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What is UK visa system for Ukraine refugees? Why Home Office is in crisis mode - and rules changes explained

Priti Patel announced the change to the system which applies to Ukraine Family Scheme visas

Home Secretary Priti Patel announced a streamlined online visa application system for Ukrainians seeking to flee the war with Russia in response to criticism of her approach to the crisis.

She told MPs the changes will come in from Tuesday following assurances from the security services that the UK can still be protected from Russian efforts to infiltrate the country by posing as Ukrainian refugees.

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The Home Office has come under pressure from opposition and Tory MPs – as well as the Ukrainian government – to simplify the system which allows family members of people settled in the UK to join their relatives.

But what are the changes to the application system, who is eligible to apply, and how will it simplify the process?

Priti Patel announced the change to the visa application system for Ukrainian refugees in the House of Commons.

What are the rule changes to the UK visa system for Ukraine refugees?

The changes mean Ukrainians with passports will be able to apply for a visa online from outwith the UK and will no longer need to go to a visa application centre.

They will be able to give their biometric data once they get to the UK.

Ms Patel said: “From Tuesday, I can announce that Ukrainians with passports will no longer need to go to a visa application centre to give their biometrics before they come to the UK.

“Instead, once their application has been considered and appropriate checks completed, they will receive direct notification that they’re eligible for the scheme and can come to the UK.

“In short, Ukrainians with passports will be able to get permission to come here fully online from wherever they are and will be able to give their biometrics once in Britain.

“This will mean that visa application centres across Europe can focus their efforts on helping Ukrainians without passports.”

She said the “important checks” can be done through the digital process.

Priti Patel speaking in the House of Commons.

Does this apply to all refugees wishing to come to the UK?

The current visa route is restricted to family members of people settled in the UK, so the change only applies to those eligible for that scheme.

Another promised route – allowing individuals and companies to sponsor Ukrainians to come to the UK – has not yet been established.

More than two million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion.

While the European Union allows visa-free travel for Ukrainians fleeing the fighting, the UK insisted they are necessary to guarantee security.

Ms Patel said she was able to change the visa regime following security agencies’ fresh advice.

How can people apply for the scheme they?

Those with passports who are eligible for the scheme can apply for their visa online on the Government’s website. They would provide biometric information such as fingerprints and a photograph once they are in the UK.

Visas under the scheme last for up to three years and it is free to apply for. Those applying do not need to pay the immigration health surcharge.

Those without passports will need to go to a visa application centre (VAC). The centres are currently operating throughout Europe and locations include:

  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Chisinau, Moldova
  • Warsaw, Poland
  • Bucharest, Romania
  • Paris, France

There is also a temporary VAC for people applying for the Ukraine Family Scheme in Rzeszow, Poland.

Who is eligible to apply for the Ukraine Family Scheme?

According to the Government’s website applications will be subject to security checks and those who can apply must be:

  • applying to join or accompany a UK-based family member
  • Ukrainian or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national who is applying to the scheme
  • have been residing in Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2022 (including those who have now left Ukraine)

The Government says the UK-based family member must be one of the following:

  • a British national
  • someone settled in the UK - for example, they have indefinite leave to remain, settled status or proof of permanent residence
  • someone from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland who has pre-settled status and started living in the UK before 1 January 2021
  • someone with refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK
A Polish soldier helps families to carry their belongings after crossing the Ukrainian-Polish border at the Medyka border crossing, southeastern Poland.

Do they need to provide documents in their application?

Applicants must also provide evidence the family member is one of the following:

  • an immediate family member
  • an extended family member
  • an immediate family member of an extended family member

The evidence required would take the form of an official document that confirms the applicant’s relationship to their UK-based family member. Examples of this include a marriage or birth certificate.

If they are unable to provide this they can still apply explaining why they are unable to do so.

Who counts as a family member?

The Government says an immediate family member is classed as :

  • spouse or civil partner
  • unmarried partner (you must have been living together in a relationship for at least two years)
  • child who is under 18
  • parent (if you are under 18)
  • fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner

An extended family member is one of the following:

  • a parent (if you are over 18)
  • child who is over 18
  • grandparent
  • grandchild or your partner’s grandchild
  • brother or sister
  • aunt or uncle
  • niece or nephew
  • cousin
  • mother-in-law or father-in-law
  • grandparent-in-law
  • brother or sister-in-law

While an immediate family member of an extended family member counts as:

  • spouse or civil partner of an extended family member
  • child under 18 of an extended family member
  • parent of a child under 18 who is an extended family member
  • fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner of an extended family member

If the UK-based family member is the applicant’s (or an extended family member’s) spouse, civil partner, fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner the relationship must have started before 1 January 2022.

According to the Government’s website other family members will be considered where there are exceptional circumstances.

People crossing the Ukrainian border into Poland, at Medyka border crossing. The UN says at least 2.2 million people have fled Ukraine, It has called the exodus Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II.

Will digital applications make the process easier?

Amy Stokes, head of business immigration at Forbes Solicitors, says digital visas will do little to avoid the need for Ukrainians to make their applications in person at visa application centres.

She said: “The evidence and documentation that applicants require for the UK’s Ukraine Family Scheme is far from clear cut. Applying digitally sounds great in theory but will do little to stem the confusion about whether a person meets the visa eligibility criteria.

“If the Government wants to make the visa application process quicker and easier for Ukrainians, they’d be better placed providing clearer and more accessible guidance about exactly what is required for a successful application.

“There are too many grey areas in the current application process, which raise more questions than answers. This is why applicants are struggling with completing the online form and providing the right evidence. It is not clear yet how the digital process will work but many Ukrainians do not currently have passports and are still likely to seek out visa application centres for help with addressing concerns and to properly fill out their applications.”

The firm has launched a free-of-charge consultation to provide advice about evidence and eligibility requirements of visa applications. For more information email: [email protected]

Support people fleeing the devastating conflict in Ukraine: donate to the DEC appeal

Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) charities and their local partners are in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance. Learn more and donate what you can today

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