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Home / News and Insights / Insights / Ukrainians in the UK – it’s time to build bridges, not barriers

This article was first published in our Primed International newsletter which provides monthly legal insights from our international team. Be the first to receive the next edition and subscribe here.

As she paid her respects to Queen Elizabeth II on the day of the state funeral, Ukraine’s First Lady, Olena Zelenska, made a powerful statement regarding the enduring bond between her nation and the UK. The Queen, she said, ‘shared the values Ukraine stands for today: freedom, the right to one’s own home, language, culture and country’. Considering these shared values, it is unsurprising that over 141,000 Ukrainian visa holders have come to the UK for safety since the war began and, as Refugees Minister Lord Harrington stated, this ‘would not be possible without generous people around the country opening their doors.’

What are the routes to the UK?

In addition to the usual visa schemes available to overseas nationals, in March 2022 the Government launched additional visa schemes to provide a route to the UK for those who had been displaced by Russia’s invasion and to support those who wish to stay in the UK. These schemes allow Ukrainian nationals and their family members to apply to stay in the UK for up to three years. Recent figures from the Home Office show that 81% of visas were granted under the so-called ‘Ukrainian Scheme’ and the remaining 19% arrived in the UK with other visas.

The Ukraine Family Scheme

This scheme allows those who have family, who are settled in the UK, to move to or extend their stay in the UK. Each individual, including children, must make a separate application and must have been living in Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2022.  If successful, visa holders will be able to live, work and study in the UK and access public funds.

Homes for Ukraine

This route allows Ukrainian nationals, and their family members, to live, work and receive public funds in the UK if they can be sponsored by a UK household for six months. To be eligible, individuals will need to have been residing in Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2022, currently be living outside of the UK and have an eligible UK sponsor. As of August 2022, this has been the most popular (72%) of the two Ukrainian schemes introduced in March 2022 according to Home Office figures.

The Ukrainian Extension Scheme

Launched in May 2022, this new route is open to Ukrainian nationals and their immediate family members who have held permission to be in the UK between 18 March 2022 and 16 May 2023, or whose previous permission expired on or after 1 January 2022. Under this scheme, visa holders can continue to live, work and study in the UK. In the year ending in June 2022, the Home Office granted 16,115 extensions to Ukrainian nationals, across all UK visa routes and 87% of these were into one of the ‘Ukrainian Schemes’.

However, those who already possess a non-Ukrainian scheme visa, should be aware that the Ukrainian scheme route does not currently lead to settlement.

Asylum

Ukrainian nationals can also apply for asylum in the UK but asylum success rates are typically very low. Despite receiving more than 310 asylum applications between January and June 2022, only one Ukrainian national was granted asylum, two nationals were refused, 43% withdrew their applications and the remainder are still waiting for a decision.

What are the barriers?

Nonetheless, despite introducing and promoting these schemes, data collected by the ONS reveals that 69% of Ukrainian respondents did not have a clear understanding of how to extend or change their visa. Moreover, although Ukrainians with leave under the above schemes have the right to work in the UK, many still face barriers preventing them from accessing the UK labour market. ONS data shows that the proportion of Ukrainian nationals employed in the UK has increased significantly to 42%, from 9% in April but more than half (47%) of respondents had experienced some barriers; the most common was English language skills not meeting the job requirements (58%). Additionally, 43% of those with a qualification gained outside of the UK stated that UK employers had generally not recognised their qualifications when applying for jobs.

Evidently, there is more work to be done by the Government and employers to remove these barriers and ensure Ukrainian professionals feel supported to thrive in meaningful employment, whether that’s with a dental drill or a digger.

How can we help?

If you have any questions about employing Ukrainian nationals or immigration queries more generally, please contact partner Tim Hayes.

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