What UK immigration routes can Ukraine refugees and their employers, family and friends use?
UPDATED 4 May 2022
Many firms as well as concerned individuals have been asking what they can do to help Ukrainian friends, family, employees, as well as refugees from the conflict in Ukraine in general. Below is a summary of the current options for Ukrainians seeking sanctuary in the UK. There are links to Home Office guidelines which have been regularly updated and are worth checking for further details.
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Do Ukrainians need to apply for a visa before coming to the UK?
Unlike the offer currently extended to Ukrainians by European Union countries, they cannot travel to the UK visa-free. Visas to the UK involve an online application followed by a visit to a UK Visa Application Centre (VAC) to submit biometric details (fingerprints, photo taken). As the VACs in Ukraine no longer operate, Ukrainians can use centres in other countries. (A list can be found here.)
Ukrainians with valid passports can now apply for the Ukraine Family Scheme or the Homes for Ukraine scheme (see below) online from wherever they are and can give their biometrics once in Britain. On arrival in the UK they will be issued with permission to stay for up to six months, during which time they can give biometric details to extend their leave up to three years.
What do Ukrainians with passports do?
Since 15 March 2022, holders of valid Ukrainian international passports who are outside the UK are not required to provide their biometric information from overseas when making applications under the Ukraine Family Scheme or the Homes For Ukraine scheme. They should complete an online application form, but they do not need to attend an in-person appointment at a VAC.
Border Force, airlines and carriers have been informed that individuals with valid Ukrainian international passports who have been accepted under the Ukraine Family Scheme will be issued with a letter granting them permission to travel, rather than a UK visa.
On arrival in the UK, the individual should present their letter to Border Force who will endorse their passport with a six-month entry stamp that evidences their right to work, study and claim benefits in the UK.
Once in the UK, individuals will be able to make an application to extend their stay (for up to 36 months) and be issued with secure evidence of status.
Who should apply under the Ukraine Family Scheme?
Free, fast-track Ukraine Family Scheme visas for up to three years are available to Ukrainians with a family member who is a British national, someone settled in the UK, someone with leave granted in the UK as a refugee or humanitarian protection, or an EEA/Swiss citizen with pre-settled status (though not Ukrainians in the UK on more temporary status, i.e. work visas).
To apply to the Ukraine Family Scheme a person must have been ordinarily resident in the Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2022 unless they are already present in the UK (or they are a child born or adopted on or after that date).
The hastily drafted rules on the official website for applicants says eligibility extends to cases including where the UK family member is an immediate member of an extended family member applying, while according to published guidance for Home Office staff, it is the applicant who may be an immediate member of an extended family member in the UK. Confused? Either way, the examples of family members on both these lists have expanded greatly over the past few days, so it is worth scrolling through both sets of guidance for examples of family members who may apply.
UPDATE 29/3/22: according to the actual Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules taking effect on 30 March 2022, it is the applicant who can be an immediate family member of an extended family member in the UK, meaning a:
(i) partner of an extended family member; or
(ii) child aged under 18 on the date of application of an extended family member; or
(iii) parent of a child aged under 18 on the date of application, where the child is the extended family member; or
(iv) fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner of an extended family member.
(There is a full list of definitions in the Statement of Changes. )
NB: “other family members will be considered where there are exceptional circumstances,” according to the website for the scheme.
There is an advice hotline open 24 hours a day, seven days a week on + 44 (0) 808 164 8810 (select option 1).
The fees, English language and earnings requirements of usual family visas have been waived for the scheme. Those accepted will be able to work, study and have access to government funds.
How will the Homes for Ukraine scheme work?
Ukrainian nationals and immediate family resident in Ukraine prior to 1 January 2022 who are not in the UK and do not have settled family in the UK can apply to be to be sponsored by individuals or organisations who can offer them a home. Sponsors can be of any nationality, with any immigration status, provided they have at least six months’ leave to remain in the UK.
Businesses, along with individuals, charities, organisations and community groups will be able to volunteer accommodation and a route to safety for refugees from the Ukraine invasion. The homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk website is now live for people to register their initial interest in hosting Ukrainians, as well as for applications – either by sponsors who have the details of a Ukrainian refugee, or by Ukrainians who are not in the UK. Either the sponsor or the Ukrainian being sponsored can apply, completing a single online form which collects both sides’ details. In the current first phase, sponsors under the scheme must be individuals able to offer a spare room or separate self-contained accommodation to a Ukrainian refugee and their immediate family. Details of how organisations, including businesses, can participate as sponsors are yet to be released.
