UK to ease requirements for Ukrainian refugees after visa centres farce

Ukrainian refugees with family in the UK will soon no longer need to physically attend visa centres before entering Britain as long as they have a passport, after reports that many had been sent hundreds of miles across Europe to be processed.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the system was being streamlined, moving the application process online and carrying out security checks after the refugees arrive in the UK.

But people are furious the system change will not come until Tuesday, meaning refugees who have fled war in their home country will be forced to wait days on the continent before being reunited with their families in the UK.

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Hundreds of Ukrainians have been arriving at Calais each day, hoping to cross into Britain, but many were told to travel for hours to visa application centres where the next available appointments were a week away.

People in that situation will have to wait another five days before the system simplifies, but Ukrainians hoping to enter the UK after Tuesday should find it easier.

Labour welcomed the changes but questioned what was being done to help in between now and Tuesday.

A woman holding a child cries after fleeing from Ukraine and arriving at the border crossing in Medyka Credit: AP

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: Why has it taken so long when she has had intelligence for weeks, if not months, that she needed to prepare for a Russian invasion of Ukraine?

"Why still if we've still got to wait until Tuesday for this new system to come in, what is to happen for everybody else in the meantime? Why is she not bringing in the armed forces?

The UK has so far issued over 1,000 visas and more than 22,000 applications are being processed.

Despite insisting that security checks must be carried out before someone is allowed in the UK - and resisting pressure for days to make the system easier - Ms Patel said she'd been given assurances that the UK would remain protected.

There had been concerns that the UK's refugee scheme could be infiltrated by Russian operatives hoping to launch attacks on British soil.

Ms Patel said she is in "daily contact with the intelligence and security agencies" who have assured her the streamlined system will be safe.

"From Tuesday, I can announce that Ukrainians with passports will no longer need to go to a visa application centre to give their biometrics before they come to the UK," she said.

"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.

"In short, Ukrainians with passports will be able to get permission to come here fully online from wherever they are and will be able to give their biometrics once in Britain.

"This will mean that visa application centres across Europe can focus their efforts on helping Ukrainians without passports."

Ms Patel said the system change will not come until Tuesday in order to provide time for the relevant technology changes.

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More than two million people have fled Ukraine since Russia's invasion and Boris Johnson has said around 200,000 people with parents, grandparents, children and siblings already in the UK could be allowed to stay for up to three years.

While the European Union allows visa-free travel for Ukrainians fleeing the fighting, the UK insisted they are necessary to guarantee security.

She added: "What happened in Salisbury showed what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is willing to do on our soil. It also demonstrated that a small number of people with evil intentions can wreak havoc on our streets."

Under a second scheme, Ukrainians with no ties to Britain will be able to enter the UK so long as they have a sponsor - business or individual - who can provide housing and integration support.

Boris Johnson told MPs at PMQs details of the sponsorship route will be set out soon, allowing "everybody in this country can offer a home to people fleeing Ukraine".

An unlimited number of Ukrainians will be able to enter the UK, as long as they have a sponsor, which could be an individual, community, local authority or business.

They will be able to work and the sponsor would provide housing and integration support.