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What UK immigration routes can Ukraine refugees and their employers, family and friends use?

Ukraine Flag colors By Dobrych

UPDATE 19 February 2024

According to the latest Statement of Changes in the UK’s Immigration Rules, from 3pm today (19 February 2024):

  • the Ukraine Family Scheme is closing with immediate effect to new applicants, who could consider the Homes for Ukraine scheme now
  • the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme and Ukraine Extension scheme are still available 
  • permission granted to all new applicants to the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, including eligible minors, is halved from 36 months to 18 months.
  • children born in the UK to those who hold permission under the Ukraine Scheme will be eligible to apply for permission under the Ukraine Extension Scheme beyond its closure on 16 May 2024

NB: on 18 February, the UK Government announced that the 200,200 Ukrainians who have come to the UK on Ukraine Schemes following the Russian invasion will be able to apply for 18-month extensions to their visas three months before their permission is due to expire, meaning that those on the earliest visas – which were due to expire in March 2025 – may be able to stay until at least September 2026. This we expect to be added to the UK’s Immigration Rules in a later Statement of Changes.

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.

Please feel free to share this FAQ and contact us if you have any further questions at enquiries@vanessaganguin.com .

What are the UK’s Ukraine schemes set up during the conflict?

There are now three different bespoke UK immigration Ukraine Schemes in place for those who wish to either come to or remain in the UK:

  • Ukraine Family Scheme – this first route was set up for those who have family settled in the UK. It closed on 19 February, 2024.
  • Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme (Homes for Ukraine) – for those applying to be sponsored by a UK household.
  • Ukraine Extension Scheme – Ukrainians and their family members if they are in the UK can apply to stay under this scheme up to and on 16 May 2024, if:
    • they held permission to be in the UK on or between 18 March 2022 and 16 November 2023 – the permission does not need to cover the whole period
    • they previously held permission to be in the UK and that permission expired on or after 1 January 2022

[Children born in the UK to those who hold permission under the Ukraine Scheme (including the now closed Ukraine Family Scheme) will be to be eligible to apply for permission under the extension scheme beyond its closure on 16 May 2024.]

Do Ukrainians need to apply for a visa before coming to the UK?

Ukraine nationals cannot travel to the UK visa-free. Visas to the UK involve an online application (see below) as well as giving biometric details.

What has happened to the Ukraine Family Scheme?

Free, fast-track Ukraine Family Scheme (UFS) visas for up to three years were available to Ukrainians (and their family members if they apply) 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).

Applications have now closed as of 19 February, 2024.

The UK government’s rationale is that the same Ukrainian nationals who qualify under UFS can qualify under the Homes For Ukraine (HFU) if their family member is approved as a sponsor and they meet the other requirements of the rules. UFS sponsors already have to be British or Irish citizens or
settled in the UK (as will now be the case for HFU sponsors). Having sponsors in the UK, the Home Secretary argues, will lead lead to a reduced risk of
homelessness and reliance on emergency support provided by British local authorities.

Some people who would have been eligible to apply to the UFS – such as third country nationals who are not an immediate family member of a Ukrainian national, or who are an immediate family member but are not accompanying or joining their Ukrainian national family member in the UK – may not be eligible to apply to the HFU.

Those who already have permission to enter or stay in the UK under the UFS will continue to hold that permission despite the closure of the scheme to new applicants. They are able to work, study and have access to government funds.

How does the Homes for Ukraine scheme work?

Ukrainian nationals and immediate family (who do not need to be Ukrainian themselves) resident in Ukraine prior to 1 January 2022 who are not in the UK may qualify under the Homes for Ukraine (HFU) Sponsorship Scheme – also known as the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme – if they have an approved sponsor who will provide them with accommodation for at least six months. Otherwise they can choose the Scottish Government or Welsh Government as a sponsor.

A child who is not applying with, or intending to join, their parent or legal guardian in the UK must have an approved sponsor who was approved for the child by a local authority before the application is made, and must have agreed to accommodate the child for at least 18 months or until the child is 18 years old (whichever is soonest), so long as the child is sponsored for at least six months.

Sponsors can be of any nationality, with any immigration status, provided they have at least six months’ leave to remain in the UK. Full guidance for sponsors can be found here.

Leave to remain has been halved from 36 to 18 months maximum. 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 is no limit to the amount of people that can apply to the scheme.

Applications are free. This is the UK Government guidance which has fuller details for applications and is regularly updated. The new Immigration Rules Statement of Changes has more details on eligibility, suitability and suchlike.

What immigration options are there for Ukrainian nationals already in the UK when their visas are due to run out?

The UK Government has announced a Ukraine Permission Extension Scheme: those given permission to be in the UK under one of the Ukraine Schemes may be able to apply for a further 18 months permission to stay in the UK under the new Ukraine Permission Extension scheme. They should be able to apply three months before existing permission to remain is due to expire. Expect further information about the new scheme.

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.  Ukrainian nationals on an existing visitor visa can exceptionally switch into a points-based immigration system route without having to leave the UK if they cannot return to Ukraine. They would need to meet the requirements of that immigration route. 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 must continue working in a job permitted by the Seasonal Worker route, with the same Scheme Operator (sponsor).They may be eligible to make an application under other immigration routes before their visa expires.

More Home Office information on all the above options can be found here.

Who is eligible to the Ukraine Extension Scheme and how does it work?

Ukrainians and their family members in the UK can apply to stay under the Ukraine Extension Scheme (UES) until it closes on 16 May 2024 if they had permission to be in the UK on or between 18 March 2022 and 16 November 2023 (the permission does not need to cover the whole period) or they previously had permission to be in the UK and that permission expired on or after 1 January 2022.

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.

Applicants do not need a sponsor in the UK for this route and those eligible can apply here.

A parent with permission to be in the UK under one of the Ukraine Schemes (including the Ukraine Family Scheme) or who qualifies under the Ukraine Extension Scheme may still apply for a child if they were in the UK after 18 March 2022. The scheme will remain open after 16 May 2024 for children who are born in the UK to those who have permission under one of the Ukraine Schemes (including the now closed Ukraine Family Scheme). They will be granted permission aligned to the length of permission under the Ukraine Scheme held by their parent. Where the parents hold differing lengths of permission under the Ukraine Scheme, a child will be granted in line with the parent who holds permission that expires last.

The UES 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  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.”

On the other hand, 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 employers can sponsor Ukrainians such as: Skilled Worker, Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker route, T2 Minister of Religion,
International Sportsperson, Scale-up worker, or Temporary sponsored roles such as Charity Worker, Creative Worker, Graduate Trainee, UK Expansion Worker, Service Supplier, Secondment Worker, Government Authorised Exchange, International Agreement, Religious Worker and Seasonal Worker.  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. You can contact us to discuss these on 0207 033 9527 or at enquiries@vanessaganguin.com.

Sponsored 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.

Other work visas which do not require an employer to have a sponsor licence are also available, including the Innovator Founder, High Potential Individual and Global Talent, though there are other requirements such as endorsement by an approved specialist body.

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 enquiries@vanessaganguin.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.

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.”

They can also get help paying for childcare, for example nursery or childminder fees, and can claim Child Benefit.

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 pettravel@apha.gov.uk 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.