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Ukraine war: How can Ukrainians come to the UK – and how do the new visas schemes work?
The Ukraine Family Scheme and Humanitarian Sponsorship Pathway are two visa routes Ukrainians can take to escape the war with Russia and travel to the UK.
News reporter @LaraKeay
Monday 7 March 2022 14:48, UK
Two special visa schemes have been announced to allow Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia to come to the UK.
The first enables people in Ukraine to join family members already living here.
And while it has not officially launched yet, the second will allow churches and community organisations to sponsor Ukrainians and match them with a family who lives here – irrespective of whether they have links to the UK or not.
But after the Home Office revealed that roughly only 50 Ukraine Family Scheme visas have been granted – despite as many as 10,000 applying – there has been heavy criticism the visa route is not fit for purpose.
Here, Sky News looks at how Ukrainians can escape to the UK and what they need to get here.
4:18Play Video – Families torn apart as people fleeFamilies torn apart as people flee
Family visa route
Last week, the Home Office announced it was launching the Ukraine Family Scheme to allow Ukrainian nationals and their immediate family members to join relatives already living in the UK.
It means eligible Ukrainians have to apply for a UK visa – and cannot just claim asylum – but the usual fees, minimum salary and English language requirements are removed. The visas last for three years.
Applicants apply online before being offered an appointment at a visa application centre where photographs and fingerprints are taken, and other security checks are carried out.
To be eligible for the scheme, you must:
• Have a UK-based family member – immediate or extended
• Be a Ukraine national or immediate family member of a Ukraine national applying to the scheme
• Have been living in Ukraine before 1 January 2022 (the invasion began on 24 February)
Your family member must be:
• A British national
• Have UK settled status, indefinite leave to remain or proof of permanent residence
• An EU, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swiss, or Liechtenstein national with pre-settled status, who started living in the UK before 1 January 2021
• Someone with refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK
Initially, the government said the scheme would only cover people with “immediate family members” in the UK.
This includes spouses, civil partners, children under 18, parents of under-18s, fiances, proposed civil partners, and unmarried partners – providing you have been living together for at least two years.
But after a backlash, it was quickly expanded to “extended family members”.
These include siblings, parents of over-18s, children over-18, grandparents, grandchildren, or the grandchildren of your partner.
The scheme also applies to immediate family members of those extended family members.
So this also includes their spouses, civil partners, children who are under 18, parents if they are under 18, fiances, and proposed civil partners.
Relationships must have started before 1 January 2022 for spouses, partners, and fiances of extended family members to be eligible.
2:06Play Video – Refugees flee to RomaniaRefugees flee to Romania
Journey to the UK
After applying online, Ukrainians can book an appointment at a visa application centre to submit their photos, fingerprints, and security information.
If people have fled their homes unable to collect key documents such as passports, birth and marriage certificates, the government says it will still accept their applications, as long as they can “explain why they do not have them”.
The only centre still operating inside Ukraine is a temporary one in Lviv, in the west of the country. The Kyiv centre was forced to close due to heavy shelling.
With more than 1.5 million Ukrainians fleeing the country as a result of the conflict, some will be able to cross the border and get to centres in Poland, Moldova, Romania, and Hungary.
The Home Office has set up a pop-up centre in Rzeszow, Poland, near the Ukrainian border.
It claims to have capacity of “well over 3,000 appointments a week”, with plans to increase that to 6,000.
People in Ukraine with the right links to Britain are also travelling towards the UK border and booking appointments in France or Belgium.
But the government has been criticised for not having a visa centre in Calais – as many eligible Ukrainians are reaching the UK-French border only to be told to travel back hundreds of miles to Paris.
When pushed on whether a Calais centre will open, a government spokesperson said it is being “kept under review”.
Home Office ‘haven’t got the staff’
According to the Home Office, only “around 50” Ukraine Family Scheme visas have been granted since they were launched on 4 March, out of 10,000 applications.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has disputed the figure, claiming the government is “processing thousands right now” and adopting a “very, very generous approach”.
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel said that Ukrainians who reach application centres can expect to wait around 24 hours for a decision on their visas.
But there are reports of huge backlogs, with thousands waiting to see British officials in Lviv and neighbouring countries.
Some people have also reported being asked for thousands of pounds – when the new family scheme is free.
Harjap Singh Bhangal, senior partner at immigration and family law firm GLS Solicitors, told Sky News the existing backlog of immigration cases means the system is unable to cope with a new scheme like the Ukrainian one.
“We already have a backlog of 60,000 asylum cases in the UK,” he said. “The Home Office infrastructure isn’t good enough to deal with this.
“They haven’t got the staff. Announcing something is fine, but the application centres themselves are not geared up for it.
“If you bring a scheme in overnight, that information won’t have filtered through to those outposts.”
He added that similar visa applications usually take between eight and 12 weeks, and while the government is promising to expedite Ukrainian cases, it is not clear how many applications per day can be rushed through.
• Ukrainians blast humanitarian corridors to Russia and Belarus
• Why have so few visas been issued from Ukraine to the UK?
• How many Ukrainians have fled – and where are they going?
• Has World War Three already started?
1:45Play Video – British citizen struggling to come homeBritish citizen struggling to come home
Mr Singh Bhanjal also warned of two immigration systems (one for Ukrainians and one for people from elsewhere) running parallel and causing problems, particularly in places like Calais.
“There’s a war in Ukraine, so a scheme has been opened for Ukrainians. But there’s also a war in Afghanistan and people are fleeing conflict and persecution in Syria, Somalia and Iraq,” he said.
“They have to risk their lives in dinghies, while a Ukrainian can walk up to a centre and apply for a visa.”
The EU has promised to take Ukrainians with family links to member states without a visa, prompting criticism the UK should be doing the same.
The government argues that “biometric” and security data included in visa applications are key security measures.
Sponsorship visa route
Last week, Priti Patel also announced there would be a second visa route from Ukraine to the UK – the humanitarian sponsorship pathway.
Ukrainians applying for this visa will not have to have a family link – but instead can be sponsored by a community organisation, business, local authority or church.
They would then be matched with a family and can live and work in the UK for 12 months.
The scheme has not been officially launched, and no further details have been released, so Ukrainians can’t yet apply.
Ms Patel said that there would be “no numerical limit” on numbers who can apply and “we will welcome as many Ukrainians as wish to come and have matched sponsors”.
But immigration lawyer Mr Singh Bhangal warned that organisations taking part in the scheme would have to be verified to ensure “the system isn’t abused”.
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