The Russian attack on Ukraine is an unprovoked and anti-democratic act of aggression and I am appalled by the conduct of Putin’s expansionist regime. We all agree that more needs to be done to help refugees escaping war. This situation needs to be urgently addressed, so that those who are fleeing for their lives can find safety and security here in the United Kingdom.
I welcome the expansive Ukrainian Family Scheme which allows family members of British nationals, UK settled persons and certain others to come or stay in the UK. Those joining the Scheme will be granted leave for three years and will be able to work, study and access public funds. The Scheme is also free and does not include any salary or language requirements.
Ukrainians already in the UK can either extend their visa or switch to another immigration route, where eligible, even if their visa does not normally allow them to do so. From 3 May 2022, Ukrainian nationals who had permission to stay in the UK on or before 18 March 2022 (or which has expired since 1 January 2022) will be able to apply to the Ukraine Extension Scheme. I am reassured that their partner and children can also apply if they are already in the UK as ‘dependents’.
Furthermore, I warmly welcome the launch of the new ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme which will allow individuals, charities, community groups and businesses in the UK to bring Ukrainians to safety – including those with no family ties with the UK. Individual sponsors will be asked to provide homes or a spare room rent-free for as long as they are able, with a minimum stay of six months. In return, they will receive £350 per month. Ukrainians arriving in the UK under this scheme will be granted three years’ leave to remain, with entitlement to work, and access benefits and public services.
Under this scheme, the Scottish Government have decided to act as a ‘super sponsor’. This means that Ukrainians seeking to come to Scotland will be able to select the Scottish Government as the sponsor for their VISA application, thus bypassing the need to initially match with a host. In so doing the Scottish Government have offered to provide temporary accommodation for 3,000 refugees. The Scottish Conservatives very much welcome the Scottish and UK Governments working together in this manner so that in Scotland we can provide a place of refuge.
Guidance on UK visa support for Ukrainian nationals and their family members can be found at this address: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/support-for-family-members-of-british-nationals-in-ukraine-and-ukrainian-nationals-in-ukraine-and-the-uk
In light of these schemes, I am troubled by reports that desperate Ukrainians, who have left their homes, have struggled to access the generous support provided by the UK Government. It is vital that they can do so as quickly as possible and I welcome the fact that the Minister for Safe and Legal Migration has continued to keep the UK Parliament updated on the progress of the UK’s humanitarian offering as it develops. Application forms have been simplified to make it quick and easy to use, and the UK Government has increased capacity in Visa Application Centres across Europe, following advice from security and intelligence agencies that it was safe to do so. Further, the need for biometrics to be taken from those with valid Ukrainian passports before arrival in the UK has been removed, allowing the vast majority of applicants to apply entirely online. I have also been assured that Ministers regularly monitor the schemes’ operational performance, bringing in additional caseworkers to ensure Ukrainian applications are prioritised.
On top of this, the UK Government has committed a £220 million humanitarian aid package to Ukraine to help aid agencies respond to the deteriorating situation, creating a lifeline for Ukrainians with access to basic necessities and medical supplies. This makes the UK one of the largest donors of bilateral aid to Ukraine.
Ministers have assured me that they continue to keep the UK Government’s handling of the situation under review as it develops. I will continue to urge the UK Government to streamline this process so that we can offer safety and security to Ukrainian refugees as soon as possible.