March 17, 2022

Immigration Update: Europe’s Approach to Ukrainian Refugees

The Russia/Ukraine conflict has resulted in an exodus of refugees from Ukraine on a level which has not been experienced in Europe since World War II. Currently, close to three million refugees have fled Ukraine and some experts anticipate this number will increase to four to seven million. Countries are taking differing approaches to opening their borders to Ukrainian refugees.

European Union

The approach adopted across the member states of the European Union is to allow entry and temporary protection to all war refugees of Ukraine, including non-national permanent residents of Ukraine. Upon their arrival in an EU member state, the refugees will be able to work and access health care, housing and education. The EU has granted refugees permission to remain for at least a year, without having to go through a lengthy asylum process. The refugees may remain in EU member states for up to three years if the conflict continues and the refugees are not able to safely return to their homes. The refugees of the conflict are permitted to enter the EU without the need for a visa. In most cases, to qualify, a passport showing Ukrainian citizenship will be sufficient evidence. Individuals currently in Ukraine under a short-term visa have the permission to enter an EU member state and, once there, the authorities will aid in facilitating their repatriation to their country of origin.

Poland has, so far, welcomed more refugees than any other country. The running total is currently at 1.8 million. The Polish government has opened nine reception centres along its border with Ukraine in response to the ongoing crisis. France has indicated that it is expecting to receive up to 100,000 refugees in the coming weeks and had welcomed 7,500 as of last week. Authorities are assisting with finding temporary accommodation, and the French government is aiming to connect hosts offering accommodation with charities. Germany had welcomed 80,000 refugees as of last week, with it being one of the first countries to offer free train travel from Poland. Ukrainian refugees travelling into Germany are granted an immediate right to work, and the children have been given access to education.

United Kingdom

Home for Ukrainians

The U.K. is also offering residence for at least three years for individuals fleeing Ukraine. The government has introduced a “Home for Ukrainians” scheme, which works by pairing U.K. citizens (and residents with more than six months of leave to remain) who are willing to act as hosts (for which they may opt to receive a £350 monthly payment) with Ukrainian refugees. The sponsored refugee(s) will then live in the host’s home for at least six months when they first arrive in the U.K. The Home Office has also suspended the priority service for all other visa applications so that it may focus on quickly processing applications to this new scheme. The scheme has been well received in the U.K., with over 88,000 people having signed up to offer a room in their home within a day of the scheme being announced.

Ukraine Family Scheme

An alternative route into the U.K. is the Ukraine Family Scheme which is available to Ukrainian citizens with a U.K.-based family member who is either British, has Settled Status in the U.K. or has Pre-Settled Status if they are from the EU. The U.K.-based family member must be (i) an immediate family member, (ii) an extended family member or (iii) an immediate family member of an extended family member.

The applicants of the Ukrainian Family Scheme are not obliged to attend a Visa Application Centre for an appointment unless they only hold an expired passport. Those individuals with valid passports may submit their supporting documents via a website operated by TLS, a U.K. Visa and Citizenship Application Services commercial partner. If an applicant is struggling with the online website or does not have a valid passport, they must attend a Visa Application Centre in Budapest, Chisinau, Warsaw, Bucharest or Paris. Applicants with valid Ukrainian passports may submit their biometric data upon arrival in the U.K. All applications made outside the U.K. will be endorsed by a Home Office-issued letter of permission or a visa, where the applicant does attend a Visa Application Centre; one of these two documents must be presented to Border Officials to gain entry to the U.K. Once the applicant has entered the U.K. and provided their biometric data, they will be issued a Biometric Residence Permit with three years of validity. The applications under this scheme may also be submitted from within the U.K. 

This remains a quickly changing situation, many of the countries who have changed their immigration and visa rules will be keeping the situation under review, and more support will be necessary if the conflict continues.

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