Priti Patel announces changes to Ukrainian visa regime

Home Secretary Priti Patel has promised a simplified online visa application system for Ukrainians seeking to flee war with Russia in response to criticism of her approach to the crisis.

She told MPs the changes would come from Tuesday after the security services assured the UK could still be protected from Russian efforts to infiltrate the country by posing as Ukrainian refugees.

The Home Office has come under pressure from opposition and Conservative MPs – as well as the Ukrainian government – ​​to simplify the system that allows family members of people settled in the UK to join their loved ones.

Ms Patel said: “From Tuesday I can announce that Ukrainians with passports will no longer need to visit a visa application center to give their biometrics before coming to the UK.

“Instead, once their application has been reviewed and the appropriate checks have been carried out, they will receive direct notification that they are eligible for the scheme and can come to the UK.

“In short, Ukrainians with passports will be able to get permission to come here fully online wherever they are and will be able to give their biometrics once in Britain.

“This means visa application centers across Europe will be able to focus their efforts on helping Ukrainians without passports.”

More than two million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion.

While the European Union allows visa-free travel for Ukrainians fleeing the fighting, the UK has insisted it is necessary to ensure safety.

Ms Patel told the Commons: “I am in daily contact with intelligence and security agencies who regularly provide me with threat assessments.

“What happened in Salisbury showed what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is ready to do on our soil. It also demonstrated that a small number of ill-intentioned people can wreak havoc on our streets.

Ms Patel said she was able to change the visa regime following new advice from security agencies.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper – whose urgent question prompted Ms Patel to appear in the Commons – said the Government’s approach had been “shameful”.

The current visa route is limited to family members of those settled in the UK.

Another promised route – allowing individuals and businesses to sponsor Ukrainians to come to the UK – has yet to be established.

Ms Cooper said: ‘Is it still limited to those with family? Are they still going to have to fill in multiple forms online, or would she now say that anyone who wants to come to the UK who has fled the fighting in Ukraine can now come here without having to fill in loads of forms online or skip through a whole bunch of hoops?

“It’s just been shameful, forcing vulnerable people to move from pillar to pillar in their hour of need – week after week we’ve seen this happen.

“It’s deeply wrong to leave people in this terrible state. Our country is better than that. If she can’t fix this, frankly, she should hand the job over to someone else who can.

Figures from Downing Street on Wednesday showed Britain granted just 957 visas.

Ukrainians faced a series of bureaucratic obstacles and difficulties in obtaining appointments to complete the necessary documents.

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said British troops could help with claims.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, has called for an end to the “bureaucracy” preventing refugees from seeking refuge in Britain.

He told BBC Question Time: ‘I just wanted to tell you that most of our men stay behind and fight, so… most of the people you’ll see are just women with children, that which I totally hope poses no threat. , in particular a terrorist threat to the United Kingdom.

“That’s why I hope and plead that the procedures be dropped and that all bureaucratic formalities be canceled.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said plans were underway in his department to accommodate “100,000 children…in our schools”.