Sponsors should have suitable residential spare room(s) or separate self-contained accommodation available for a minimum of six months. Sponsors will receive an optional £350 a month towards their costs for up to 12 months. They can sponsor specific Ukrainians, or if they do not have someone in mind, they are urged to contact a charity or organisation acting as an intermediary for Ukrainian refugees.
Leave to remain will be granted for up to three years and those on the scheme will be able to work, access healthcare, benefits, employment support, education and English language tuition.
There is an advice hotline open 24 hours a day, seven days a week: +44 808 164 8810 (0808 164 8810 from the UK), or +44 (0)175 390 7510 if 0808 numbers do not work.
There will be no limit to the amount of people that can apply to the scheme, though there are no details yet for how sponsors who are not applying to help a specific person or family from the Ukraine will be matched with an applicant.
This is the UK Government guidance which has fuller details for applications which are free and we expect will be updated. The new Immigration Rules Statement of Changes has more details on eligibility, suitability and suchlike.
Meanwhile dozens of UK companies have formed a consortium to offer jobs for Ukrainians arriving.
What immigration options are there for Ukrainian nationals already in the UK?
According to the Home Office, Ukrainian nationals already in the UK on work or study visas should be able to extend or switch to different visas without having to leave the country. The Home Office says it has offered those on short-term visit visas the opportunity to switch to work, student and family routes too.
Ukrainian nationals on an existing visitor visa can exceptionally switch into a points-based immigration system route without having to leave the UK. Those on an existing visitor visa can also apply under the normal family route to extend the duration of their stay without meeting the immigration status requirement, provided they meet the requirements based on exceptional circumstances.
Seasonal workers can apply through their visa operator to have their leave extended with the same sponsor until 31 December 2022. This is said to be happening automatically. Pork butchers on the seasonal visa route may be eligible for the Skilled Worker route.
More Home Office information on all the above options can be found here.
Those eligible for the Ukraine Family Scheme can make online applications from within the UK.
On Tuesday 29 March, 2022, the Ukraine Extension Scheme for those with permission to stay in the UK already was announced by Immigration Minister Kevin Foster, though he did not explain why it will only open on 3 May. Time spent in the UK under this option, outlined below does not count towards the years continuous stay in the UK that may lead to permanent settlement under other routes.
The Work Rights Centre reports that people whose permission is about to expire can apply for “exceptional assurance” – this has hitherto been an option for those whose visa has expired and are unable to leave the UK due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This does not grant people leave, but is an assurance that they will not be removed from the UK.
Who is eligible to the Ukraine Extension Scheme and how does it work?
From 3 May, 2022, Ukrainian nationals and their immediate families can apply to the Ukraine Extension Scheme if they have had permission to be in the UK (for example a visa) on 18 March 2022 . Those who had permission to stay in the UK but it expired on or after 1 January 2022 are also eligible to apply here.
Immediate family members of Ukraine nationals can apply if their Ukrainian family member is a spouse or civil partner; unmarried partner (living together in a relationship for at least two years); child aged under 18 or a parent of an applying family member aged under 18.
Like the Homes for Ukraine and Family Scheme, the Extension Scheme will allow leave for three years, in which people can work, study and access public funds. As in these other schemes, there is no mention of a current path to settlement in the UK. The Home Office warns: “you should consider whether you want to keep your current visa or switch to the Ukraine Extension Scheme. This route does not currently lead to settlement – this means that you may not be able to count any time you spend in the UK with this visa as part of an application for indefinite leave to remain in the UK in future.”
The Ukraine Extension Scheme does allow the flexibility of a stay in the UK which is not contingent on a particular sponsoring employer. It may best benefit those in the UK on non-settlement routes like seasonal workers, who thus far were being allowed to extend but still limited to working for the same employer – even if they had no work to offer them. People who are already on a settlement route would need to weigh up the temporary employment freedoms against longer-term residency options.
Applications are free and there is no need to pay the immigration health surcharge or biometric enrolment fee.
Can Ukrainians be sponsored under work and study visas?
