One number is raising a lot of questions this morning: 50. That’s how many visas, approximately, have so far been granted for refugees hoping to come to the UK via the Ukraine Family Scheme.
The government insists that will change, and that tens if not hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians will be welcomed here, but critics argue the current system lacks the urgency the situation requires.
The European Union has said Ukrainians will not need a visa for three years, but the UK has not adopted a similar ‘open door’ policy.
Instead the Home Office has set up two routes: a family reunion route, for anyone with a family member currently living in the UK, and a humanitarian route for people who don’t have a tie to this country, but whose case could be sponsored by a charity or community group.
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The trouble is, the first route appears to be operating slowly. The Home Office say 1% , or “around 50” applications, have been approved out of 5,535 completed online, which requires submitting biometric information and usually an appointment at a consulate.
Many thousands more applications have been started but not completed, with acknowledgment that there is a backlog of people waiting to be seen by British officials in Lviv, in western Ukraine and in consulates in neighbouring countries.
The details of the humanitarian route have not yet been announced and is not yet up and running, despite the fact there are already people UK desperate to host Ukrainian families.
One family from Yorkshire emailed me this morning, trying to bring over a Ukrainian family with two children who are sheltering in Moldova, in a desperate state. The mother said in their email, “We are lucky and have a large house. I want to give my Ukrainian family a chance to be safe, loved and protected”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has suggested in an interview with The Sun newspaper that there would be a generous scheme, saying that “anyone without ties to the UK fleeing the conflict in Ukraine will have a right to come to this nation”.
She pointed out over the weekend that the family scheme was only launched on Friday. As for the humanitarian route, at stage government sources say the plan is that they will need a sponsor – such as a local authority, church or charity.
The details of how to apply will be published by the Levelling Up department and that is not expected to happen today. Labour’s Yvette Cooper said it was “total chaos” and that it was unclear how this route would work, although Labour are not advocating axing security checks as the EU are suggesting.
Sir Richard Dannatt, the former chief of defence staff, told Kay Burley this morning it was important ministers focus on speeding the process up.
“Frankly, if we have only issued 50 visas amongst the thousands that want to come to this country, just think again British government. We need to be generous. We need to be open hearted,” he said.
The government has given ground already on the scheme it initially set out. First allowing extended family of UK residents to apply to come here, not just spouses and children and extending their stay from 12 months to three years.
There is pressure to make the scheme as generous as possible, with the strong expectation in government that the expected numbers of Ukrainians eligible to come to the UK, which Boris Johnson put at 200,000, will increase far further.