Minister wants Ukrainian visa process ‘easy as possible’ despite scheme closure

A Home Office minister said he wants the visa process to be “light touch” and “easy as possible” for Ukrainians, despite the Government’s announcement that it will close the Ukraine family scheme on Monday.

Tom Pursglove told the Commons that Ukrainians will continue to be offered sanctuary in the UK and any suggestion otherwise is “deliberate scaremongering”.

MPs criticised the move by the Home Office, stating it is “particularly cruel” to announce the end of the scheme as the two-year anniversary of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion approaches.

The document also confirmed a visa extension scheme, which meant Ukrainian nationals and their immediate relatives could apply for permission to remain in the country, will close on May 16.

During an urgent question on immigration on Tuesday, Mr Pursglove told MPs: “There will continue to be an in-country opportunity for people to apply to extend their visas.

“Through the homes for Ukraine scheme, Ukrainians will still be able to come to the UK to access that sanctuary that we are right to be proud in supporting and that we have seen communities across the country doing an enormous amount of positive welcome work to support that national effort.

“Any suggestion that that will not be the case moving forward is wrong and it’s deliberate scaremongering, and people should stop it.”

Independent MP Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) said the minister was “being economical with clarity here” and asked if reports of the family scheme closure were incorrect.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry (Jonathan Brady/PA)
SNP MP Joanna Cherry said the Government should be focusing on its existing immigration backlog rather than ‘distressing’ Ukrainian families (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Later in the session, SNP MP Joanna Cherry said the Government should be focusing on its existing immigration backlog rather than “distressing Ukrainian families”.

The Edinburgh South West MP said: “If the purpose of yesterday’s announcement was to provide some reassurance to Ukrainian citizens who have sought refuge in the UK, why is the Government forcing these people to go through yet another application?

“Every member of this House will have experienced the problems supporting the initial applications, there will be delays, different family members will get confirmation at different times, children will be dropped off by mistake causing great distress.

“My question to the minister is this – shouldn’t UK VI (Visas and Immigration) be focusing on its existing backlog rather than adding unnecessary processes to its workload and distressing Ukrainian families who are now our constituents and are living in the United Kingdom?”

Mr Pursglove replied: “We think that this is an appropriate approach to extending those visas, it is right and proper that there is a proper process around that.

“But I want this to be as light touch as possible, I want this to be as easy as possible, and I think that all Parliamentarians in this House should be giving reassurance today about the fact that those Ukrainian people who are in our country, who are accessing that sanctuary will continue to be able to do so.”

Labour MP Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) said: “A lot of the people in this country, including my constituents, will be amazed that in this week – the week of (Alexei) Navalny’s murder by Putin and by the tough times that the Ukrainians are facing against the Russian re-enforcements – that this is the day they announce that there is going to be restrictions on Ukrainian families coming here.”

Mr Pursglove replied: “Ukrainians who are here will continue to be able to have that sanctuary in the years ahead.”

As of February 12, some 56,800 of the 200,200 arrivals were under the Ukraine family scheme. The remaining 143,400 arrivals were people granted visas under the separate homes for Ukraine scheme.

A total of 31,400 applications to extend permission to stay under the Ukraine family scheme and Ukraine extension scheme had been granted as of February 13, according to the latest data.

The Government website about the scheme now says: “You can no longer apply under this scheme.”

SNP MP Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) said: “Closing the Ukrainian family scheme almost two years to the day since the anniversary of Putin’s illegal war is particularly cruel.”

While SNP home affairs spokesperson Alison Thewliss had earlier told the Commons that her party is “appalled” that the Government “had made it more difficult for Ukrainians to seek sanctuary here”.

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