Ukraine: Available visa routes for individuals and employers
The government have introduced various visa concessions for Ukrainian citizens affected by the conflict. Legal director of immigration, Rachel Harvey and Pavan Sumal, associate specialising in immigration law discuss the routes available and what you can do to assist.
In country options
Concessions are available for those who were in the UK at the start of the conflict. Ukrainian citizens who were in the UK as visitors can switch into other visa categories where that switch would not normally be permitted, e.g. to the Skilled Worker route. They must meet all the requirements of the route that they are applying on, apart from the immigration status requirement.
Visas for seasonal workers have been automatically extended. They must continue to do a job that is eligible for sponsorship on that route and must remain with the same sponsor. UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will contact seasonal worker visa holders and sponsors to let them know that their visas have been extended to 31 December 2022. This extension also applies to HGV drivers and pork butchers who were here on the seasonal worker route. Pork butchers can also switch into the Skilled Worker route.
UKVI have now clarified that Ukrainian citizens who are overstayers – only those in the UK with permission immediately before 1 January 2022 which has since expired – can switch onto the family scheme. Permission as a visitor granted after 18 March 2022 does not count as permission for this requirement. Ukrainians who had permission to be in the UK on 18 March 2022 and Ukrainian children born in the UK after 18 March 2022 can apply to the Ukraine extension scheme.
Out of country options
Ukraine Family Scheme
This is a bespoke concession that has been created in response to the conflict enabling British citizens or those who are settled in the UK, hold pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, humanitarian protection or refugee status have their Ukrainian family members join them in the UK. This is limited to immediate family (child under the age of 18, parent if the sponsor is under the age of 18, fiancée or proposed civil partner or unmarried partner which is a person with whom the sponsor has lived in a relationship for at least two years), extended family (children over the age of 18, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and in laws) and immediate family of extended family (spouse or civil partner of an extended family member, child under the age of 18 of an extended family member etc). UKVI have said that other family members would be considered where there are exceptional circumstances, and we would expect them to take a generous approach on those applications but would strongly suggest that anyone in that situation sought legal advice prior to applying.
If the UK-based family member is the applicant’s (or an extended family member of the applicant’s) spouse, civil partner, fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner the relationship must have started before 1 January 2022. Applicants must have been resident in Ukraine on or before 1 January 2022.
Applications are submitted on the gov.uk website. Holders of valid Ukrainian passports will not need to attend a visa processing centre to enrol their biometrics. Successful applicants will be given an official permission letter from UKVI which they will need to show to airline officials and border force to enable them to travel to the UK. On arrival in the UK, Border Force officers will endorse their passports with a six-month entry stamp which is evidence of their right to work, study and claim benefits in the UK. Within six months of arrival in the UK, they must apply from inside the UK for the full three-year visa and will have to enrol their biometrics at that stage. Ukrainians without a valid passport need to attend a visa processing centre and will have their passports endorsed with a visa vignette. Regardless of the route taken, all successful applicants will have full rights to work and access public funds from arrival; they don’t need to wait until they extend their visas for those rights to take effect. Employers must carry out full right to work checks on applicants who hold these visas.
Homes for Ukraine Scheme
This enables individuals to sponsor a Ukrainian citizen or Ukrainian family to the UK. The scheme is currently only open for individual sponsors, but businesses and charities can register their interest. The government has not confirmed when the scheme will widen to organisations. We will provide an update when this information is released. Individuals who are interested in acting as sponsors but do not have a named person to sponsor can register with one of the various charities and faith groups acting as matching services, but thorough checks should be carried out to verify the legitimacy of the matching service before signing up.
Sponsors are also encouraged to think about any implications for their tenancy, mortgage, lease or insurance before their guests arrive in the UK.
Individual sponsors must be British or have leave to remain in the UK for at least six months. They must be able to offer accommodation for at least six months and they will be given an optional ‘thank you’ payment of £350 per month for up to the first 12 months of sponsorship. Sponsors are not expected to provide food and living expenses, although they may offer this. Sponsors should not charge rent. Background checks will be carried out on applicants and sponsors. Physical checks will be carried out on the premises by local councils.
Applications to this scheme are also submitted online with only those who don’t have a valid passport required to attend a biometric appointment at a visa centre. Sponsor’s details are included on the application form and one application is required per applicant. Successful applicants will receive either a digital proof of status letter or visa stamp in their passport, in the same way as Ukraine Family Scheme visa holders.
Right to Work Checks
Full right to work checks will be required. If employing a newly arrived Ukrainian citizen who does not have a biometric residence permit (BRP), full manual or adjusted right to work checks will be required. For BRP holders, the usual checks will be required, which from 6 April 2022 means an online check.
There are concerns regarding safeguarding for those sponsored under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme and those whose sponsorship on the Seasonal Workers Scheme is automatically extended. Many questions remain including what visa options Ukrainians have at the expiry of the three years and what will be required of organisations acting as sponsors.
The UK government have maintained their position that visas will not be waived for Ukrainian citizens as background checks are required for all coming to the UK. However they have taken steps to shorten the process as much as they feel is possible. There are options available for individuals to assist those affected by the crisis and employers can offer jobs to successful visa applicants. There are other routes to be opened and organisations that would be interested in this form of sponsorship are urged to keep an eye out for developments in this area.
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