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.
The Russian invasion has led to millions of Ukrainians fleeing their own homes in search of safety. This new blog sets out the the UK Government response to the refugee crisis and supersedes the blog Supporting Ukrainians to come to the UK.
Ukraine – a level 3 emergency
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has declared Ukraine a Level 3 emergency which is the highest level it has. By 16 March, the UNHCR estimated that over three million people had left Ukraine for neighbouring countries with that number likely to continue to rise. In addition, more than 2.9 million people in Ukraine have been identified as needing assistance.
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.
The UK Government response – requirement for visas
Following the announcements that EU countries, including Ireland, would allow Ukrainians to enter without first acquiring a visa, the UK Government came under pressure to waive visa requirements for those Ukrainians wishing to come to the UK. Responding to the suggestion that the UK Government should introduce full visa waivers for all Ukrainians, on 28 February, the Home Secretary told the UK Parliament 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.”
Instead, over the course of the following two weeks, the UK Government announced the creation and development of two visa schemes to enable Ukrainians to come to the UK.
Ukraine Family Scheme
On 28 February, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that British nationals and any person settled in the UK would be given the ability to bring over their immediate Ukrainian family members to the UK under the UK Government’s Ukraine Family Scheme.
Following this initial announcement, the UK Government subsequently announced that eligibility for the scheme was to be extended with the Home Secretary telling the UK Parliament that it now included parents, grandparents, adult offspring, siblings, and their immediate family members. Applying to the scheme will be free and those joining family members in the UK will be able to work and have access to public funds.
Initially all Ukrainians who wished to come to the UK under the Ukraine Family Scheme were required to apply for a visa from one of the UK Government’s visa application centres (VACs) situated across Europe including in countries neighbouring Ukraine. Subsequently, on Thursday 10 March 2022, the Home Secretary set out further changes to the Ukraine Family Scheme process to make it quicker and simpler for Ukrainians in possession of an international passport. The key changes announced were:
- Applications for the scheme made by Ukrainian international passport holders must be made online.
- Ukrainians with international passports will no longer need to go to a visa application centre to give their biometrics before they come to the UK. Instead, once their application has been considered and the appropriate checks completed, they will receive direct notification that they are eligible for the scheme and can come to the UK.
- Once an application has been processed, the applicant will receive an official permission letter from UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) confirming that they can travel to the UK. The permission letter will allow them to board a plane or other form of transport to the UK.
- Ukrainians with international passports will be able to give their biometrics once they are in Britain. These biometrics must be provided within 6 months of arriving in the UK to extend a person’s stay for up to 3 years. Once this process is complete, an applicant will be issued with a biometric residence permit (BRP) as evidence of their immigration status.
However, Ukrainians without international passports will still be required to book an appointment and attend a VAC to apply for a visa to enter the UK. According to the UK Government:
“If you have a Ukrainian domestic passport or ID card, you will need to book and attend an appointment at a visa application centre.”
VACs in Ukraine are currently closed, but any Ukrainian without an international passport can apply at a VAC in any country that they are able to reach. There is a temporary VAC for people applying for the Ukraine Family Scheme in Rzeszow, Poland. An applicant must complete their online application and book an appointment before attending the Rzeszow VAC. Other VACs currently operating throughout Europe include in:
- Budapest, Hungary
- Chisinau, Moldova
- Warsaw, Poland
- Bucharest, Romania
- Paris, France
The UK Government has set up a dedicated 24-hour Home Office line for assistance before applying to the Ukraine Family Scheme for people outwith the UK. The number is +44 808 164 8810. The line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is free.
Ukrainians already in the UK who wish to apply to the Ukraine Family Scheme can do so online. Applicants will then be required to book and attend an appointment at UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point. Ukrainians in the UK can call a free 24/7 helpline on 0808 164 8810 if they have questions about the scheme.
The UK Government published guidance on applying for the Ukraine Family Scheme on 4 March.
Figures provided by the UK Government showed that at 4pm on 16 March 2022, a total of 6,100 visas had been issued under the Ukraine Family Scheme.
Homes for Ukraine Scheme
On 1 March, 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.
On 14 March, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove launched a webpage for sponsors to record their interest, ahead of phase one of the Homes for Ukraine Scheme opening for applications on 18 March.
Phase one of the scheme will allow sponsors in the UK to nominate a named Ukrainian or a named Ukrainian family to stay with them in their home or in a separate property.
According to the UK Government news release announcing the launch of the scheme:
“Individual sponsors will be asked to provide homes or a spare room rent-free for as long as they are able, with a minimum stay of 6 months. In return, they will receive £350 per month.
Those who have a named Ukrainian they wish to sponsor should contact them directly and prepare to fill in a visa application, with the application launching on Friday 18 March.
Charities, faith groups and local community organisations are also helping to facilitate connections between individuals, for potential sponsors who do not have a named contact.
Ukrainians arriving in the UK under this scheme will be granted 3 years leave to remain, with entitlement to work, and access benefits and public services.
Applicants will be vetted and will undergo security checks.”
The Homes for Ukraine Scheme launched on 18 March with the publication of guidance for applying to the scheme.
