Supporting Ukrainians to come to the UK (updated at 1pm on Friday 11 March 2022)

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On 24 February 2022, Russian forces launched an invasion of Ukraine.  Information on the background to the conflict can be found in a previous SPICe blog

This blog sets out the humanitarian crisis unfolding as a result of the war in terms of the number of people leaving Ukraine and the UK Government response to the crisis. 

Refugees from Ukraine

As a result of the invasion and ongoing fighting, the United Nations said that 1 million refugees have fled Ukraine in a week. This figure is likely to continue to rise over the coming days and weeks.  According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi:

“I have worked in refugee emergencies for almost 40 years, and rarely have I seen an exodus as rapid as this one.

Hour by hour, minute by minute, more people are fleeing the terrifying reality of violence. Countless have been displaced inside the country.

And unless there is an immediate end to the conflict, millions more are likely to be forced to flee Ukraine.

Inside Ukraine, our staff – and other humanitarians – are working where and when they can in frightening conditions. Our staff stay, even at great risk, because we know the needs in the country are huge.

Despite the extraordinary pace and challenges, the response from governments and local communities in receiving these one million refugees has been remarkable. UNHCR staff have already moved in throughout the region and are scaling up our protection and assistance programmes for refugees, in support of host governments.”

Whilst more than half of the people fleeing Ukraine have gone to Poland, others have sought safety in other nearby countries such as Hungary, Moldova, Romania and Slovakia.  In addition, some people have moved east and sought refuge in Russia.  The United Nations has established a data portal to provide details of the Ukraine refugee situation.

A map and bar chart showing the destination of the refugees from Ukraine.

The UK Government’s response

Addressing Parliament on 28 February, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel said:

“Mr Speaker, the government has already announced the first phase of a bespoke humanitarian route for the people of Ukraine and the new Ukrainian humanitarian route responds directly to the needs and asks of the Ukrainian government…

… Our new route will continue to keep pace with the developing situation on the ground and so far has already:

– supported hundreds of British nationals and their families resident in Ukraine to leave – UK Visas and Immigration staff continue to work around the clock to assist them

– enabled dependants of British nationals resident in Ukraine who need a UK visa to apply through the temporary location in Lviv or through visa application centres in Poland, Moldova, Romania, and Hungary”

The Home Secretary announced that British nationals and any person settled in the UK would be given the ability to bring over their immediate Ukrainian family members adding that this means an additional 100,000 Ukrainians will be able to come to the UK with access to work and public services.  In addition, the visas for Ukrainian temporary workers in some sectors will be extended until at least December 2022, primarily because people cannot return to Ukraine. 

Responding to the suggestion that the UK Government should introduce full visa waivers for all Ukrainians the Home Secretary said this would not happen citing security concerns:

“This is vital to keep British citizens safe and to ensure that we are helping those in genuine need, particularly as Russian troops are now infiltrating Ukraine and merging into Ukrainian forces. Intelligence reports also state the presence of extremist groups and organisations who threaten the region, but also our domestic homeland.”

Following criticism that the UK Government’s response did not go far enough, on 1 March, the Home Secretary provided a further update to Parliament.  Priti Patel began by setting out how the UK Government was seeking to meet demand in terms of applications for visas to come to the UK:

“Family members of British nationals resident in Ukraine who need a UK visa can apply through the temporary location in Lviv, or through visa application centres in Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary. We have created additional capacity in all locations apace, in anticipation of the invasion of Ukraine. That includes a new pop-up visa application centre in Rzeszow, Poland, whose total capacity is currently well over 3,000 appointments per week. Our contingency plans have been enacted and are expected to increase total capacity further to 6,000 appointments a week, starting this week. By contrast, demand across these locations is usually approximately 890 biometric appointments per week. There remains availability of appointments and walk-ins across all locations. Should more capacity be required, we will of course deliver it. Our rapid deployment teams are already in the region; the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office sent them in a few weeks ago to support this whole effort.”

The Home Secretary also confirmed that the UK Government has “removed the usual language requirements and salary thresholds for people to come to the UK and be with their families”. In addition, she told Parliament that when family members of British nationals do not meet the usual eligibility criteria but do pass all security checks, they will be given permission to enter the UK outside the usual rules for 12 months. As a result of this:

“This means that British nationals, and any person settled in the UK, can bring over immediate Ukrainian family members. Through that policy alone, an additional 100,000 Ukrainians could be eligible to come to the UK and gain access to work and public services. There is no limit on the numbers eligible under this route.”

On Thursday 10 March 2022, the Home Secretary gave a further statement, this blog will be updated with more information on the latest position early in the week of 14 March 2022.

Extended eligibility for the Ukraine Family Scheme

Eligibility for the Ukraine Family Scheme has also been extended with the Home Secretary telling Parliament that it now includes parents, grandparents, adult offspring, siblings, and their immediate family members. Again, the scheme will be free. Those joining family members in the UK will be granted leave for an initial period of 3 years. They will be able to work and have access to public funds.

The Home Secretary told Parliament that anyone in Ukraine intending to apply under the family migration route should call the dedicated 24-hour Home Office line for assistance before applying. The number is +44 808 164 8810 – select option 1 (0808 164 8810 if you’re in the UK – select option 1).  The line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is free.

