Ukrainian refugees who have family settled in the UK will be able to apply to come to Britain for three years, the Home Office has confirmed.
Initially, the UK offered a visa to just immediate family but on Tuesday that was widened to include parents, grandparents and siblings
Announcing the first extension of the scheme earlier this week, Home Secretary Priti Patel said Ukrainians who had close relatives settled in the UK could be given leave for “an initial period of 12 months”.
But on Friday, after facing calls to extend visas to all fleeing the war zone, the Home Office announced that Ukrainians leaving due to the Russian invasion will now be able to live, work and claim benefits in the UK for three years.
They could be allowed to stay longer if a future scheme allowing this is introduced.
Applications will be processed ‘as quickly as possible’
The Ukraine Family Scheme will allow applications from those with immediate family, extended family members or immediate family members of an extended family member in the UK and has opened today.
Immediate family includes spouses or civil partners, unmarried partners living together for two or more years, children under 18, a parent if their child in the UK is under 18, or fiancées or proposed civil partners.
Extended family includes grown-up children, the parents of grown-up children, grandparents, grandchildren and siblings.
Individuals must be Ukrainian or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national who is applying to the scheme and have been residing in Ukraine prior to 1 January 2022 (including those who have now left the country).
Those eligible can apply to the scheme without charge and their applications will be subject to security checks.
The Home Office said the scheme will allow applicants “to join family members of extend their stay in the UK” and that applications will be processed “as quickly as possible”.
A sponsorship scheme will also allow individuals and organisations to bring Ukrainians to the UK.
Labour pressure for scheme to be extended
The extension of the Ukraine Family Scheme comes after Labour said the government needed to go further by introducing a “simple emergency visa available to all Ukrainians that need sanctuary and protection in the UK”.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper called for a more flexible “emergency protection visa” valid for 12 months for everyone fleeing Ukraine, whether they have relatives in the UK or not.
Labour said normal visa conditions could be lifted, although biometrics and security checks would still have to be carried out and could be done en route to the UK.
“People need a simple and safe route to sanctuary right now,” Ms Cooper said.
“Most want to stay close to home, especially those who have had to leave relatives behind, but the UK must play its part to help people seeking support and safety in our country too.”
The SNP had previously called for a visa waiver, but Ms Patel rejected this on security grounds, saying security checks were necessary.
‘Critical moment in fight for freedom’
On Friday, Ms Patel travelled to Medyka in eastern Poland on the border with Ukraine to meet people trying to flee to the UK and to see the situation for herself.
Ahead of the visit, she said: “The British government will do everything it can to support the Ukrainian people at this critical moment as they fight for freedom.
“I have developed the Ukraine family scheme following discussions with the Ukrainian government and neighbouring countries and I am proud to have launched it within a matter of days, enabling Ukrainians with family in the United Kingdom to be welcomed safely, quickly and free of charge.
“The United Kingdom stands to shoulder with Ukrainians, providing humanitarian practical support.”
A Home Office spokesperson also confirmed that in the three weeks that the current scheme has been open for, “around 100 applications” have been received, alongside “around 300 applications” from the visitor route.
Ms Patel had been under increasing pressure to extend the Ukraine Family Scheme after the EU announced fleeing Ukrainians would not need family ties in member countries to stay for three years.
More than a million refugees have fled Ukraine so far.
The Home Office said the “generous scheme” will have the aim of allowing 6,000 Ukrainians to come to the UK a week by the end of March, with capacity ramping up daily.