A British-Ukrainian woman who was left “frustrated” by the visa application process has welcomed the changes announced by the Home Secretary, but has urged for further improvements to be made.
Alice Mishchenko, 33, has applied for her sister Oksana, 38, and her niece Sofiia, 10, to join her in the UK after the pair fled from their home city of Cherkasy last week.
The trio are currently staying in a friend’s flat in Warsaw, Poland, and are waiting to hear if their visa applications to the Ukraine Family Scheme will be approved.
Ms Mischenko, who moved to Fife, Scotland, 20 years ago with her parents, criticised the process the pair faced when applying for the visas and said she hoped for further changes to be made to make the process easier for those fleeing the war with Russia.
Ms Mishchenko told the PA news agency: “I’m a very fluent English speaker, I’ve been in the UK for many years and I was confused by the words in some of the questions. It’s almost like they try to trick you into not answering correctly.
“Secondly, when we were reading the instructions, it sounded like if you’re a Ukrainian family applying to join your British family, you do one application form for the unit.
“However, when we turned up at the Visa Application Centre, they told us that each person needs their own form, even though within the form, they ask you ‘Is anyone else applying for the same visa with you?’ and you fill in the details.
“It’s completely bizarre, it’s not clear. I felt very frustrated.”
Ms Mishchenko said she and her sister also had issues booking appointments at the Visa Application Centre in Warsaw, stating that time slots seemed to vary and would appear and disappear.
“We were feeling quite disheartened by the whole process,” she said. “My sister and niece, it took them 72 hours to get to Warsaw to safety with me. That’s after 10 days in the war zone.
“They’re so tired mentally, physically, emotionally. And then all of a sudden they’re having to fill out these application forms. They’re so lucky that I speak fluent English and that I was able to fly out, meet them and help them.
“I can’t imagine what other people are going through and what they’re having to do. It’s very, very unkind to people who have just gone through such a traumatic experience.”
On Thursday, Priti Patel announced there would be a more streamlined online service after the Government faced criticism of its approach to the crisis.
She told MPs that from Tuesday, Ukrainians with passports will no longer need to go to a visa application centre to give their biometrics before they come to the UK.
Instead, once their application has been considered and appropriate checks completed, they will receive direct notification that they’re eligible for the scheme and can come to the UK.
Ms Patel said she was able to change the visa regime following security agencies’ fresh advice.
Mr Johnson has backed the need for continued checks.
Responding to the changes, Ms Mishchenko said: “I’m glad to see the Government is addressing the challenges that the applicants have been raising with the process and doing it as quickly as possible.
“I hope this means more people are able to apply for the Ukraine Family Scheme and actually be successful.
“It also gives me a bit more hope that the softening of the process means more applications, including my sister’s and niece’s, will be successful.
“I also wish the Home Office would update the checklist that goes alongside the application form as it’s designed for the standard application not Ukraine Family Scheme and mentions things like a letter of invitation and employment evidence.
“This is contradictory to the statement about the document requirements for this specific scheme and makes people panic. It might also be the reason why so many applications are unsuccessful.”
The Government has been contacted for comment.