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What should potential applicants know about the UK’s Ukraine Family Scheme?

By Amer Zaman

on July 1, 2022

Read Time: 7 Minutes

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has changed the face of Europe – and the world. Alongside the UK Government’s many other moves in solidarity with Ukraine, the Home Office has introduced special visa schemes and made key immigration concessions for arrivals from Ukraine, based on a “core plan” of issuing Ukrainian citizens with visas instead of formal refugee status. This policy has had the consequence of keeping Ukrainian nationals out of the UK’s notorious asylum system. But what are the schemes that have been set up by the Government for Ukrainian refugees, and what do potential applicants and other parties wishing to support Ukrainian nationals need to know?

The essentials for Ukrainians looking to take refuge in the UK

An important detail with regard to the UK’s policy on Ukrainian refugees in the wake of the wider Russian invasion of Ukraine, is that Ukrainians are ‘visa nationals’. What this means is that Ukrainians wishing to enter the UK will only be able to do so if they have a valid visa; they will not be able to simply arrive at the border and request to be admitted.

The UK withdrew its previous country policy and information notes in relation to asylum and human rights applications from Ukraine when the Russian invasion began in late February, and it has not reissued that guidance since.

In the earlier stages of the crisis, the situation with regard to the UK Government’s handling of Ukrainian refugees was a fast-moving one, with many often easily missed changes to the rules. That situation has since stabilised, so it should be easier to keep track of any further significant changes via the GOV.UK website’s dedicated page on visa support for Ukrainian nationals. Alternatively, if you would appreciate more tailored and specific help and advice from our specialists in immigration law, you are welcome to call our team, on 0208 215 0053, for a free consultation.

What is the Ukraine Family Scheme?

For many Ukrainians who already have ties in the UK, their main route to coming here will be the Ukraine Family Scheme. This visa category is open to Ukrainian nationals and their families who are fleeing Ukraine, and who have a family connection to the UK.

The idea behind this scheme is to enable British citizens and many immigrants residing in the UK to sponsor Ukrainian relatives who would not ordinarily satisfy the requirements for a UK family visa. Such family members as parents, children, siblings, uncles, aunts, and in-laws may be able to secure a visa to the UK through this route. 

It is free to apply to the Ukraine Family Scheme, and applicants are also not required to pay the immigration health surcharge or biometric enrolment fee. Those who are successful in being approved for a Ukraine Family Scheme visa will be permitted to live, work and study in the UK, as well as to access public funds. Holders of this visa are allowed to stay in the UK for as long as three years.

What are the Ukraine Family Scheme eligibility requirements?

Applicants to the Ukraine Family Scheme are required to:

  • Be applying with a view to joining or accompanying their UK-based relative
  • Be Ukrainian, or the family member of a Ukrainian national who is applying through this route in order to join an immediate relative based in the UK
  • Have been living in Ukraine on, or immediately prior to, 1st January 2022, even if they have now left Ukraine

The scheme is also open to applications from those who have already arrived in the UK, provided that they satisfy the above requirements.

Ukrainian nationals who had temporary permission to stay in the UK on or before 18th March 2022 have the option of applying to the Ukraine Extension Scheme instead. The partners and children of such Ukrainian nationals are also able to apply if they are already in the UK as their dependants.

The Ukraine Family Scheme applicant’s UK-based family member will also be expected to satisfy certain eligibility requirements. Those requirements will include being one of the following:

The UK-based relative of the applicant will also need to be one of the following:

  • An immediate family member
  • An extended family member
  • The spouse or civil partner, unmarried partner, child, parent, or fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner of the applicant’s extended family member

The Home Office will also expect the applicant for a Ukraine Family Scheme visa to provide a copy of an official document confirming their family relationships – for example, a birth or marriage certificate – if they are able to do this.

But even in the event of the candidate for this visa not being able to produce such documents, they will still be allowed to apply. If this is the case for you, the Home Office will wish to receive an explanation with your application of why you are unable to provide those documents–for example, because you were forced to leave them behind when you left Ukraine.

How to apply for the Ukraine Family Scheme visa

Whether you are currently inside or outside the UK, you will need to submit your application for the Ukraine Family Scheme visa online.

Many applicants will then be expected to attend an in-person visa appointment. If, however, you have a valid Ukrainian international passport, you will be able to use the UK Government’s ‘UK Immigration: ID check’ smartphone app in order to prove your identity. This will mean you are not required to attend a visa application centre (VAC) in order to provide your biometric information.

If you hold a Ukrainian passport but are for any reason unable to use the app, it won’t be necessary to attend a VAC to supply your biometric details. Instead, you will be required to provide your biometric information within six months of your arrival in the UK.

In the event of you still needing to book an appointment at a UK VAC – this requirement applying to children and those who do not have a Ukrainian passport – you will be able to do so “in any country”. Alternative forms of ID are accepted from applicants who lost their passport or who were forced to flee Ukraine without it.

How to apply for the Ukraine Family Scheme visa

The UK Government has not provided information publicly on whether the Ukraine Family Scheme visa route could provide a pathway to settling in the UK. The initial period of time for which someone can stay in the UK on this visa is three years, or 36 months.

However, some people who have been approved for Ukraine Family Scheme visas have been informed in theirHome Office acceptance letters that if they wish to settle in the UK, they will need to successfully extend their permission for 10 years.

What are the alternative UK immigration routes for Ukrainian refugees?

The Ukraine Family Scheme is not the only scheme the UK Government has launched for Ukrainian refugees in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Depending on your circumstances, the following alternative pathways might be relevant to you:

  • The Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme: also known as ‘Homes for Ukraine’, this scheme is aimed at Ukrainians who are fleeing Ukraine, but who don’t have a family connection to the UK. It enables Ukrainian nationals and their family members to come to the UK if they have a named sponsor capable of providing them with accommodation for at least six months.
  • The Ukraine Extension Scheme visa is geared towards those who are Ukrainian, or a family member of someone who is Ukrainian, and who have held any valid UK visa – either currently, or that expired on or after 1st January 2022. You will also be permitted to apply for this visa if you had permission to stay in the UK on or before 18th March 2022.

If you are a Ukrainian who is already in the UK with a UK visa, you might consider extending your stay in the UK by extending your current visa or switching to an alternative UK immigration route, subject to you being eligible for your chosen route. This could be possible even if the type of visa you have would not normally allow you to make such a change.

The exact options that will be open to you if you are a current UK visa holder, will depend on the specific type of visa you have.

As events continue to evolve in both Ukraine and the UK, it is crucial that all potentially affected parties keep up to date with the latest information.

For a free consultation with our central London-based immigration lawyers that will give you the opportunity to explore your options for staying in or moving to the UK as a Ukrainian national, please feel free to call 0208 215 0053. Alternatively, you can complete and submit our online contact form, and we will get back in touch with you for a detailed discussion.

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