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Academic report finds bespoke humanitarian visa schemes are not a viable replacement for UK’s mainstream refugee protection


Report examines experiences of people arriving in UK on “safe and legal routes” for Hong Kong and Ukraine

Date of Publication:

A new academic report examines the experiences of people who arrived in the UK through the bespoke Hong Kong BN(O) and Ukraine humanitarian visa schemes.

Report coverThe 23-page report can be downloaded here.

It was published by the Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit (MIGZEN) project and was authored by Professor Michaela Benson of Lancaster University, Professor Nando Sigona of the University of Birmingham, and Elena Zambelli, a senior research associate at Lancaster University.

The report's key finding is that contrary to the Government's claims that the bespoke schemes are robust forms of humanitarian protection, people arriving in the UK on the visas are facing significant challenges. According to the authors, the experiences show that these 'safe and legal routes' are not a viable replacement for the UK's mainstream refugee protection

Professor Nando Sigona said: "Our findings underscore the need for a closer examination of the implications of these humanitarian visa schemes. The UK government often refers to them to demonstrate its continuing commitment to international protection, but these schemes are no alternative to the asylum system; at best they can be complementary. Significant concerns persist with the visa schemes, especially regarding the temporary nature of protection for Ukrainians and the restrictions and costs faced by Hong Kongers."

Research for the report draws on 43 qualitative interviews conducted with Hong Kongers and Ukrainians.

For those arriving on the Hong Kong BN(O) scheme, the challenges encountered in the UK included difficulties in accessing suitable housing, limited access to public funds, lack of recognition of professional qualifications and the categorisation of Hong Kongers as international students for tertiary education purposes. Many of the Hong Kongers interviewed said they had been unable to find work that matched their skills and experiences.

The report notes that people on the Hong Kong BN(O) route felt the visa offered them protection, but they highlighted that they did not feel sufficiently supported to settle in the UK.

As the authors of the report noted in an article on The Conversation, the lack of access to welfare support for the Hong Kong BN(O) route contrasts to the support offered to others with refugee status and those coming to the UK through other designated humanitarian routes.

Ukrainians spoken to for the report highlighted a prevailing sense of temporariness and uncertainty due to the time-limited nature of the Ukraine visa schemes.

The authors commented: "The biggest concern for Ukrainians on the scheme who we spoke to is that the protections are temporary, lasting just three years and with no clear pathway yet to permanent residence. […] This uncertainty impedes their ability to plan for the future, and makes those on the scheme feel insecure. It has had practical implications too, with many Ukrainians facing homelessness after being unable to secure long-term housing. Ukrainian children on this scheme are spending important formative years in the UK and many feel increasingly anchored to the UK irrespective of the outcome of the war."

Ukrainians also frequently reported language barriers and the mismatch between their qualifications and experiences and local job markets.

Downward social mobility and deskilling was a common experience for many on the Hong Kong BN(O) and Ukraine visa schemes, as was difficulty accessing housing.

The authors noted: "There is clearly some distance between what the government considers appropriate protection for people fleeing war and political oppression, and the experiences of those benefiting from said protection. If the plan is to offer more of these schemes, more thought must be given to how they can help vulnerable people integrate in the UK Over the long term – not leaving them insecure and struggling to support themselves."