Ukraine FAQs: what you need to know about the UK immigration options

Last updated: 20/05/22

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Home Office have published guidance and introduced new immigration routes for Ukrainians.

The United Nations predicts the invasion will lead to around 5 million refugees fleeing Ukraine. Many have so far travelled to neighbouring countries. There has been lots of focus on the UK’s response.

We provide some answers here to commonly asked questions and outline some of the immigration options and concessions introduced in response to the war. There are options for Ukrainians outside the UK and for those who are already in the UK.

Our team is providing pro bono advice as part of the Ukraine Advice Project UK.

Please note that the questions and answers on this page are for general information only and must not be used as a substitute for legal advice. You should always take legal advice which is tailored to your specific circumstances. 

Ukrainians outside the UK

UKRAINE FAMILY SCHEME

What is the Ukraine Family Scheme?

The Ukraine Family Scheme opened on 4 March 2022 and allows applicants to join family members in the UK.

 

What are the main eligibility criteria?

To be eligible to apply, applicants need to be:

  1. applying to join or accompany a UK-based family member;
  2. Ukrainian or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national who is applying to the scheme; and
  3. have been residing in Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2022 (including those who have now left Ukraine).

Applicants need to show they have a UK-based family member who is:

  1. a British national;
  2. someone settled in the UK - for example, they have indefinite leave to remain, settled status or proof of permanent residence;
  3. someone from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland who has pre-settled status and started living in the UK before 1 January 2021; or
  4. someone with refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK.

Under the scheme, the UK-based family member needs to be the applicant’s:

  • immediate family member (including for example a spouse, civil partner, unmarried partner, parent or child under 18 years old);
  • extended family member (including for example a child over 18 years old, a parent, grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, cousin, nephew or niece); or
  • immediate family member of an extended family member (including for example the spouse, civil partner, child under 18 or parent of a child under 18  of an extended family member).

The list of eligible UK-based family members has been expanded by the Home Office and it may widen further in the future. Full details can be found in the guidance. Those with family members in the UK on temporary visas such as a Skilled Worker visa or partner visa will not be able to apply to the Ukraine Family Scheme. Family members in the UK with outstanding asylum and humanitarian protection claims are also ineligible family members for the scheme.

The Home Office have stated they will consider applications for other family members under exceptional circumstances. However, they have not provided any further information on what would amount to exceptional circumstances.

 

Which documents do you need?

Applicants will be asked to provide official evidence of their relationship with their eligible UK-based family member. This could for example be in the form of a marriage or birth certificate.

It is still possible to apply to the scheme without evidence of the relationship. An explanation as to why the relevant documents cannot be submitted will need to be provided.

 

How much does it cost and what is the application process?

It is free to apply to the scheme and there is no Immigration Health Surcharge.

It is important to note a separate application must be made by each person applying (i.e. a family of 4 will need to make 4 separate applications).

The Home Secretary has announced that Ukrainian nationals with a valid international passport do not need to attend a biometric appointment at a visa application centre to provide their biometrics (finger prints and digital photograph) before coming to the UK. They can instead apply online, upload a scan of their passport and once security checks are completed they should receive a digital approval in an email which they can show when checking into a flight. This is good news as there have been significant delays and problems with obtaining and attending appointments. On arrival in the UK, individuals who have used the online process will present their digital approval email to the Border Force who will endorse their passport with a six-month visa. Once in the UK, individuals will provide their biometrics at an application centre, apply to extend their stay for up to 3 years and receive a biometric residence permit.

Alternatively, when first applying outside the UK, those with a valid Ukrainian passport can provide their biometrics using the UK Immigration: ID check app. If the app has been used, an extension application is not required and the biometric residence permit can be collected once in the UK.

Those without an international passport applying from outside of the UK will need to attend a visa application centre to provide their biometrics.

