The UK government has brought in a number of concessions in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but at the time of writing they are still relatively limited measures. A glaring omission is that there is not (as yet) any specific refugee resettlement route for Ukrainians and their families fleeing the conflict.
The main route is currently the Ukraine Family Scheme – further details are below. Ukrainians must obtain a visa before travelling to the UK and, to date, they have had to undergo biometric checks before the visa can be issued. This has been causing numerous practical difficulties and delays with a lack of appointments to cope with the demand.
From Tuesday 15 March, those applying overseas for the Ukraine family scheme who hold a valid Ukrainian passport will no longer need to provide biometric information overseas as part of the visa application process. This means that from 15 March they will not need to book and attend an appointment at a visa application centre. Instead they will be required to provide their biometrics after they arrive in the UK.
Those who have already applied to the Ukraine family scheme or who apply before 15 March, will need to go through the current process and book a biometrics appointment at one of the visa application centres. Individuals who do not hold a valid Ukrainian passport will also need to go through the process of booking and attending a biometrics appointment.
Applicants are also advised that they must provide a valid email address when submitting their application.
Non-British family members of British nationals or those with UK settlement
Ukraine family scheme
This scheme applies to those who are or were living in Ukraine who are a family member of a British national or of someone settled in the UK (i.e. holds Indefinite Leave to Remain or settled status in the UK) or an EEA or Swiss national with pre-settled status or someone with refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK. The individual must be Ukrainian or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national who is applying under the scheme.
To be eligible, the applicant must have been living in Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2022, unless they are a child who was born or adopted after that date.
Where the concession does apply, the application is now free of charge and the definition includes the following immediate family members:
- Spouse/civil partners of the UK sponsor
- Unmarried partners (if the couple has been living together in a relationship for at least two years) of the UK sponsor
- Children under 18 of the UK sponsor or their partner
- Fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner of the UK sponsor
- Adult relatives who provide care to the British national and live with them due to a medical condition
- Parents if the British national or person settled in the UK is under 18
Extended family members are also covered by the scheme and include:
- Children aged 18 or over of the UK sponsor
- Parents of the UK sponsor or their partner
- Grandparents of the UK sponsor or their partner
- Siblings of the UK sponsor or their partner
- Grandchildren of the UK sponsor or their partner
- Aunts and uncles of the UK sponsor
- Nieces and nephews of the UK sponsor
- Cousins of the UK sponsor
The extended family members are also able to bring their immediate family with them to the UK. For example, a sibling of a British national could also bring any of their immediate family members to the UK, such as their spouse and children aged under 18. In this scenario however, the extended family member (i.e. the sibling) must also be applying under the Ukraine family scheme.
Applicants must apply online and every applicant, including children, must submit their own application form.
To prove the family relationship, applicants will be asked to provide copies of official documents that confirms the relationship – e.g. birth/marriage certificates. Applicants can still apply without the documentation but should explain why they cannot provide them. They are also asked to provide documentation showing that they were resident in Ukraine on or immediately prior to 1 January 2022.
Where possible applicants are asked to provide English translations of documents.
There is some flexibility over the supporting documentation for the application where these cannot be provided and the TB test requirement has been temporarily waived.
If successful, the applicant will be allowed to spend up to three years in the UK under the scheme. They will have access to public funds and will be able to work and study in the UK (subject to limited exceptions).
The Home Office has set up a free 24/7 helpline and the telephone number is: +44 808 164 8810 (0808 164 8810 from within the UK). There is an alternative phone number for those who cannot use UK 0808 numbers: +44 (0)175 390 7510.
Entering the UK under the Ukraine family scheme
The standard position is that those coming to the UK on the Ukraine family scheme must apply for entry clearance from overseas and obtain their Ukraine family visa before entering the UK. However, the updated guidance does state that those who arrive at a UK port without the correct visa but who do meet the family relationship requirements should be considered for leave to enter the UK outside of the immigration rule for six months. Once in the UK these applicants can then apply to switch into the Ukraine family scheme if they meet the requirements.
It is not clear whether this concession only applies to those arriving in the UK with a different visa (such as a visitor visa) or whether it also covers those arriving with no visa. In practice however it will be difficult for applicants to arrive at a UK port given that transport carriers (such as airplanes and ferries) are subject to financial penalties if they carry passengers without UK visas. Generally individuals are not permitted to board without a UK visa.
Gaps in the Ukraine family scheme
There are issues where the extended family member is male and unable to leave Ukraine. For example, if the Ukrainian brother of a British national is unable to leave Ukraine and is therefore not applying for a UK visa, his wife and children may not qualify to come to the UK under the current scheme and are likely to have to submit a discretionary application.
Furthermore, the scheme does not extend to allow family members to join Ukrainian nationals who are in the UK under a temporary form of visa such as a sponsored worker or student visa. At present, these individuals have no specific route to bring their family members over to the UK (other than under the usual immigration rules, which are very limited).
Ukrainian nationals already in the UK
- Those in the UK on an existing visitor visa can switch into the points-based route (e.g. sponsorship, student, Global Talent) or a family route from within the UK.
Usually visitors cannot switch into a different immigration category from within the UK. However, applicants still need to meet all of the other requirements for that immigration route, although there is now some flexibility over the documentation to be provided.
Applicants need to notify UK Visas & Immigration as part of their application that they want to be considered under the concession with reasons why. This can be done within the online application form or by providing a cover letter with the application.
- Visas for those Ukrainian nationals in the UK as a seasonal worker will be extended until 31 December 2022.
UK Visas & Immigration will contact the Scheme operators (who sponsor individuals under this route) to identify who may be eligible for the concession.
- Visas for those Ukrainian nationals in the UK in temporary HGV driver/pork butcher jobs will be extended until 31 December 2022.
As above, visas for those who are already in the UK for specific HGV driver or pork butchery roles will be extended until 31 December 2022. In addition, they will also be able to switch into the Skilled Worker (sponsorship) route from within the UK, subject to meeting the requirements for that immigration category.
- Sponsorship scheme – for UK companies and UK nationals to sponsor Ukrainian nationals to come to the UK.
The government has also announced a new scheme for Ukrainians with no existing ties to the UK. There will be a humanitarian visa route which will allow sponsors such as communities, local authorities or private sponsors to bring individuals to the UK. The sponsor would be responsible for providing housing and support.
Successful applicants under this scheme would be granted leave for an initial period of 12 months and would be able to work in the UK and access services.
Details on this community sponsorship route are expected on Monday 14 March 2022.
This is a fast-changing situation and with recent media and public scrutiny the UK government has been forced to expand its provision for Ukrainians. The hope is that this continued scrutiny may exert further pressure on the government to be more generous in its offering.
In response to the crisis, a group of volunteer legal professionals with immigration expertise (including ourselves) is providing free immigration advice to Ukrainian nationals. For anyone needing advice, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.