UK visa measures for Ukrainian nationals and their family members
08 March 2022
The Home Office has put in place immediate concessions and has announced new immigration schemes for Ukrainian nationals in response to the Ukraine conflict.
The information in this article is correct at 8 March 2022. The policy situation is still evolving, and the below GOV.UK website pages should be checked for the current position:
- Ukrainian nationals on work and study routes: concessions to the Immigration Rules - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Additional measures outside of existing asylum/humanitarian protection laws
The current measures put in place by the British government in response to the specific situation in Ukraine include the following:
- The Ukraine Family Scheme
- The Local Sponsorship Scheme for Ukraine
- Concessions to the normal work and study Rules
Depending on an individual’s particular circumstances, they may also be able to make an asylum or humanitarian protection claim, however this is outside the scope of this article. Pro bono advice on this may be available through the Ukraine Advice Project UK or through advisers listed by the Refugee Council.
Ukraine Family Scheme
This scheme is intended for immediate and extended family members of UK-based sponsors. The immediate family members of extended family members can also apply.
The Home Office’s caseworker guidance for the scheme confirms that it now supersedes the concessions originally announced for UK family route applications from 14 February 2022, and that any outstanding applications made under those concessions will now be considered under the Scheme.
The caseworker guidance indicates that Immigration Rules for the scheme should be made effective from 16 March 2022, however at the time of writing no Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules has yet been published. Applications to the scheme are currently being granted outside the Immigration Rules.
Application process and grant
The application is free and no Immigration Health Charge is payable.
Successful applicants will be granted immigration permission for up to three years. They will be allowed to work and access public funds, but may be required to obtain permission under the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) if they wish to study certain courses in the UK.
At the time of writing this scheme has only been set up for entry clearance applications. Applicants must attend a VAC and provide their biometrics and passport or other identity documentation if they have this available.
Full details of the in-country process will be forthcoming in the near future. Individuals intending to apply from within the UK can monitor Apply for a Ukraine Family Scheme visa - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) for updates.
In the meantime, the Ukraine Family Scheme caseworker guidance does confirm that in-country applicants who apply as an overstayer or while they are on immigration bail will not be refused for these reasons under the scheme.
The Home Office has published application data on the scheme here.
The UK-based sponsor must be one of the following:
- A British citizen
- A person who is settled in the UK (this includes people with indefinite leave to remain or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme)
- A person who has pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, and who started living in the UK before 1 January 2021
- A person with refugee status or humanitarian protection
The scheme cannot be used by family members of individuals with other forms of limited immigration permission in the UK.
An immediate family member of a UK-based sponsor is limited to:
- Spouse or civil partner
- Unmarried partner (this will be recognised where the couple have lived together for at least two years)
- Parent, where the UK-based sponsor is aged under 18
- Child aged under 18 of the UK-based sponsor
- Fiance(e) or proposed civil partner of the UK-based sponsor
An extended family member of a UK-based sponsor is limited to:
- Parent, where the UK-based sponsor is over 18
- Child who is over 18
- Grandchild of the UK-based sponsor or the UK-based sponsor’s partner
- Brother or sister
- Aunt or uncle
- Niece or nephew
- Mother-in-law or father in-law
- Brother or sister-in-law
An immediate family member of an extended family member is limited to:
- Spouse, civil partner or unmarried partner of an extended family member
- Child under 18 of an extended family member
- Parent of a child under 18 who is an extended family member
- Fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner of an extended family member
Some additional general stipulations are:
- The applicant must have been living in the Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2022 unless they are already present in the UK or are a child born or adopted on or after that date. From the online form, this is initially confirmed through self-certification. The caseworker guidance confirms that the starting point is that applicants will be believed if they self-certify, and notes that case workers can grant an application without the usual documentation. Evidence of residence can be submitted if available and the guidance sets out some examples. Caseworkers are instructed to ask for additional evidence if there is reason to believe the requirement is not met.
- The definitions of relationships set out in the caseworker guidance need to be met
- The relationship between a UK-based family member (or an extended family member) and their spouse, civil partner, fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner must have started before 1 January 2022
- An immediate family member of an extended family member must apply either at the same time as the extended family member or after the extended family member has been granted immigration permission under the scheme
There is scope for other family members who do not fit within the recognised categories to be granted immigration permission under the scheme where they can show there are exceptional circumstances. Applications for foster children will also be considered. As these types of application will be referred to more senior officials, processing of them may be slower than for other applicants.
