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Ukrainian refugees with passports will be able to apply for UK family visa online in Home Office U-turn

Changes to scheme welcomed but warnings there are ‘still major gaps’ in the UK’s support for Ukrainians

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 10 March 2022 10:44 GMT
Priti Patel announces Ukrainian refugees with passports can apply for UK visa online

Ukrainian refugees with passports will now be able to apply to join their relatives in the UK through an online process, Priti Patel has announced in a Home Office U-turn.

The home secretary said that from Tuesday, Ukrainians who have fled the war and have passports will no longer need to go to a visa application centre to submit their biometrics before they come to the UK.

Ms Patel told the House of Commons she had received assurances on security matters which enabled her to make changes to the Ukrainian family scheme.

“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,” she said.

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

The change comes after mounting concerns about “unnecessary delays and bureaucracy” in the visa application process, which has seen many forced to wait for hours in the cold and travel for miles.

The scheme still applies only to Ukrainians with family members who are settled in Britain.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Why does it always take being hauled into the House of Commons to make basic changes to help vulnerable people who are fleeing from Ukraine?

“It is welcome that she’s now introducing the online approach that we know they tried different ways of doing for the Hong Kong visas, but why has it taken so long when she’s had intelligence for weeks if not months that she needed to prepare for a Russian invasion of Ukraine?”

She added: “And why have we still got to wait until Tuesday for this new system to come in, what is to happen for everybody else in the meantime?”

Responding, Ms Patel brought up the Windrush scandal, which erupted under the Conservative government in 2018 and saw thousands of people who had lived and worked in Britain for decades wrongly treated as illegal immigrants.

“There was something known as the Windrush scandal, and it’s important that everyone arriving in the UK has physical and digital records of their status in the UK to ensure they’re accessible to schemes,” the home secretary said.

Marley Morris, IPPR associate director for migration, trade and communities, said he welcomed the change but that there were “still major gaps” in the UK’s support for Ukrainian refugees.

“Currently, there are no available humanitarian routes for Ukrainians without family members in the UK. The humanitarian sponsorship scheme has not yet been set up and, based on the current scale and resourcing of community sponsorship in the UK, it will be wholly inadequate for meeting the needs of Ukrainians,” he said.

“The government should follow the lead of Canada and the EU by offering temporary protection to all Ukrainians who want to apply. At the same time, it should urgently investigate how to further streamline the visa process, or simply lift visa requirements altogether.”

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