All Ukrainians living in the UK will have their visas temporarily extended following Russia’s invasion, the UK government has announced.
Home secretary Priti Patel said the changes would be made immediately in order to “provide certainty to our Ukrainian friends and colleagues living, working and studying in the UK”.
Ukrainian nationals who are visiting the UK on work, study or visit visas will have them extended or be able to switch onto different visa routes without having to leave the UK.
Prior to the Covid pandemic there were about 25,000 Ukrainians living in the UK. That figure is now about 18,000.
Ukrainian nationals on an existing six-month seasonal worker visa will have their leave in the UK extended until the end of the year.
Those who came towards the end of last year to the UK on temporary HGV or poultry and pork butcher visas schemes will have their visas extended until December and will also be allowed to apply to the skilled worker route.
Ukrainians were the second most common nationality among people granted UK work visas in 2021, second only to Indian workers, according to Home Office figures published yesterday.
Ukrainians accounted for the highest number of grants on the seasonal worker route at 67% (19,920) of the total, although this proportion is down from 91% in 2019.
The next highest grant numbers were for Russian (2,278, 8%), Bulgarian (1,111, 4%) and Belarusian nationals (1,007, 3%).
Yesterday immigration experts warned that the conflict in Ukraine would significantly reduce the number of seasonal workers that UK farms depend on to pick fruit, vegetable, plants and flowers.
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “Today’s data show how heavily UK farms have relied on Ukrainian workers in particular, raising the question whether this source of workers will be disrupted by unpredictable events in that region.”
The National Farmers Union, said the labour problems for the UK caused by the conflict in Ukraine could be mitigated by enabling alternative routes for recruiting Ukrainians to ensure they still came to the UK in time for the crucial summer picking season.
The temporary relaxation of visa rules follows moves earlier this week to fast-track visa applications from Ukrainian nationals with family in the UK.
The home secretary also announced measures to support British nationals and their families in Ukraine, which included temporarily waiving application fees for those eligible under the family migration route and allowing entry for 12 months for others who did not meet the requirements.
The Home Office says it has provided extra staff to visa application centres to respond to an expected surge in applications.
A new temporary location in Lviv, western Ukraine, where the British embassy has been relocated, will be able to process visa applications of dependents of British nationals resident in Ukraine. Visa centres in nearby countries including Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary are expecting a surge in applications. All other visa services in Ukraine have been suspended.
Refugee charities and some immigration specialists have asked the government to go further and establish a resettlement scheme to help people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.
The chief executives of the six main UK refugee charities signed a letter to yesterday’s Times newspaper urging the government to set up a similar evacuation and resettlement programme for Ukrainians to that created in the 1990s during the Yugoslavia civil war.
They write: “The government should now respond with a well-resourced initiative, working with councils across the country to welcome Ukrainians who need sanctuary.”
Matthew James, associate in the immigration department of London law firm Bates Wells, added: “We would hope that the government will also make it easier for Ukrainians who want to escape to come to the UK.”