Local Sponsorship Scheme for Ukraine
Specific details for this scheme are not yet available but it is intended for Ukrainians who do not have family ties to the UK.
Sponsors under the scheme can be:
- Private individuals
- Local authorities
The scheme will be set up by the Department for Levelling Up, in coordination with the devolved administrations.
Immigration permission will be granted for an initial stay of 12 months, with work and access to public funds being permitted. Integration and housing support will also be included for participants.
EU Settlement Scheme Family Permit
The guidance on GOV.UK for applying to the Ukraine Family Scheme highlights that some eligible individuals may also be eligible to apply for an EU Settlement Scheme Family Permit. The Home Office asks individuals not to apply under both routes, and states that it will be possible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme after arrival in the UK irrespective of which route is pursued for entry clearance.
It may be advantageous for this option to be taken up, because the EU Settlement Scheme leads to settlement, whereas at present it is not known whether the Ukraine Family Scheme will lead to settlement, and/or whether time spent in this category will be counted towards settlement under other settlement routes.
On the other hand, there is a known backlog for EU Settlement Scheme Family Permits, with some applications taking in excess of three months to decide. It will of course be critical for individuals to be able to reach the UK as soon as possible and it is not clear whether applying for an EU Settlement Scheme Family Permit will delay this process.
We have enquired with the Home Office about whether and how individuals displaced by the crisis in Ukraine can be prioritised if they apply for an EU Settlement Scheme Family Permit and have asked for information on this point to be published on GOV.UK.
Concessions to work and study routes
Ukrainian citizens and their dependent partners and children who either entered the UK before 24 February 2022 or made an entry clearance application before this date and have since arrived in the UK can access a range of concessions. These cover:
- Switching from one immigration category to another, where this would normally not be allowed under the Immigration Rules
- Document flexibility where an applicant provides a sufficient and reasonable explanation why they cannot provide a document that is normally required for their application
- Waiver of TB testing
- Extension of immigration permission for Seasonal Workers, HGV drivers and pork butchers to 31 December 2022
Other immigration routes
Ukrainian citizens are of course able to make an application under any other UK immigration category that is normally available.
Entering the UK
To-date the UK government has declined to waive the visa requirement for Ukrainian citizens. This means that Ukrainian citizens must normally have a UK visa in place before seeking to enter the UK.
The Ukraine Family Scheme caseworker guidance confirms that individuals who intend to enter the UK under the scheme must apply for entry clearance in this capacity.
However, individuals who arrive at a UK port who do not have the correct entry clearance but who meet the family relationship requirements for the scheme should be considered by Border Force for leave to enter the UK outside the Immigration Rules for a period of six months. They will then be able to apply in-country for the scheme once it has opened for in-country applicants.
This provision could benefit Ukrainian citizens or other eligible applicants who already hold a valid UK visa, either as a visitor or in another capacity, as well as non-visa nationals who are able to apply for UK immigration permission at the border. This is because leave outside the Rules is likely to be granted without many of the immigration conditions that would normally apply to visitors or other limited permission holders.
In theory it is possible under this policy for a visa national who arrives at a UK juxtaposed control point in France or Belgium to demonstrate their family relationship and request leave to enter outside the Immigration Rules, but recent press reports indicate this does not appear to be happening in practice.
Whether new visitor visa applications for Ukrainian citizens will be granted will depend on whether the Immigration Rules for visitors are met in full. This would include having an intention to leave the UK at the end of the visit and otherwise being a genuine visitor, so in the current circumstances it is unlikely that a person who has fled from Ukraine will be able to demonstrate this.
It is not yet clear how long it will take to process applications under the Ukraine Family Scheme or Local Sponsorship Scheme for Ukraine. In the meantime, affected individuals may need to stay in an interim location before proceeding to the UK. The available options for such individuals would need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
As a general point, the Home Office always has discretion to grant immigration permission outside the Immigration Rules, so individuals may consider making a UK visa application relying on this discretion where, for example, they have compelling or compassionate reasons to advance.
Issues that need resolving
Various issues still need resolving, including whether immigration permission granted under the Ukraine Family Scheme or Local Sponsorship Scheme for Ukraine will lead to settlement or will be counted towards the qualifying period required for settlement in other immigration categories.
As issues come to light, these will be flagged to the Home Office for resolution. It is therefore anticipated that the Immigration Rules and guidance on the provisions available for Ukrainian citizens and their family members will be subject to frequent updating in the short to medium-term.
We will be keeping our clients updated on significant developments as they arise. If you have queries about these arrangements, please contact a member of our Immigration Team.