Applicants still in Ukraine will need to travel to a safe third country to submit their application and provide their biometrics as the visa application centres in Ukraine are now closed. Applications could for example be submitted in Budapest, Chisinau, Warsaw, Bucharest and Paris It is recommended that Ukrainian nationals try to enter a neighbouring European country as they will not need a visa to enter.

 

How long will it take to receive a decision?

The Home Office is not providing a clear indication of how long it will take for applications to be processed under the Ukraine Family Scheme, especially where attendance at a visa application centre is required.

On the government website it is stated that the Home Office will ‘prioritise your application and aim to make a decision as quickly as possible’. There are reports of applications being processed quickly in a few days but this is not guaranteed. There may also be delays in obtaining an appointment at a visa application centre, if required.

 

Is it possible to apply to the scheme from inside the UK?

Yes. The guidance sets out how to do this including information on appointment bookings.

 

How long can you stay in the UK?

If the application is successful, applicants will be given a visa for up to 3 years to stay in the UK.

There has been no guidance from the Home Office about possible extensions for those who apply to come to the UK under the Ukrainian Family Scheme.

 

Is it possible to work or study in the UK?

Yes. Successful applicants will have the right to work and study. You can also claim public funds.

 

Is there a helpline and other sources of further information?

Yes. The Home Office have set up a 24/7 free helpline to assist those looking to apply to the Ukraine Family Scheme. The helpline number is: +44 808 164 8810 (0808 164 8810 if you’re in the UK). If you cannot contact UK 0808 numbers, the phone number to use is +44 (0)175 390 7510.

You can find more information on the number of submitted applications and how many visas have been issued at: Ukraine Family Scheme: application data.

 

HOMES FOR UKRAINE SCHEME / UKRAINE SPONSORSHIP SCHEME

The Home Office has created a new Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme called Homes for Ukraine (previously referred to as a local sponsorship scheme or the ‘Humanitarian route’). This route will help Ukrainian nationals who do not have an eligible family member in the UK for a Ukraine Family Scheme application. Further guidance was released on 18 March 2022.

How does it work?

The scheme enables people in the UK to offer fleeing Ukrainian refugees and their immediate family members who were in Ukraine before 1 January 2022 a home in the UK. It could for example be British citizens that sponsor the refugees or anyone with a UK visa which is still valid for at least 6 months including Ukrainians in the UK with time-limited visas – who are ineligible UK-based family members for the Ukraine Family Scheme. Applicants need to be outside the UK. Sponsors will be paid £350 per month and must offer at least 6-months’ accommodation, hopefully longer. There is no cap on the number of refugees which can come to the UK under this scheme. 

 

When does the scheme start and how do you sponsor a Ukrainian under this scheme?

The scheme will operate in two phases:

  • Phase 1. Private individuals in the UK who can offer a suitable home can sponsor a named Ukrainian refugee and their immediate family members from Friday 18 March 2022. A single online form should be filled out by the person in the UK and/or the applicant. It is expected that charities and other groups in the UK may be able to assist with ‘matching’ so that people can identify and name refugees in the application.

  • Phase 2. Any private individuals in the UK who wish to offer a home but cannot name any specific refugees, and any organisations wishing to directly sponsor refugees will be able to help in the future when the second phase of the scheme starts. It is unknown when this second phase will start but there are reports of “within the next few weeks.” In the meantime, these sponsors can register their interest as an individual or as an organisation (such as a charity, business or community group).  They should then be kept up to date with developments in the scheme.

The government has released guidance for sponsors.

 

What is the visa application process?

For the first phase of the scheme operating from Friday 18 March 2022, the sponsor and/or the applicant will complete the joint online application form. There is not an application fee.

