Ukraine war: Visas a shambles, Brits with Ukrainian family say
The UK’s visa scheme for refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine has been branded “a shambles” by Britons with Ukrainian partners.
Luke Morgan and Chris Bosworth said their wives’ families still did not know if they could come to the UK, despite being eligible.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper said the UK’s approach was “totally chaotic”.
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the number of people being processed should now increase.
The Ukraine family scheme visa allows people to join an immediate or extended family member in the UK, providing that this relative has British nationality, indefinite leave to remain, settled status or proof of permanent residence.
But MPs say those seeking sanctuary are being held up by bureaucracy or turned away and have criticised the Home Office’s response to the crisis.
Home Secretary Priti Patel was asked multiple questions about the UK’s handling of Ukrainian refugees at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, a government source said, with “everyone” said to be raising concerns.
The source added: “The process isn’t necessarily going as fast as it could be. Is the Home Office the right department to be running this? Not sure.”
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Mr Morgan told BBC One’s Breakfast his wife’s family left Ukraine on 26 February and arrived at France’s Calais border with the UK on Tuesday, but were turned away by French police.
They were then sent to Brussels to give their biometric data – scans of their fingerprints and a facial image – before being sent to Paris to await the decision of their application.
Asked about the UK’s response to Ukrainian refugees, Mr Morgan told BBC Breakfast: “I’m ashamed at the lack of support, at the lack of humanity…
“I’m with my wife’s elderly parents and sister. They qualify to enter into the UK and they’re not being let in. It’s a shambles and it’s incredibly upsetting.”
Mr Bosworth told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme his wife’s family fled Kyiv on 3 March and travelled to the Ukrainian city of Lviv to attend the visa application centre there. But when they arrived it was closed.
He said it appeared the nearest place they could book a visa application appointment was in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. Their appointment is booked for next Wednesday and they are hoping they will be able to make it through the Ukrainian border.
Mr Bosworth said his wife’s family are eligible to come to the UK under the Ukraine family scheme visa, but the Home Office has yet to confirm whether their applications will be approved.
He said: “As a British citizen in all of this it’s pretty embarrassing looking my wife in the face and saying ‘this is the country you’ve moved to’.”
Mr Morgan criticised the “bureaucracy” Ukrainians were being met with, adding that many of them spoke little English and did not have working phones to fill in the forms.
“They haven’t left the Ukraine and fled a war with documents and bank statements and records,” he said.
“The bureaucracy our government is trying to put people through – it doesn’t work in this situation.”
‘A war situation’
The UK government has promised a visa pop-up centre in northern France to help process the Ukrainian refugees looking to seek sanctuary in Britain.
On Wednesday afternoon, the mayor’s office in Calais told the BBC 87 Ukrainian refugees were taken by bus to Lille to be processed at a “pop-up” centre.
The coaches were heading for an undisclosed location on the outskirts of the city, according to a separate source, and the refugees were taken there by invitation only.
The Home Office said it is also “surging staff” to visa application centres in cities in countries around Ukraine – in Warsaw, Rzeszow, Chișinău, Bucharest, Budapest and Prague.
The government has rejected the European Union’s approach of a three-year residency without a visa, saying officials had seen people in Calais with false documents claiming to be Ukrainian.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week said the UK’s “huge and very generous” visa programme could eventually help “hundreds of thousands” of refugees enter the UK.
But Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the UK’s visa system was “shambolic” and “totally chaotic” and called for a “much simpler system” of granting emergency visas that can be issued quickly.
She told the Today programme: “The idea that if they need to switch from one visa centre to another in order to get the biometrics done that means you have to fill in the forms all over again.
“It just beggars belief that people are being asked to do this when they have fled a war zone, when they have had to leave everything behind, when they have been risking life and limb in the face of Russian bombardment. People shouldn’t be treated like this.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, called for the visa requirement to be lifted temporarily, but said it was for the UK government to decide.
Mr Prystaiko also revealed his own wife was initially unable to get a visa to join him, despite him being his nation’s representative.
Mr Shapps said the current visa scheme could result in about 210,000 people coming to the UK, with the government planning to launch a second “sponsorship” visa scheme that would be “without limits”.
He told BBC One’s Breakfast: “But you are dealing with a war situation – funnily enough [Vladimir] Putin didn’t put much consideration into what would happen to refugees out of this war.”
He said a “lot of very hard-working British diplomats, NGOs [and] volunteers” were working to tackle the situation.
“With 6,000 appointments a day available now, you should see the processing rate increase.”
The Home Office said it was “doing everything possible to ensure a rapid visa service” while carrying out “vital security checks”.
It also said it had hired 100 new staff to help bolster its visa helpline.
A spokeswoman said: “Last week we announced a new sponsorship route which will allow Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored to come to the UK.
“This is alongside our Ukraine Family Scheme, which has already seen thousands of people apply, as well as changes to visas so that people can stay in the UK safely.”
The spokesman added that it was a “rapidly moving and complex picture” and its support would be kept under “constant review”.