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 homes in search of safety. In response to the humanitarian emergency, the UK Government launched two visa schemes to enable people fleeing Ukraine to come to the UK:
- the Ukraine Family Scheme and
- the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
Details of the schemes and the application process are provided in the SPICe blog Welcoming Ukrainians to the United Kingdom.
Whilst immigration and asylum are reserved matters. the Scottish Government supports asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland, as set out in its New Scots refugee integration strategy 2018-2022. This means that whilst the design of the Ukraine Family Scheme and the Homes for Ukraine Scheme are the responsibility of the UK Government, the Scottish Government is responsible for looking after and supporting Ukrainians who look to settle in Scotland.
Scottish Government approach
Following the announcement of the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, the First Minister told the Scottish Parliament that she hoped the Scottish Government’s proposal to become a “supersponsor” would enable Ukrainians to come to Scotland more quickly. By acting as a supersponsor, the Scottish Government’s route removes the need for applicants to be matched to a named individual before they are cleared to travel to the UK through the visa system.
When the Homes for Ukraine Scheme formally launched on 18 March 2022, 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.
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.
Access to the NHS and benefits
On 25 March 2022, the Scottish Government confirmed that people coming from Ukraine to Scotland on either of the two UK Government schemes will be able to access NHS services at no charge on the same basis as people living in Scotland. This approach will also apply to people from Ukraine who were in Scotland on short-term visas when the conflict began, and who apply to extend or switch visas because they cannot return home.
The Scottish Government also confirmed that from 22 March 2022, Scottish legislation will allow people coming to Scotland from Ukraine to meet residency conditions for Scottish social security benefits meaning they will have immediate access to benefits such as Scottish Child Payment and Child Disability Payment.
Separately, the UK Government has confirmed that Ukrainians arriving under the two visa schemes will be eligible to access welfare support immediately including:
- Universal Credit
- Housing Benefit
- Pension Credit
- Personal Independence Payment
- Child Disability Living Allowance and Carers Allowance, and Attendance Allowance
- Contributions-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) which are also available for those Ukrainians who meet the criteria.
The UK Government highlighted that without the emergency legislation to enable this, people arriving from Ukraine would be subject to the Habitual Residence Test, meaning they would have to wait up to three months before being able to receive income-related benefits, including Universal Credit.
The UK Government also committed to ensuring that those who have volunteered to sponsor a Ukrainian individual or family do not see their household benefit entitlements affected as a result.
Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee consideration
On 24 March 2022, the Scottish Parliament’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee heard evidence on the crisis in Ukraine. The next section of the blog sets out some of the key issues raised during the evidence session pertaining to Ukrainians arriving in Scotland.
UK Visa schemes
Representatives from Just Right Scotland and the Scottish Refugee Council told the Committee that they were disappointed at the UK Government decision to operate visa schemes to support Ukrainians coming to Scotland rather than allowing Ukrainians to come to the UK without the need to first apply for a visa. The witnesses added that these visa schemes are not sufficient to deal with a refugee crisis. Graham O’Neil from the Scottish Refugee Council told the Committee:
“I would just stand back a bit and say that there has been a deliberate choice by the UK Government—the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister—to apply, predominantly to women and children, a deeply inappropriate visa-based approach to the largest and fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since the second world war.”
Andy Sirrel, legal director and partner, Just Right Scotland highlighted the difficult circumstances for Ukrainians arriving in Scotland for the first time:
“When I reflect on my work with new clients—women and children who have just arrived in the United Kingdom after fleeing persecution—I can see that the initial point of entry is one of the most challenging points of their entire experience. It can be absolutely overwhelming; after all, we are talking about a new country and a new language, and they are already dealing with loss and grief. There are many confusing processes for them to navigate—housing, employment, benefits, education and social work support, too, if it is involved. To be honest, those processes are fairly confusing for those of us who live here, never mind for individuals who are coming from a place of conflict. Most important, such people are usually very worried about other family members.”
The Scottish Government set out for the Committee the welcome that Ukrainians will receive when they arrive in Scotland:
“There is a multi-agency approach on the ground. We have made sure that welcome hub arrangements are in place at all major points of entry into Scotland—Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, the main train stations, and Cairnryan. We are working with the police, Transport Scotland and our local authority partners. People who are coming in who require assistance will be identified and moved into the welcome hub arrangements. Transport is available 24 hours a day to move people on to the welcome hubs, and there is accommodation if people need it, as well as immediate support around triage in relation to their needs, age, food and clothing, for example.”
