As the war in Ukraine continues, employers are looking for guidance on how best to support their Ukrainian employees. As a result, the Home Office has clarified that the quickest way for Ukrainian nationals to obtain a visa is to use one of the humanitarian routes created specifically for Ukrainian nationals who wish to come to the UK. These routes are: (i) The Ukraine Family Scheme; and (ii) the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme (Homes for Ukraine). Although the typical visa routes are also available, the process for applying has been streamlined under the humanitarian routes to shorten the time taken to issue the visa. For example, with the usual visa routes, a Biometric Residence Permit must be obtained before the visa can be granted. When obtaining a visa under the Ukrainian humanitarian routes, this requirement is deferred until six months after the visa has been granted.
Further, the Home Office has stated that once an individual is in the UK under one of the Ukrainian humanitarian routes, they can transfer to another visa if required (for example, the Skilled Worker visa). However, individuals only need to make this transfer if they want to start the route to settlement in the UK, which comes with the Skilled Worker visa. Otherwise, individuals have the right to work for up to three years under both humanitarian visa routes already, so there is no need to change visa when accepting employment in the UK.
The Home Office has advised that if an employer has a Ukrainian employee who does not have family in the UK, the best (and quickest) way to support them would be to use a volunteer from their organisation to act as the ‘sponsor’ under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The Ukrainian employee will have the right to work in the UK when they arrive, and if they wish to stay and work in England after their three-year visa expires, an extension can be arranged (for example, by using the Skilled Worker visa route at this point).
The current routes available for Ukrainians to obtain a visa for the UK are as follows:
a. The Ukraine Family Scheme allows for family members of British nationals, UK settled persons, and certain others to come to or stay in the UK.
b. This is a good option for Ukrainian nationals who have family in the UK.
c. It is free to apply. The immigration health surcharge or biometric enrolment fee for this scheme do not need to be paid.
d. To apply for a visa using this route, the applicant must:
i. be applying to join or accompany a UK-based family member;
ii. be Ukrainian or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national who is applying to the scheme; and
iii. have been residing in Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2022 (including those who have now left Ukraine).
e. The family member must be one of the following:
i. a British national;
ii. someone settled in the UK – i.e. with indefinite leave to remain, settled status or proof of permanent residence;
iii. someone from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland who has pre-settled status and started living in the UK before 1 January 2021; or
iv. someone with refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK.
f. Once granted, the recipient can stay in the UK for up to three years, provided that biometrics are provided within six months of arriving in the UK.
g. Under this visa, the individual has the right to work in the UK, and the right to rent private property. To confirm, they will not need to change visa if they decide to rent property or work in the UK.
a. The Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme allows Ukrainian nationals and their family members to come to the UK if they have a named sponsor under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. (NB: the ‘sponsor’ under the Homes for Ukraine route should not be confused with the sponsor under the Skilled Worker route.)
b. It is free to apply, and the immigration health surcharge or biometric enrolment fee are not applicable.
c. To be eligible to apply, the applicant must be Ukrainian, or the immediate family of a Ukrainian national. The applicant must be over 18, or be applying with a parent or legal guardian.
d. Once approved, participants in the scheme can stay in the UK for up to three years if biometric information is provided within six months. It enables the applicant to work, live and study in the UK, as well as to access public funds.
e. Sponsors are asked to provide accommodation for a minimum of six months and will be offered a ‘thank you’ payment of £350 per month.
f. The Ukrainian national can take up any employment they are offered once they have this visa and is not tied to the person who has offered them their home, i.e., the ‘sponsor’ under the Homes for Ukraine route should not be confused with the sponsor under the Skilled Worker route.
g. Right to Rent checks do not apply under this scheme, as the individuals will not be paying rent to the sponsor who is offering accommodation. If the individual decides to move and pay rent in a private property, they will be subject to Right to Rent checks.
a. If a Ukrainian national, or one of their family members, had permission to stay in the UK on or before the 18 March 2022, they can apply to the Ukrainian Extension Scheme to extend their visa for the UK, even where their visa does not normally allow for this. They will need to meet the requirements of that immigration route.
b. It is also possible to apply if the applicant is Ukrainian, or has a family member who is Ukrainian, and their permission to stay expired on or after 1 January 2022.
c. For example, if somebody is in the UK on a visitor visa and cannot return to Ukraine, they can apply to switch to another visa. The rights under the visa the individual was on will continue to apply.
d. This scheme is not a route to settlement, so those who currently have existing leave on a route to settlement should consider whether the Ukraine Extension Scheme would be the best route for them to apply under.
4. Other visas
a. The ‘normal’ visa routes to work, visit or join family in the UK are still available to Ukrainian nationals. However, the Visa Application Centres in Ukraine are now closed, so this route may be more difficult. The application can be made from a Visa Application Centre in a different country: Ukraine nationals have visa-free travel to any Schengen country.
b. It is possible for employers who have a sponsor licence to sponsor Ukrainians to work for them under the Skilled Worker route in the usual way. There are minimum skills and salary requirements that apply to this route. For more information on the Skilled Worker requirements, see here.
In light of the above, it seems that the UK has tried to streamline the process for Ukrainian nationals applying for a UK visa, whilst also keeping safeguards in place. However, some may still consider the process unduly time consuming and burdensome for applicants. The key takeaway for employers is to, as far as possible, use the humanitarian visa routes, rather than relying on the Skilled Worker route. The government has aimed to make these routes quicker and easier, and will continue to review the process as the situation in Ukraine continues to unfold.
For further information, please contact:
Tim Spillane, Partner, Bird & Bird