Scottish Government response
Following the announcement that the Ukraine Family Scheme would largely move to an online process and ahead of the announcement of the new Homes for Ukraine scheme, the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to remove ‘unnecessary bureaucracy’ preventing Scotland from welcoming refugees from Ukraine. The letter which was co-signed by Anas Sarwar, Patrick Harvie, Lorna Slater and Alex Cole-Hamilton stated:
“The Home Secretary’s announcement today, detailing the introduction of an entirely online application processes for Ukrainian family members seeking to come to the UK without the requirement to attend a Visa Application Centre, is a welcome step in the right direction. As is the decision to further extend the Ukrainian Family Visa Scheme. It is clear though that it is not enough.
“It is neither reasonable nor morally acceptable to expect people fleeing war to go through complex bureaucratic processes in order to reach safety within the UK. Therefore, we urge you to follow the example of European countries including 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. We must provide sanctuary first and treat people with respect and humanity.”
The First Minister also used her letter to set out the work the Scottish Government is doing ahead of welcoming Ukrainian refugees:
“The Scottish Government is already working with local authorities and the Scottish Refugee Council to make sure that our communities are ready to welcome Ukrainian refugees as soon as they are able to come here, and ensure that they have the support that they need.”
Finally, the First Minister’s letter called for confirmation that the UK Government “will provide the flexibility and the financial support needed to allow us in Scotland and communities across the UK to contribute” to the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
On 15 March, the First Minister told the Scottish Parliament that the Scottish Government had proposed taking on the role of a “supersponsor” for the Homes for Ukraine Scheme and that the UK Government had indicated support for the proposal in principle. The First Minister indicated that she hoped that this would mean Scotland could welcome 3,000 Ukrainians very soon.
The following day, the First Minister made a statement to Parliament setting out the Scottish Government’s approach to welcoming Ukrainians to Scotland. The First Minister told Parliament:
“The Scottish Government is committed to playing our full part in the international effort to help those who are displaced as a result of the war. Other countries have waived the requirement for people from Ukraine to obtain visas in order to gain entry and settle. The strong preference of the Scottish Government is that the UK Government adopts the same approach. However, although we will continue to press for that, we will also work with UK ministers to make the processes that it has put in place as effective as possible.”
On the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, the First Minister told Parliament that she hoped the Scottish Government’s proposal to be a supersponsor would enable Ukrainians to come to Scotland more quickly:
“The first phase of the scheme depends on matches being made between refugees and individual sponsors. Initially, it is only those who already have, or can themselves find, details of people who are seeking refuge who will be able to provide help quickly. The Scottish Government’s proposal seeks to short-circuit that process. We want and have offered to act as a single supersponsor to allow significant numbers of people who are fleeing Ukraine to come to Scotland immediately. We have offered to sponsor 3,000 people straight away, and in the longer term we have given an uncapped commitment to support at least 10 per cent of the total number who seek sanctuary in the UK.
In practice, Scottish Government sponsorship would mean that people from Ukraine do not need to be matched with individual sponsors before being allowed entry to the UK. They would be able to come here to sanctuary and safety first. We will provide temporary accommodation and then, with people already safely here and, I am sure, wrapped in a warm Scottish welcome, we will work at speed with partners including local councils, the Scottish Refugee Council, the national health service, Disclosure Scotland and others to complete safeguarding checks; put in place wider health, education, practical and befriending support; and arrange longer-term accommodation.”
The First Minister indicated she hoped that by acting as a supersponsor, it might allow the first Ukrainians to arrive in Scotland as early as this weekend. The First Minister announced that the Scottish Government would provide £15 million to support the immediate refugee response allocated as follows:
- Just over £11 million of that will be allocated to local authorities;
- £2.25 million will be set aside for temporary accommodation;
- £1.4 million allocated to the Scottish Refugee Council for the expansion of its refugee integration service.
On 18 March, the Homes for Ukraine Scheme launched. The Scottish Government confirmed that “a distinct route to accommodation, support and care in Scotland is now available to people displaced by the invasion of Ukraine”. Accessible through the UK Government’s Homes for Ukraine Scheme, the Scottish initiative is known as “the warm Scots welcome” and results from the Scottish Government being recognised as a supersponsor for the scheme. According to the Scottish Government:
“The Scottish programme is available as an option to Ukrainians when applying for a visa under the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, by opting for the organisational sponsor route, and selecting “The Scottish Government” from the drop-down box in response to the question “Which organisation is sponsoring you?”
Scottish people willing to volunteer and provide homes for Ukrainians arriving through the sponsorship scheme are encouraged to sign up at the Homes for Ukraine portal.”
The Scottish Government is working with partners including local councils, the Scottish Refugee Council, the NHS, Disclosure Scotland, NGOs and faith groups to complete safeguarding checks, put in place wider health, education, practical and befriending support, and arrange longer term accommodation.
When the scheme launched, the First Minister issued a message of welcome in both Ukrainian and Russian to Ukrainians arriving in Scotland.
The UK Government is now operating two visas schemes for Ukrainians who have fled their home country following Russia’s invasion and wish to come to the UK. Whilst these schemes have been simplified over recent weeks, Ukrainians wishing to come to the UK continue to require a visa to enter the country and thus need to fulfil the requirements of either the Ukraine Family Scheme or the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
As Ukrainians begin to arrive under both schemes, attention will turn to ensuring they are made welcome in the UK and have access to suitable housing, support and public services.
Iain McIver, SPICe Research
This blog was updated on 21 March to reflect the launch of the Homes for Ukraine Scheme and the Scottish Government’s recognised role as supersponsor.