Ukrainian refugees can stay in the UK for three years after government U-turn on visas

Ukrainians are trying to escape the Russian invasion by fleeing into neighbouring countries. Credit: PA

The government has U-turned on its visa scheme for Ukrainian refugees, allowing those with immediate family in the UK to remain for three years, following pressure from campaigners about the one year time limit previously announced.

Under the scheme, any Ukrainian with parents, grandparents, children - even those over 18 - and siblings already in the UK will be allowed to seek sanctuary there for up to three years.

But the UK's scheme still does not match the EU's, with the bloc waiving visa rules for all Ukrainians entirely, meaning an unlimited amount will be allowed to live there for up to three years - without having to apply for asylum first.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, who travelled to Poland to mark the Ukraine family scheme opening on Friday, has repeatedly ruled out the UK waiving visa rules because of concerns that Russian forces could infiltrate the scheme and launch attacks in Britain.

Priti Patel has rejected calls for a visa waiver. Credit: Parliament

Boris Johnson said the British scheme will allow around 200,000 Ukrainians to enter the UK, but EU nations have been told to prepare for millions of refugees.

It's estimated that the Russian invasion has already displaced more than a million Ukrainians.

The Home Office has said application fees will be waived for Ukrainians and they will not have to pay the £624 a year immigration health surcharge to use the NHS which other migrants have to pay.

And they may be allowed to stay for more than three years under future schemes yet to be announced.

The Home Office, approached on Friday afternoon, said it was too early to say how many applications had been made via the Ukraine family scheme.

The UK has also created a sponsorship scheme, allowing individuals and organisations to bring Ukrainians to Britain.

Ms Patel, speaking to reporters, said there was work going on "night and day" to ensure those fleeing the advancing Russian troops could seek refuge.

The Cabinet minister said people crossing the border - the majority of them women and children - were coming from the "most atrocious set of circumstances where they are being persecuted by President Putin".

She was in the country "very much in terms of standing in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, but also with our friends here in Poland", Ms Patel said.

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine but also with our dear friends here in Poland, who are working really night and day, we can all see this, under incredible circumstances."

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Labour has urged the Home Office to go further by creating a simple emergency visa allowing anyone fleeing the conflict to come to the UK.

The party said the move would lift normal visa conditions other than biometrics and security checks, which could be done en route to the UK.

On Tuesday Ms Patel warned MPs in the Commons that "Russian troops are seeking to infiltrate and merge with Ukrainian forces" and that there are "extremists on the ground" in Ukraine. She added: "Given this and also Putin's willingness to do violence on British soil, and in keeping with our approach which we have retained consistently throughout all emergency evacuations including in Afghanistan, we cannot suspend any security or biometric checks on people we welcome to our country. "We have collective duty to keep the British people safe and this approach is based on the strongest security advice."