On 25 February 2022, the Home Office published a concession to the UK’s immigration policy for Ukrainians, focussing in particular on Ukrainians with family members in the UK.
On 26 February 2022, the Government indicated there would be strong and far-reaching support for Ukrainians seeking sanctuary in the UK
“Any person settled in the UK will be able to bring their Ukrainian immediate family members to join them here…This will benefit many thousands of people who at this moment are making desperate choices about their future.”
On 27 February 2022, a further policy was published. The new guidance contains disappointingly tight restrictions which are out of kilter with our European neighbours and are typically nit-picking.
Here are six areas where the policy falls short:
- The definition of an eligible family member is narrow and excludes the likes of children over 18 and other adult relatives unless they live with you due to a medical condition and you provide care to them.
- You still have to apply for a visa, even if free. This means making individuals jump through various hoops at a time of considerable distress and upheaval. You must complete an online visa application and then somehow attending a visa application centre to enrol your biometrics. There is currently one visa centre still open in the Ukraine in Lviv, although the concession allows you to apply from a neighbouring country.
- Although there seems to be some discretion around the financial and English language requirements (you would normally need to show you earn at least £18,600 or hold £62,500 in savings), applicants might still struggle to get suitable evidence at this time.
- The more recently published policy on 27 February 2022 announces that visas are free ‘if you’re the family member of a British national who usually lives in Ukraine’. The older policy clearly applies to Ukrainian family members of not just British people in the UK but family members of individuals who hold indefinite leave to remain or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. One hopes this is just imprecise wording in the new concession – that the free visa element does not only apply to family members of British citizens but to this wider cohort. Either way, the Home Office should clarify this.
- If you do not have a family member in the UK, there are extremely limited options for applying from outside the UK – you can make a case based on ‘compassionate reasons’, but there is no further detail about how such an application will be considered.
- If you are in the UK, there are ‘switching provisions’ which allow you to switch into another category from within the UK. However, you still need to overcome the hurdle of meeting the general eligibility requirements for the new route. For example, if you want to live here as a Skilled Worker, you will first need to find an organisation with a sponsor licence that will sponsor you and pay you the minimum salary threshold as set by the Home Office. A switching concession is only useful if there is something to switch into.
The UK’s position seems particularly harsh when compared with the likes of Ireland, that has lifted visa requirements for Ukrainians travelling to Ireland, or the EU which unanimously agreed to welcome Ukrainian refugees for up to three years, without requiring them to go through the asylum process. At a time when Ukrainians need our unflinching support and humanity, there is a disconnect between the Government’s welcoming rhetoric and the tighter immigration restrictions being put into practice.