Ukrainians already in Scotland on seasonal worker visas
The Committee heard concerns in particular about the potentially difficult situation faced by Ukrainians already in Scotland on visit, student or seasonal workers visas when the Russian invasion of their home country took place. Ukrainians in this position cannot sponsor family members under the Ukraine Family Scheme and cannot apply to the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. Whilst these Ukrainians have had their visas extended, they do not allow them to bring family over from Ukraine and do not necessarily take account of their changed circumstances as a result of the Russian invasion. For example, Ukrainians already in the UK on student or seasonal worker visas have no recourse to public funds (they cannot access welfare benefits etc.) and in the case of seasonal workers, they face increased challenges if their seasonal work has expired even though their visas have been extended. On the particular plight of seasonal workers, Andy Sirrel told the Committee:
“I would just note that in 2021, 67 per cent of all seasonal worker grants in the UK were for Ukrainians, which makes the scheme predominantly Ukrainian; however, seasonal workers are not eligible for either of the visa schemes that are in place, and they cannot sponsor family members from here. They are stuck on specific visa routes in the sense that they cannot change employer, which means that, if they wanted to send more money back to family members in Ukraine, they would not be able to do so. Again, they have no recourse to public funds, and there are all sorts of other problems, including accommodation and what they will do when their visas expire. These people are falling through the gaps, and they live here in Scotland.”
An example was given to the Committee of a seasonal worker on a farm in Scotland to whom Just Right Scotland gave advice to. The worker required advice about six different and complex levels of immigration routes, about changing jobs, about applying to existing schemes but outwith their usual remit, about securing a lawyer, about obtaining evidence and about claiming asylum.
Following the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee meeting, the Committee wrote to the Home Secretary about the particular challenges faced by Ukrainian seasonal workers currently in Scotland.
Number of Ukrainians arriving in the UK
According to UK Government figures, by 31 March, the UK had issued a total of 29,200 visas under the two Ukraine visa schemes:
- Ukraine Family Scheme visas: 24,400
- Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme visas: 4,700
These numbers are based on 65,000 visa applications received. Of those visas issued under the Sponsorship Scheme, 210 visas were issued where the sponsor was from Scotland: of which the Scottish Government is super sponsor for 30 of the applications. This means that around 4% of visas issued under the Sponsorship Scheme by 31 March were for Ukrainians intending to go to Scotland though it is not clear how many Ukrainians have applied under the Sponsorship Scheme to come to Scotland.
The slow pace in matching Ukrainians to families in the UK under the sponsorship scheme was raised by Sharon Dowey MSP in Parliament on 31 March.
“Much has been made of the supersponsorship scheme, but what of the next steps? As of last night, officials at the City of Edinburgh Council said that they were still waiting for data on those who have expressed an interest in hosting Ukrainians, so that they can start pairing refugees with homes. Meanwhile, hundreds of Scots who are ready to open their doors are still waiting for an update. Has that data been made available to councils since last night? How many Ukrainians who have arrived in Scotland have been matched with a home?”
In response, the Scottish Government Minister with special responsibility for refugees from Ukraine, Neil Gray MSP told Parliament:
“Sharon Dowey will share my frustration at the slow pace of receipt of data from the United Kingdom Government. At the end of the day, we are still reliant on the UK Government’s immigration system in order to work at speed.
To be fair, an incredible effort was made following the First Minister’s conception of the supersponsor idea on one Friday to getting the system up and running on the following Friday. However, since then, it has been a very slow process in getting applications turned into visas and in our receiving the data.
I appreciate the frustration that the member feels. We feel it too, and we are asking the UK Government to move much faster to make sure that those who are offering support with accommodation here in Scotland and those fleeing war in Ukraine get what they need as quickly as possible.”
The UK and Scottish Governments have put in place arrangements to help support Ukrainians who come to Scotland under one of the two Ukraine visa schemes. The data published by the UK Government suggests that the number of Ukrainians securing a visa under each of the Schemes is relatively low at this stage. However, the coming weeks are likely to see an increasing number of Ukrainians coming to Scotland under these visa schemes with the arrangements put in place to welcome them being put to the test.
Iain McIver, SPICe Research