Home Office claim to have launched first Ukrainian visa scheme lacks context

10 March 2022
What was claimed

The UK Government’s Ukraine Family Scheme is the first visa scheme in the world to launch since President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Our verdict

This appears to be accurate but lacks the context that many other countries taking refugees never required visas for Ukrainians, or have waived visa requirements.

“The UK Government’s Ukraine Family Scheme is the first visa scheme in the world to launch since President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.”

The Home Office has said that the UK Government’s Ukraine Family Scheme is the first visa scheme in the world to launch since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The scheme, which allows Ukrainians fleeing the invasion to obtain visas to reunite with family in the UK was announced on 1 March and came into effect on 4 March.

Full Fact has found no earlier schemes since the invasion, and Refugee Action told us it wasn’t aware of new schemes run by other countries.

But that aside, the claim lacks important context: many European countries taking refugees did not require Ukrainians to have visas in the first place.

The rules for Ukrainian refugees in Europe

Since 2017, Ukrainian citizens with a biometric passport have been able to travel to the EU (except Ireland) as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland for 90 days without a visa. 

On 2 March, the EU issued guidance to member states saying it was permissible to allow Ukrainians without a biometric passport to enter without a visa.   

Ireland has waived its visa requirement for people arriving from Ukraine as well.

Outside the EU, Kosovo also recently voted to waive visa requirements on Ukrainians fleeing the war.

Additionally, the EU has granted temporary protection to people from Ukraine for an initial, extendable, period of one year, granting them rights to live and work in the EU (though Denmark is not covered by this legislation). 

The rules in the UK

As the UK formally left the EU in January 2020, these schemes do not apply to refugees attempting to reach this country, and the UK has not waived visa requirements for Ukrainians. Instead, the UK’s Ukraine Family Scheme allows successful applicants to join family members or extend their stay in the UK for up to three years. 

The scheme relaxes some of the requirements ordinarily placed on people applying for a family visa (such as English language and income requirements) as well as waiving the application fees. 

This makes it debatable whether the UK has launched a new visa scheme at all. Immigration barrister Colin Yeo told Full Fact: “All the UK has done, in essence, is widen some of the qualifying criteria for normal visas for Ukrainians.”

A government spokesperson told Full Fact it did amount to a new scheme, and added: “Last week we announced a new sponsorship route which will allow Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored to come to the UK.

“This is alongside our Ukraine Family Scheme, which has already seen thousands of people apply, as well as changes to visas so that people can stay in the UK safely. ”

The sponsorship scheme, which has not yet been launched, will allow Ukrainians without family connections to come to the UK under the sponsorship of charities, businesses and community groups.

Image courtesy of Mirek Pruchnicki via Wikimedia Commons

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