Priti Patel poised to ease strict visa rules for Ukraine refugees but biometric checks will stay

Ukrainians in UK on temporary work or student visas expected to be allowed to bring in their families

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 10 March 2022 10:07 GMT
Priti Patel defends UK visa system for Ukrainian refugees

Priti Patel is poised to give in to fierce pressure to ease strict visa rules for refugees from Ukraine – but will insist biometric checks must continue.

Mountains of red tape have left tens of thousands of people fleeing the war waiting for permission to enter the UK, with hundreds trapped without help in Calais.

Now the beleaguered home secretary is expected to announce that Ukrainians living in the UK on temporary work or student visas – not just those with permanent residency – will be allowed to bring in their families.

Burdensome biometric checks are also likely to be eased for Ukrainians who have already supplied such details, but will not be scrapped altogether, unlike in the EU.

Ministers have insisted they are necessary to prevent Russian agents infiltrating the UK and potentially carrying out a repeat of the Salisbury chemical weapon attacks.

Critics have pointed out that the refugees are women and children – with working age men barred from leaving Ukraine – arguing checks can be carried out after arrival.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK has attacked the red tape, calling for paperwork to be provided later, because many “fleeing under bombardment” do not have the necessary documents to hand.

Vadym Prystaiko said most refugees did not pose a threat, adding: “I hope and beg the procedures will be dropped, every bureaucratic red tape should be cancelled.”

The ambassador also said the Ukrainian embassy in London could help the government to complete checks once people are safely in the country.

Only around 1,000 refugees have arrived in the UK – from more than 20,000 applications – a tiny fraction of the two million people fleeing Russia’s assault on their country.

The changes likely to be announced on Thursday were criticised as “tinkering around the edges” by Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council.

He called for all visa checks to be lifted, attacking the government for “prioritising bureaucracy and paperwork over traumatised people who have fled for their lives”.

Meanwhile, a promised “sponsorship route”, to allow UK citizens, companies and charities to fund the arrival of refugees without family ties has yet to start, a fortnight after the invasion began.

That has placed in the hands of Michael Gove, the communities secretary, but no details are expected to be unveiled before Friday at the earliest.

David Cameron has joined the criticism, calling for the government to find a way around “Home Office thinking”.

Asked if ministers were behind the national mood, the former prime minister replied: “They are.” He added: “We’ve got to get this done, the prime minister wants it done and I’m sure it will be.”

Boris Johnson appeared to pile pressure on Ms Patel when he told MPs that the number of refugees arriving will rise “very sharply”.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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