The Home Office has been criticised for its visa offer to Ukrainians fleeing the war amid uncertainty over which family members of British nationals will be able to come to the UK.
After widespread criticism of the lack of visa options for those seeking refuge from the war in Ukraine, the prime minister announced on Sunday that any person settled in the UK will be able to bring over their “immediate” Ukrainian family members to join them.
The most up to date information published by the department says only particular relatives of Brits living in Ukraine qualify for a family migration visa: a spouse, civil partner or cohabiting unmarried partner; a child under the age of 18; a parent, if the British national is under 18; or a cohabiting adult relative who is also a carer.
Guidance on support for family members of British nationals in Ukraine, and Ukrainian nationals in Ukraine and the UK, was not updated beyond this following the PM’s announcement. A Home Office spokesperson said the department intends to publish an update today with further information on who will qualify to come to the UK.
A line was added to the guidance yesterday to say that “there may be cases where some people do not meet the eligibility criteria, for example the English language requirement or minimum income requirement”.
“Given the current circumstances, if somebody does not meet these requirements, [UK Visas and Immigration] will consider an alternative grant of leave to come to the UK,” the document said.
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael called the announcement “woefully inadequate”.
Following the PM’s announcement, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper called for the Home Office to clarify that those allowed to come to the UK would not only include the immediate family of British nationals. She also called for a broader sanctuary route for other Ukrainians.
Cooper said the existing Home Office guidance on visas for family members of British nationals in Ukraine “shows even this first step does NOT apply to wider family” – something the Home Office has yet to confirm.
Commenting on Twitter, she said: “What are they thinking? What about people struggling to get elderly parents here, or Ukrainians who can’t come stay with [a] sister or brother here?”
She called the response “shameful”.
The UK’s response has been unfavourably compared to the EU’s visa waiver, which is allowing all Ukrainians into EU countries for at least three years.
Following Russia’s invasion on Thursday, home secretary Priti Patel announced visa concessions for Ukrainians who are in the UK on work, study or visit visas to have their visas temporarily extended or be able to switch onto different visa routes.
But the only existing routes for Ukrainians considering fleeing to the UK are the family migration, skilled worker, student or seasonal worker visas, or a 12 month-stay if they do not meet these requirements.
Kevin Foster, an immigration minister in the Home Office, was slammed for suggesting Ukrainian refugees can apply via the UK fruit-picking seasonal worker scheme in response to concerns raised about the lack of support.
Responding to a tweet from Labour MP Luke Pollard, Foster said the seasonal-worker visa was among “a number of routes… which Ukrainians can qualify for”.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said Foster had “lost the plot” with his suggestion, while his colleague Joanna Cherry said there was a need for a “wholesale change at a tone deaf Home Office starting with Kevin Foster and his boss Priti Patel”.
To help people fleeing Ukraine to apply for visas, the Home Office says it has “surged staff” to visa application centres, including a new, temporary location set up in Lviv due to the Kyiv centre being closed and centres in nearby countries, including Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary.
The Home Office said it has been planning for the impact that a Russian invasion would have on application centres, and “swift action was taken to ensure contingency plans were put in place”.
The department said it would also send extra staff to application centres in Poland (Warsaw), Moldova (Chisinau), Romania (Bucharest) and Hungary (Budapest) this week, as well as setting up a pop-up centre in Rzeszow, Poland for dependants of British nationals.