As you will have seen in the news the UK government has launched the Homes for Ukraine scheme meaning individuals will be able to act as sponsors for Ukrainian refugees and their immediate family members if they are willing to offer them a room in their home or separate self-contained accommodation for a minimum period of six months. The scheme is also open to businesses.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme is a sponsored scheme which opened last Friday, 18 March 2022, and is intended for Ukrainian nationals who do not have family ties to the UK and so are not eligible under the separate Ukraine Family Scheme. The Family Scheme is for immediate and extended family members of UK-based sponsors – the immediate family members of extended family members can also apply.
We are currently helping a number of our clients in connection with both of these routes. Shara Pledger is an immigration expert involved in that work and she joined me by video-link from Manchester to discuss it. I asked Shara about the type of queries she is dealing with:
Shara Pledger: “Well, predominantly, we're being contacted by people who have got concerns about either individuals who remain in Ukraine, or who have been able to get out of Ukraine into one of the neighbouring countries and, as most people will have seen in the news, there are now various options that are available that relate to things like family reunion, but also the new scheme which has been partially launched just in the last day or so that relates to being able to actually sponsor a Ukrainian refugee. Now, that is one that is potentially is going to be of interest to businesses who might like to try and offer support to their workers, or to the families of their workers, but would not ordinarily be able to do so because that employee is not already based in the UK. The scheme is not yet fully up and running and we don't yet have a full list of immigration rules to get a good understanding of exactly what that will entail but if businesses are interested they do have the opportunity now to sign up to express their interest in sponsoring somebody. What I was reading about that was that the idea behind it from the Home Office is that ideally anybody, so that's individual or business, who expresses that interest to support will have somebody in mind that they want to support. So for the organisations that have contacted us about supporting, for example, family members of their existing employees that's a great idea because it means that they'll be able to say immediately, you know, we want to sponsor that person and their children, give their names give all of their details, the idea being that there'll be able to then connect with that person much more quickly than if the Home Office was having to try and match all of those people that have expressed interest with all of those people that need support. So we've still got lots of routes that are all running at the same time, lots of them are changing regularly as well, so there's a lot for people, unfortunately, to try and get their heads around and then recalibrate as more information comes to the front but at least we do see movement now and there are opportunities for people to make applications that didn't exist even this time last week.”
Joe Glavina: “We’ve seen in the news a lot of criticism of the Home Office for having too much red tape around these routes. To what extent have things become any easier?”
Shara Pledger: “When these routes first opened the big problem that was experienced by the applicants was the need to enrol biometric data which is a crucial part of any visa application and this is no different to what was operated before. The problem, of course, for those who were applying who are Ukrainian nationals is that ordinarily they would enrol their biometrics in their country of origin, in this case, Ukraine, which of course they cannot do. All of the visa application centres were shut down with the exception of Lviv and, obviously, most people were having to travel outside of Ukraine in order to enrol their biometrics. I’m very pleased to say that the Home Office was able to make arrangements to get around this so, as of last as of last week, they've allowed people to enrol via what we call the IDV app, which is a way of using your smartphone to read your machine-readable passport and to take your photograph and that will assist some people but, unfortunately, not all. One of the other questions that we've been asked by people is actually in relation to applications from Russia and whether or not we're still accepting applications from Russian nationals where Russian application centres are remaining open. For the time being they certainly are, we've not seen anything that indicates that we will either stop processing Russian applications or that any of those centres will close but, again, of course, it is a very fast developing situation and there is the possibility that that could happen in future.”
Joe Glavina: “Finally, Shara, as a consequence of the Ukraine crisis the UK’s visa priority service has been suspended. Tell me about that”
Shara Pledger: “In order to try and address the demand of applications that they have received in the various Ukrainian routes the Home Office have now taken steps to try and remove priority processing from other less urgent applications. Now, this does mean that anybody that's making an application for a UK visa that relates to anything like study, work, joining their family, for example, they can no longer prioritise those applications in the way that they might be used to doing. So, from the point of view of businesses especially, care needs to be taken in terms of when they expect a worker to start with them, particularly if they're working on a particular project, for example. So, it's unfortunately a slightly unpredictable way of moving forward because it's never possible to know without priority servicing exactly how long it will take for an application to be processed but, absolutely, it would be advisable for people to add on a few extra weeks, allow a bit more wiggle room for those start dates to take effect.”
The government’s website sets out the details of both the Homes for Ukraine scheme and the Ukraine Family scheme. We’ve put a link to that in the transcript of this programme.