Appropriate accommodation will need to be demonstrated and sponsors and applicants will be security checked. If applicants have a Ukrainian international passport, the process will be online and attendance at a visa application centre will not be required. Documents to show the identity of the UK sponsor and the applicants’ presence in Ukraine before 1 January 2022 can be uploaded. Once digital approval is received and the applicants travel to the UK, at the border they will receive a 6-month stamp in their passport. Once in the UK and before the 6-month visa expires they will provide their biometrics, apply to extend their stay for up to 3 years and receive a biometric residence permit. Alternatively, when first applying outside the UK, those with a valid Ukrainian passport can provide their biometrics using the UK Immigration: ID check app. If the app has been used, an extension application is not required and the biometric residence permit can be collected once in the UK.

If however international passports are not held, it will be necessary to book an appointment outside the UK to provide biometrics at a UK visa application centre.

 

How long is the visa expected to last?

The visa will last 3 years. At this point it is unclear whether the visa can be extended. 

 

Will it be possible to work?

Yes. Visa holders will be able to work and claim public funds.

 

OTHER VISA OPTIONS

Are there any other visa options?

As Ukrainians are visa nationals, they have to apply for a prior visa to enter the UK. The guidance includes reference to applying where there are urgent compelling and compassionate reasons, which would be expected to be satisfied for Ukrainians. The Home Office should be taking a flexible approach. If you need help with your options, please contact us or the Ukraine Advice Project UK.

 

Ukrainians inside the UK

Is it possible to switch immigration categories?

Ukrainian nationals already in the UK on visas are able to switch or extend their visas from within the UK, if even the visa route does not usually allow them to do so.

The Home Office guidance states that those who wish to switch into a new immigration route which would usually require them to submit an application outside the UK, will be able to do so from within the UK. For example, Ukrainian nationals in the UK on a visitor visa will be able to switch into the Skilled Worker immigration category from within the UK if they find an employer willing to sponsor them under the Skilled Worker visa category.

As mentioned above, the guidance confirms that those who meet the eligibility criteria can also switch into the Ukraine Family Scheme from within the UK.

 

Is it possible to extend your UK visa?

Ukrainian nationals already in the UK under visa routes such as Skilled Worker or Student visas and have visas expiring in the near future are still required to make a valid application to extend their visas in the UK where they meet the Immigration Rules for the route they are applying under.  There are not currently any concessions for such extension applications and the normal rules apply.

The guidance indicates that eligible Ukrainians in the UK with a Seasonal Worker visa may have their visa extended to 31 December 2022. The Home Office will contact Scheme Operators about those eligible. Any application process is unclear at this stage.

From 3 May 2022 the Ukraine Extension Scheme will commence. Applicants must have had permission in the UK on 18 March 2022, unless they were in the UK with permission immediately before 1 January 2022 but that permission has since expired or they are a child born in the UK after 18 March 2022. It is for Ukrainian nationals, and their partner and children can also apply if they are already in the UK as dependants.

 

Is it possible to apply for exceptional assurance, as with COVID-19?

It would be a welcome development if Ukrainian nationals in the UK with visas which are about to expire and do not meet the eligibility to extend their visas could apply for exceptional assurance.

Brought in during the COVID-19 pandemic, exceptional assurance has allowed those in the UK with visas about to expire and unable to make a valid application  or return to their home country, to temporarily extend their stay in the UK, until they are able to return.

 

Is it possible to apply for asylum or humanitarian protection?

Ukrainian nationals could consider claiming asylum in the UK on the basis they have a well-founded fear of persecution and are at risk of harm. It is not possible to claim asylum outside of the UK, so those wishing to do so will need to apply from within the UK.

As the invasion of Ukraine is in the early stages and the Home Office have not yet announced any guidance or policy change for Ukrainian nationals claiming asylum in the UK, there is no guarantee that those who seek asylum will be successful.

However, as conditions in Ukraine worsen for civilians, there is a chance that those who do not qualify for refugee status in the UK will be granted Humanitarian Protection due to the risk which would be posed to them in Ukraine as a result of the war. Asylum claims and humanitarian protection cases are assessed on a case to case basis, and often take a long time to be processed due to the backlog of claims.

 

For more information please do not hesitate to contact a member of the immigration team.

 

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