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Home Office’s immigration changes in response to Ukraine crisis are met with criticism and confusion


Home Office announces visa concessions for Ukranians

Date of Publication:

There has been considerable confusion and criticism over the Home Office’s changes to the immigration system following Russia's large-scale military invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine flagImage credit: WikipediaThe Home Secretary's initial post-invasion announcement on visa concessions for Ukrainians was made on Thursday and can be read here. Priti Patel said: "I have immediately ordered changes to our visa policy to provide certainty to our Ukrainian friends and colleagues living, working and studying in the UK."

The changes allow Ukrainians who are on work, study or visit visas in the UK to have their visas temporarily extended or to be able to switch to different visa routes. It followed an earlier package of measures announced before the invasion to support British nationals and their families in Ukraine.

Ministers and Conservative MPs defended the Government's response in the face of widespread condemnation from opposition voices that it was insufficient.

For example, Labour's shadow Foreign Secretary, David Lammy, said on Twitter on Saturday that it was "totally immoral that the Home Office is still applying normal visa restrictions to those fleeing Ukraine." A response from Home Secretary Priti Patel's official Twitter profile called Lammy's comment "appalling misinformation" and "simply untrue".

The Home Office's guidance page on the current support available for family members of British nationals in Ukraine, and for Ukrainian nationals in Ukraine and the UK, is available here. It was last updated yesterday and frequent future updates can be expected.

Last week, the Home Office also published guidance on Ukrainian nationals on family routes: concession to the Immigration Rules and Ukrainian nationals on work and study routes: concessions to the Immigration Rules.

A useful summary of last week's visa concessions and changes to the immigration system can be found on the Home Office's media blog here.

The Home Office yesterday announced further changes to family migration visas for non-British family members of British nationals in Ukraine.

In an update to its guidance, the Home Office said: "There may be cases where some people do not meet the eligibility criteria, for example the English language requirement or minimum income requirement. Given the current circumstances, if somebody does not meet these requirements, UKVI will consider an alternative grant of leave to come to the UK."

The guidance had previously stated: "If you are not eligible for a family migration visa, you will be advised to consider applying for a different visa."

The Prime Minister's Office also said in an official statement yesterday: "In response to the growing concern of Ukrainians living in the UK about their welfare of their families back home, today the Prime Minister also confirmed that any person settled in the UK will be able to bring their Ukrainian immediate family members to join them here. This will benefit many thousands of people who at this moment are making desperate choices about their future."

There was some confusion among legal commentators as to whether the Home Office's update of its guidance did, or did not, reflect the Prime Minister's announcement.

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, suggested it did and said on Twitter: "Here's the guidance on [the Prime Minister's] visa announcement. Restricting to family members too limited & defining 'family member' so narrowly compounds this. [The Home Office] must lift visa requirement for all Ukrainians seeking entry to UK as other countries doing. Anything less is unacceptable."

Wilson Solicitors noted on Twitter, however, that it did not. Wilsons posted: "The updated guidance issued by the [Home Office] last night does NOT implement the policy announcement by [the Prime Minister]. So we are still waiting. This one is just for the family of British nationals in Ukraine."

Labour's shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, said on Twitter that yesterday's changes to the Home Office guidance were far from enough.

Cooper stated: "Updated guidance just published by Home Office shows even this first step does NOT apply to wider family. What are they thinking? What about people struggling to get elderly parents here, or Ukrainians who can't come stay with sister or brother here? Shameful of Govt to refuse to even help other relatives in a terrible European war like this. Home Office must immediately extend this to wider family members and then they must set out a broader sanctuary route so UK also does its bit to help other Ukrainians too."

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said in response yesterday: "Whilst we welcome the Government's decision to relax visa requirements for Ukrainian people seeking to unite with their family members in the UK, it falls well short of what is needed and does very little to reassure Ukrainians fleeing war and bloodshed that that they will be able to seek sanctuary in our country."

The Refugee Council called on the Government to immediately establish a safe route, so all Ukrainian families can easily apply for a humanitarian visa to travel to the UK. In addition, the Refugee Council said the UK should establish a robust resettlement scheme for Ukrainian refugees over the coming months.

ITV's Paul Brand reported this morning that Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat has said it is expected that the Government will alter its offer to Ukrainian refugees in the coming days. According to Brand, Tugendhat anticipates that the UK will follow the EU and allow any Ukrainian to come to the UK for 3 years without a need for a visa. Though the Daily Mirror's political editor Pippa Cerar said this morning: "I understand there are plans afoot to extend the scheme to wider family - elderly parents, adult children, siblings etc. But unlikely to go as far as EU's visa waiver for security reasons."

Meanwhile, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford noted last week that Home Office data showed Ukrainians were the second most common nationality among people granted UK work visas in 2021. Only Indian nationals were granted more work UK visas than Ukrainians.

Almost all of the visas for Ukrainian nationals last year were Seasonal Worker visas.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory, said: "For most of the past 15 years, the majority of work migrants coming to the UK were from EU countries. Since the end of EU free movement, the large majority now come from non-EU countries. [The Home Office's] data show how heavily UK farms have relied on Ukrainian workers in particular, raising the question whether this source of workers will be disrupted by unpredictable events in that region."