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Protecting Ukrainian Citizens

Options in UK Immigration Law

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The war in Ukraine sees many Ukrainian nationals seeking refuge in other European countries. Currently, there are only a few options available for Ukrainians seeking to enter or remain in the UK as a consequence of urgent displacement.  Additional temporary protection routes may be made available over the coming days, as the UK government responds to public opinion over the emergency

Please note that if you are a British national still situated in Ukraine, you should register your presence in Ukraine with the British government as soon as you are able to, to allow the government to provide you with timely updates via email.

Ukrainians wishing to enter the UK

For those Ukrainians trying to travel to the UK, there are only a few routes available under the UK’s Immigration Rules: (1) the route available for those with family members who are British citizens, and (2) the routes available for all others.

I have close family in the UK

Those who are family members of British citizens and who want to seek protection in the UK are better placed than others, thanks to the Home Office’s decision to relax the visa rules for this group. Currently, the visas are free (it is necessary to apply for the fee exemption and note that the family member in the UK must be a citizen, not just residing in the country, for the exemption to apply). You may also be able to apply on a fast-track process, for an additional government fee.

Close family members that can apply for this family visa route includes spouses and civil partners, as well as unmarried partners who have been cohabiting in a relationship for at least two years. Children under the age of 18 are also eligible. It is advisable to check the government website and consult a solicitor where necessary, to verify that you qualify as a close family member of a British national within the rules.

The application process has become more challenging as the Visa Centre in Kyiv has been abandoned. You will need to apply for your biometrics in a UK Visa Application Centre in Lviv, Poland, Romania, Hungary or Moldova in the alternative.

I do not have family or close family in the UK

For those who have no family in the UK, or whose family members in the UK are not close relatives in line with the Home Office guidance, you will need a visitor visa to enter the UK legally. You should make this application from within the country you are fleeing from, where possible.

However, this option is particularly prohibitive. Visitor visas are usually used for activities such as tourism, visiting family and friends, volunteering, and the like. Fleeing war is not on the list of acceptable reasons for applying for a visitor visa, yet this is the main available alternative (outside the normal routes of entry for Skilled Workers and other sponsored or “endorsed” categories under the points-based system). Visitor visa’s cost £95 for up to 6 months stay and can take several weeks to process. Furthermore, one of the conditions of the visa is that you must give an undertaking to the Home Office that you plan to return home after a maximum of six months – a difficult task if you are facing the unpredictability of war in your home country.

It may be possible to switch to a points-based visa option once arriving in the UK, as mentioned below, but there is no certainty of your acceptance onto a long-term visa or how long this option will be available to Ukrainians.

Calls are mounting for the introduction of a humanitarian visa that would enable people fleeing a war-torn country to travel to the UK and claim asylum on arrival.

Ukrainians already in the UK

There are temporary concessions in place if you are already in the UK on a visa of any type and are unable to return to Ukraine before your visa expiry date. You will not have to leave the UK to reapply for a new visa from overseas. You should make sure that you apply for your new/renewed visa from within the UK and remember that these measures are only temporary. You will not be able to stay in the UK on an expired visa indefinitely.

The Home Office is also currently allowing all Ukrainian nationals already in the UK on a visitor visa to switch to a points-based or family-based visa route, which offers the opportunity for a more permanent or extended stay in the UK. Again, this measure is only temporary and can be withdrawn at any time. If this is a route you wish to take you should start to consider your options now.

Nationality and Borders Bill

The UK government has been criticised heavily over the last few days for its restrictive rules and lack of concessions. Today, the Nationality and Borders Bill reaches the report stage in the House of Lords. The Bill includes restrictive measures to disincentivise asylum seekers from entering the UK via unlawful channels or without relevant documentation (such as an entry visa). This will impact nearly all asylum seekers who, by definition, are fleeing serious harm. If this law is passed, as seems likely, Ukrainians without a prior entry visa who reach the UK in search of protection will be denied the right to seek asylum and risk being sent to offshore detention centres. The same is true of recent asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, and other states distraught from the realities of war on their doorstep. For now, many are calling for a more generous temporary relaxation of the rules around Ukrainian asylum-seekers, more akin to European Union plans for up to three years visa free travel (alongside other EU initiatives for humanitarian protection).

Changes to UK rules may be introduced at short notice as the situation develops, and it is advisable to continue to review the government updates regularly and to consult your Magrath Sheldrick representative for further guidance.

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