘humanitarian sponsorship pathway’ that the government has introduced, which would open up a route to the UK for Ukrainians without family ties, matching them with ‘individuals, charities, businesses, and community groups,’ will take considerable time to get up and running. As a point of comparison, it took over five months for the Afghan Community Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) to be launched following its announcement, and that scheme is still not resettling people from the region itself.
The infrastructure to support the government’s new ‘bespoke humanitarian support package’ is also not yet in place, as one Ukrainian resident of Oxford, assisted by Asylum Welcome, discovered on Wednesday. Prior to the Russian invasion, he had applied for a permit for his mother to join him in the UK. On the 23rd February, one day before the conflict began, his mother’s permit was refused. As it stands, his mother, currently in Ukraine, has been told that she is eligible to come to the UK through the Family Scheme. However, the scheme is not yet open for applications, so we cannot say how long she will be waiting. We are expecting a sharp increase in these types of cases over the coming days. We have also been providing support to other Ukrainians needing help, including one Ukrainian national who has already submitted an asylum claim, and another who would, under normal circumstances, be a candidate for deportation.
[Update 07/03] The Ukrainian Family Scheme is now open for applications. Currently, these must be made online from outside the UK. Applicants must still travel to a Visa Application Centre in Lviv or in another country to submit biometrics as part of the process. The Scheme is open to Ukrainian nationals who were residing in Ukraine before 1 Jan 2022 and the immediate family members of Ukrainian nationals who are applying to the scheme. They must also have been resident in Ukraine before 1 Jan 2022. UK family members must either be British, have indefinite leave to remain, settled status or PR, or have refugee status/humanitarian protection in the UK. Family members in the UK may be joined by children of any age, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren, and parents of adult UK residents.
The 24/7 helpline for support with the process is +44 808 164 8810 (0808 164 8810 if you’re in the UK).