The UK Government published guidance on applying for the Ukraine Family Scheme on 4 March.

Local Sponsorship Scheme for Ukraine

The Home Secretary also announced the development of a Local Sponsorship Scheme for Ukraine which will provide a route to the UK for Ukrainians who may not have family ties with the UK, but who are able to match with individuals, charities, businesses and community groups.  According to the Home Secretary:

“Those who come under this scheme will also be granted leave for an initial period of 12 months and will be able to work and have access to public services. The Home Office will work closely with all our international partners on the ground to ensure that displaced Ukrainians in need of a home are supported. My colleague the Secretary of State for Levelling Up will work with the devolved Administrations to ensure that those who want to sponsor an individual or family can volunteer and be matched quickly with Ukrainians in need. There will be no numerical limits on this scheme, and we will welcome as many Ukrainians as wish to come and have match sponsors.”

The UK Government has published guidance for family members of British nationals in Ukraine, and Ukrainian nationals in Ukraine and the UK.

Visa Application Centres

A key element of the UK schemes to note are that all people fleeing the war in Ukraine (except UK nationals) need a visa to enter the UK and that applications for visas need to be made from out with the UK through one of the Visa Application Centres. On these, the UK Government guidance states:

You will need to have your photograph and fingerprints taken at a VAC as part of your application. Children under the age of 5 will not have their fingerprints taken but will still need to attend the VAC and have a digital photograph taken.

When you attend the VAC you will need to provide your passport which will be scanned. If you do not have a passport you can still apply but will need to explain why you are unable to provide it.

The VAC in Kyiv is closed and all UK visa services in Kyiv are suspended.

There are temporary VACs for people applying for the Ukraine Family Scheme in:

– the Lemberg Business Centre in Lviv, Ukraine

– Rzeszow, Poland

You can apply at a VAC in any country if you are able to travel safely. VACs are currently operating throughout Europe including:

– Hungary

– Moldova

– Poland

– Romania

– Paris, France

The UK Government guidance also states that before attending a VAC, a person must complete an online application form and have a GWF reference number. GWF (Global Web Form) number is a unique serial number or reference number that is issued when a person first applies for a UK visa.

Scottish Government response

On 1 March, the First Minister called on the UK Government to waive the requirement for visas for Ukrainians.  In a letter to the Prime Minister, published on the Scottish Government website, the First Minister wrote:

“The situation demands further action on three fronts: to support UK nationals and their family members who currently have a right to enter the UK but who face bureaucratic barriers; to establish a safe route for those fleeing conflict, with particular consideration given to those with family members already in the UK and any unaccompanied asylum seeking children who may arrive; and to support Ukrainian nationals currently in the UK or arriving here seeking refuge.”

The First Minister highlighted the requirements placed on people fleeing Ukraine in their applications for a UK visa:

“In the midst of conflict it is neither reasonable nor morally acceptable to expect individuals to go through bureaucratic processes, abandon their family members and surrender their travel documents whilst awaiting visa application outcomes.  The UK Government should follow the example of countries like the Republic of Ireland by waiving all visa requirements for any Ukrainian nationals seeking refuge in the UK, as well as implementing the temporary protection regulations. It is equally vital that rapid, safe and legal routes be established immediately, cooperating with our international partners wherever possible.”

The First Minister also noted the introduction of the Local Sponsorship scheme for Ukraine writing:

“I note the announcement of a community sponsorship route to be led by Michael Gove with further details to be provided in due course. It is important that any proposal is developed at pace but in partnership with the Devolved Governments through meaningful collaboration and I would ask for confirmation that the Department for Levelling Up will work with the Scottish Government in developing this route prior to publishing further detail.

However, I am concerned that this route will take time to establish and be limited in its scope. Scotland stands ready to offer refuge and sanctuary for those who may be displaced, as we did with the Syrian Resettlement Programme, which saw all 32 local authorities in Scotland welcome Syrian families into their communities. There is still a need for such a programme and I should be grateful to know as a matter of urgency whether you intend to offer one. If you do, the Scottish Government will work with local authorities here to support refugees to settle in Scotland. Local authorities in Scotland have made clear their readiness to support such a programme for Ukraine.”

The First Minister also asked the UK Government to provide assurance to Ukrainians already living in the UK that they will be “offered protection in the UK for as long as is required, regardless of their migration status”.


The UK Government has set out a number of measures to support people fleeing Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion and ongoing war.  Many of these measures focus on providing support to family members of UK nationals.  However, the recently introduced Local sponsorship scheme for Ukraine will provide a route for Ukrainian’s with no current UK attachment to apply for a visa to come and live and work in the UK.

Iain McIver and Andrew Aiton, SPICe Research

This blog was updated on 4 March to reflect that visas granted under the Ukraine Family Scheme will now last for three years rather than one year which was the timeframe given when the scheme was initially announced. A link to UK Government guidance for applying to the Ukraine Family Scheme was also included.

This blog was further updated on 7 March to reflect updates in the UK Government’s guidance on the applying to the Ukraine Family Scheme.