Ukraine refugee schemes are generous despite criticism - Minister for Refugees Richard Harrington

In light of Yvette Cooper’s article on April 20, this is a good moment to take stock of what the Government has achieved under its Ukraine Schemes, which, together, are the fastest and biggest visa schemes in UK history.

As a Yorkshire man myself, I am incredibly proud of the county’s outstanding response to the situation in Ukraine and that so many of you have opened your hearts and homes to people fleeing from Putin’s horrific atrocities. In fact, we have so far issued almost 2,100 visas to Ukrainians sponsored by individuals across Yorkshire and the Humber.

Our Ukraine Schemes – Homes for Ukraine and the Ukraine Family Scheme – were set up in record time and, despite the teething issues, in just six weeks, nearly 72,000 people have received visas, with 21,600 Ukrainians arriving safely in the UK to work, live and find stability.

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Our schemes are generous and Ukrainians who come here under them receive three years to remain and are given full access to benefits, healthcare and are able to work.

People, pass through Medyka border crossing in Poland heading back into war-torn Ukraine on April 06, 2022 in Medyka, Poland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.People, pass through Medyka border crossing in Poland heading back into war-torn Ukraine on April 06, 2022 in Medyka, Poland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.
People, pass through Medyka border crossing in Poland heading back into war-torn Ukraine on April 06, 2022 in Medyka, Poland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.

We should not forget this. We should also not forget that these visa schemes would not have been necessary if it were not for Putin and his monstrous invasion.

Given the fast-moving situation on the ground in Ukraine, it has been a bumpy road. We have not been able to turn applications around as quickly as I would have liked. But, I have heard the criticism of the bureaucracy involved in the visa process and, while I disagree with some, some is fair.

Like you, every day my team and I see the awful images and hear the terrible first-hand stories of Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, and just like you we want to do anything possible to help people find safety and stability in the UK. I can assure you we have been working hard to speed up the visa process and I am happy to say we have reached a turning point.

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Around 3,500 applications are being processed a day and I expect we will soon be processing applications as quickly as they come in, helping to reach my goal of turning visas round in 48 hours.

Sheffield is at the heart of the visa process, and we have boosted our visas team in the city with around 500 people processing applications seven-days-a-week. What’s more, security checks now take no more than one day to be completed.

This is on top of the raft of changes we have made to the visa process, which I am proud to say are working – from cutting down the application form and opening the online only application process for Ukrainians holding valid passports for international travel.

Every part of government has been squeezed for help and support in processing applications, getting the equipment we need, boosting capacity at Visa Application Centres and even setting up new ones. All-in-all this has not been a simple operation – setting up a new visa scheme usually takes months – and has been made more difficult because many of those seeking to come here have had to leave their home in Ukraine only with what they can carry.

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I will continue to do everything in my power to speed up the process, and I have been working closely with the Home Secretary and the Levelling Up Secretary to put in place more changes which will come in over the next few weeks. But we will do so in a way that continues to protect both UK national security and the vulnerable people we want to help.

There is no limit to the number of people who can come here under our schemes, should they wish to do so. We have already welcomed thousands of people from Ukraine to the UK and we can expect thousands more to arrive through our uncapped routes.

I know some people are disappointed with the number of Ukrainians who have arrived in the UK, but there are various reasons why people have not yet travelled here. For many, leaving their home, their lives and their loved ones is a last resort – some people who have applied to our schemes are still in Ukraine and do not plan to come to the UK unless they absolutely have to, while many of those who have fled Ukraine are waiting to see whether there is a chance of returning home soon.

We must remember, our Ukraine Schemes are just one part of an almighty cross-government effort to support Ukraine in its hour of need through all manner of humanitarian aid on the ground and in the region, as well as the defensive support being provided by the Ministry of Defence.

It goes without saying, the UK stands with Ukraine.

Lord Harrington is the Minister for Refugees. He was born in Leeds.