Before making an application for a work or study visa under regular rules, applicants first need to have sponsorship from a UK-based organisation licensed to sponsor visas. The visa must normally be obtained outside the UK, although Ukrainians already in the UK may be able to apply to switch categories as mentioned above.
UK organisations can sponsor people in the following categories: Skilled Worker; Intra-Company Transfer; Minister of Religion; International Sportsperson; Temporary Work – Creative Worker; Temporary Work – Charity Worker;Temporary Work – Religious Worker; Temporary Work – International Agreement; Temporary Work – Government Authorised Exchange; Student or Child Student. All such visas have their own individual requirements, such as job offers in the UK, minimum salary or skill levels, level of study or English language ability.
Other work visas are also available, including the Innovator, Start Up, Global Talent and Representative of an Overseas Business routes. While these don’t require sponsorship in the same way, they may require endorsement by an approved specialist body or an employer based outside the UK.
Ordinarily work and business immigration routes have a “genuineness” requirement: i.e. whether the position genuinely exists, or is being used solely for the purpose of the applicant entering the UK. So whether the situation in Ukraine is a driving factor, there should always be a genuine vacancy.
What are the new Right to Work check rules for employing Ukraine nationals granted permission under the Homes for Ukraine or Ukraine Family Scheme?
Ukrainians with a valid Ukrainian Passport
A concession to the Ukraine Schemes introduced on 15 March 2022 allows those with a valid Ukraine passport to submit an application to either Scheme without attending an overseas Visa Application Centre (VAC) to submit biometrics. Those who are assessed without submitting their biometrics are issued with a permission to travel letter.
On arrival, Border Force stamp the passport with permission to enter the UK, valid for six months with no restrictions on taking employment or recourse to public funds (Leave Outside the Rules or “LOTR”). This is called a Code 1A or Amended Code 1 endorsement. In a small number of cases, when the Schemes went live, a Code 1A was not available, in place of this a Code 1 was used with the “no recourse to public funds” scored out in ink and possibly initialled by the Officer. Similarly, a Code1/Code 1A may have been endorsed in Ukrainian passports, if those individuals had entry stamps to Ireland from 25 February 2022 the stamps were manually amended from ‘Leave to enter’ to ‘Leave to remain’ possibly with the Officer’s initials. There may be situations in which you identify an individual who has an Irish entry stamp in their passport but does not have a Code 1/Code 1A stamp and does not hold any other form of permission to stay in the UK. In these situations, you must point the individual to the Home Office to make an application to stay in the UK.
On page 65 of the Home Office Right to Work guidance here you can see an example of endorsed Code 1A and Code 1 stamps with an Immigration Officer’s date stamp.
Those with a stamp or a visa in their valid Ukrainian passport which gives permission to stay under the Ukrainian Schemes, have a time-limited right to work. If an employer manually checks this document and records it correctly, this will give them a time-limited statutory excuse (see our employers’ guide to Right to Work checks for a fuller explanation). Employers will need to carry out a follow-up check of those who have time-limited permission to work in the UK when their permission comes to an end.
Where Border Force have granted LOTR for six months, the individual will need to obtain a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) which will be endorsed with up to a 36-month permission to stay. This can be done at any point during the six-months validity of the stamp. BRP holders will need to use the Home Office online checking service as set out in section 4 above to prove their right to work in the UK.
Any prospective employee who is a Ukrainian national who has not applied for permission to stay in the UK will not have a right to work. This means employers may not employ them until they have taken action to regularise their status in the UK.
Ukrainian nationals who do not have a valid Ukrainian passport
If an individual does not have a valid Ukrainian passport, they will be required to provide their biometric information at a VAC and will then be provided with an entry clearance vignette attached to a ‘Form for Affixing the Visa’ (“FAV”). On page 67 of the Employer’s Guidance here an example of a FAV can be seen. Where necessary, individuals can use their FAV document as proof of their right to work, in conjunction with confirmation from the Home Office Employer Checking Service in the form of a Positive Verification Notice (see our employers’ guide to Right to Work checks for a fuller explanation).
