The Homes for Ukraine Scheme was launched last month, on 18 March, so how is it going? Our immigration team has been helping a number of clients in supporting Ukrainian refugees through UK sponsorship – we’ll get an update from one of the team.
A reminder. In response to the Ukraine crisis, the UK government launched two bespoke visa schemes for Ukrainians and their qualifying family members. Both schemes give the opportunity for applicants to relocate to the UK with permission to work, study, and claim public benefits. Both schemes also give time-limited permission in the UK for three years only, although we may see options for extension and/or settlement at a later date. The schemes are the family scheme and the sponsorship scheme, also known as Homes for Ukraine.
The family scheme requires the applicant to have a qualifying UK-based family member to support their application. Eligibility is not based on the nationality of the UK resident, instead that person’s immigration status dictates whether the applicant may apply. To be successful, there must be a UK supporter who is a British or Irish national, is permanently settled in the UK, has status under the EU Settlement Scheme, or is someone with asylum or protection status. Applications are free of charge and – where the applicant has access to their passport and to documents proving the connection with their qualifying family member – relatively easy to process.
The sponsorship scheme turns attention away from the nationality of the UK supporter and towards the practical offer of sponsorship that they can make. There must be an offer of suitable UK accommodation for a minimum six months. Such an offer can be made by an individual or an organisation, such as a business or a charity. This means that there is an opportunity for an applicant with no prior UK connections to relocate here.
Since it launched that scheme hasn’t been out of the news. On Monday the Guardian reported how close to 1,000 Ukrainian families who applied for visas under the scheme are still waiting for the applications to be processed more than a month after submitting them. A group of would-be hosts protested outside parliament and presented MPs with a dossier of 986 cases where visas have been applied for but not yet granted.
So, where are we now and are things getting any better? Shara Pledger is an immigration specialist and I put that question tom her:
Shara Pledger: “We've seen some good improvements over recent weeks. So, the sponsorship scheme, also called the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, has now launched in full whereas that initially launched without any sort of centralised method of matching Ukrainian applicants to UK sponsors. We’re now starting to see much more formal links introduced into that process, so we now actually have - and you'll find this on the government website - links to actual organisations who have been appointed by the Home Office to try and help people to match in this way. The difficulty that we're seeing is still about those delays, mainly. So, we're still seeing people reporting that they've had applications outstanding for several weeks, the Home Office assuring everybody they're doing all they can, diverting resources, diverting staff, but it's not moving as quickly as people would hope even when you actually have that appointed sponsorship and that link between the overseas applicant and the UK sponsor.”
Joe Glavina: “Thinking about employers wanting to help, the obvious thought is offering Ukrainians some sort of work but, as I understand it, the Homes for Ukraine scheme is about homes, not jobs. Is that right?
Shara Pledger: “Yes, absolutely. That sort of informal name for the scheme, Homes for Ukraine, really does belie the focus of that scheme which is all about accommodation. So even where we have clients, and organisations, companies, coming to us saying, you know, we would like to offer a job to these people, we have these roles and we'd really like to try and offer them to Ukrainian nationals, that isn't going to get them into the UK, unfortunately. They will have the right to work once they're here but that application to get into the UK in the first place is completely founded on having that offer of accommodation so that's still where the focus lies for the Home Office. Now, it's interesting that when they've been talking about this sponsorship scheme, they do refer to things in phases and we're still in early phases of that sponsorship scheme so, in theory, there could be ways that we would move forward in future that might look at having organisation sponsor for work purposes, but at the moment there is no movement in relation to that. On top of that, we also see the Home Office pushing back in relation to the standard worker route. So, for example, if an organisation was hoping to sponsor a Ukrainian national under the traditional skilled worker route, they would still need to meet all of those mandatory requirements about English language testing, tuberculosis testing where that's relevant depending on where the person has been living, etcetera. So, there's no move to sort of waive any of those standard requirements and also, at the moment, no specific route that's just focusing on employment for sponsorship.”
Joe Glavina: “There’s a lot of negative press around this scheme, Shara. A final message to clients thinking about using the scheme?”
Shara Pledger: “I think, unfortunately, a lot of the press coverage that's come in terms of the Ukrainian visa route has quite rightly focused on some of the difficulties that people have been experiencing rather in relation to things like delays, problems about making applications. Some of this is being resolved and, really, it's just to encourage people you know, if they are thinking of offering that sponsorship not to give up necessarily. The system is being improved, applications are getting through and people are now starting to arrive in the UK, and we do expect those improvements to continue. So, if it is the case, you know, that there's an organisation, or even an individual, who has that accommodation to offer then it’s definitely still worthwhile seeing whether this is something that can go through into the current scheme.”
Shara has written in detail about the two schemes currently available, the family scheme and the sponsorship scheme. That’s ‘Supporting Ukrainian refugees through UK sponsorship’ and it is available from the Outlaw website.