Shortly after arrival, a BRP is available for collection, and this can be used to access the Home Office online checking tool to prove a right to work. This means, once they have collected their BRP employers are not required to make a check with the Employer Checking Service. Where employers contact the Employer Checking Service and Home Office systems show that the individual has a BRP available, employers will receive a response from the Employer Checking Service directing them to advise the individual to collect their BRP and prove their right to work using the Home Office online checking service. In this scenario Employer Checking Service will not issue a Positive Verification Notice to provide a statutory excuse and employers should use the online checking service (see our employers’ guide to Right to Work checks or contact us on 0207 033 9527 or email@example.com for a fuller explanation).
Should Ukrainians apply for asylum or humanitarian protection?
As anyone following parliamentary debates around the current Nationality and Borders Bill may be aware, asylum seekers cannot actually apply for asylum outside the UK or obtain a visa for the specific purpose of claiming asylum which makes claiming asylum from outside the UK impossible.
People already in the UK can apply for asylum. If successful, they would be granted refugee status or humanitarian protection. Arguments on the grounds of well-founded fears of persecution or serious harm may be open to dissidents from Belarus or Russia too.
Urgent compassionate grounds
According to the Home Office Ukraine visa support page “if you need to travel to the UK urgently for compassionate reasons you should apply for a visa in the usual way at the nearest VAC if you can travel safely and include clear compelling or compassionate reasons for your visit in your application. You should also tell staff at the VAC about these reasons during your appointment”.
What are the visa concessions for UK Government staff?
The Home Office has published a concession for those currently employed since 1 January 2022 in Ukraine by the Foreign Office, the British Council, visa application centre contractor TLS, working for the UK Embassy via Argus or Recruit Alliance, as well as for their family members. Staff and their wider family will be able to enjoy three years leave with the right to work, study and access public funds in the UK. Full details can be found here.
How long is it taking to process visa applications from Ukraine?
Too long is the short answer to this question. Some applications made before others that have already been granted are still awaiting a response, with many people waiting weeks with no decision, so we would advise somewhere safe and affordable to stay while applications are pending and lots of patience. People applying to the new schemes are reporting anything between ten days and over 20 days, though the processing speed appears to be more rapid for the Family Scheme than for Homes For Ukraine and ramping up in general now.
This is borne out by figures published by the Home Office. By 29 March there had been 31,200 Ukraine Family Scheme applications with 22,800 visas issued. Two days later, by 31 March, there were 32,800 applications and 24,400 visas granted. (The Ukraine Family Scheme was launched on 4 March.)
For the much newer Home for Ukraine sponsorship scheme (applications opened on 18 March), of 28,300 applications just 2,700 visas had been issued by 29 March. Then by 31 March, of 32,200 applications, 4,700 visas had been issued.
So despite the process speeding up, there are many Ukrainian refugees still in limbo.
What should Ukraine nationals arriving with children do regarding schools and childcare?
Parents arriving with children between the ages of four and 16 should apply for a school place via the local council they will be living in – which can be found here. The council can advise on which schools still have places and how to apply for an “in-year admission.”
What should Ukrainians coming to the UK with pets do?
The UK Government has put in place new emergency support for those fleeing Ukraine with their pets. Using an emergency licence, people fleeing Ukraine can bring their pets to the UK with any quarantine costs met by the Government.
Before arrival, people leaving the Ukraine or their carrier should contact the Animal and Plant Health Agency at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0) 3000 200 301 (option 2). They will then be able to confirm their approval for their emergency licence and organise any necessary stay in quarantine which is required to complete the rabies risk management process. Further guidance on bringing animals to the UK can be found here.
How else can organisations help Ukrainian refugees?
- Remote Ukraine matches displaced Ukrainian talent with remote and in-person vacancies.
- Ukraine is home to 250,000 software developers whose families depend on their income. Ukraine tech collective is a platform built to provide “kind of an NGO version of maternity cover,” by companies and individuals for many of these developers now fighting to defend their country.
- HR For Ukraine is a collaborative collection of HR resources to support workers in Ukraine, as well as Belarus and Russia from relocation support to financial support for those still in country.
- Jobs for Ukraine is collating academic, scientific, arts, professional and freelance jobs for refugees.
- Reset Communities and Refugees is helping match refugees applying to the Homes 4 Ukraine scheme with sponsors across the UK.
- As are the volunteers at Homes4Ukraine.org.
- More Government information on working, claiming benefits, access to healthcare, driving and other hurdles to negotiate on arrival can be found here.