Labour has warned the government that it must not allow “bureaucratic hurdles” to get in the way of setting up quick and effective schemes to welcome Ukrainian refugees into the UK, after new visa measures were announced today.
Priti Patel said the UK’s Ukrainian refugee visa scheme will now be extended to wider family members, from allowing only partners and dependents to adult parents, adult children, siblings and grandparents of those settled in the UK, too.
There will also be a sponsorship route for Ukrainians who have no family ties to the UK but are able to match with individuals, charities, businesses and community groups. They will be able to stay for 12 months and work during that time.
Announcing the new measures in the House of Commons today, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “There will be no numerical limit on this scheme and we will welcome as many Ukrainians as wish to come and have matched sponsors.”
Yvette Cooper said many Ukrainian families “want to stay close by to home” but “for those who want to travel to the UK to seek shelter with family or friends and get the support they need at this dreadful time, we must be ready to help”.
She added: “We have been calling repeatedly on the government to do more to help. And there will be considerable relief that the government has now changed its position and accepted that we must do more.”
The Shadow Home Secretary asked whether Ukrainians in the UK wanting to sponsor family members would need to be British or have Indefinite Leave to Remain to qualify, and whether friends could also be brought over to the UK.
Patel appeared to suggest that step children would be included in the family scheme but did not mention uncles and aunts. She did not address concerns that the sponsorship route would take too long but said it will be led by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove.
Labour has been criticised by those who want the party to go further in its calls for accepting Ukrainian refugees. Momentum said the leadership should “fully commit to safe passage for every Ukrainian refugee who needs it, as the EU has done”.
The SNP has taken a different approach to Labour, urging the government to “waive visa requirements for Ukrainians and offer comprehensive protection” as “the only way to stop splitting up families”.
Speaking in Poland today, Boris Johnson said the government would “make it easier for Ukrainians already living in the UK to bring their relatives to our country” and this could mean accepting “more than 200,000” Ukrainian refugees.
Preet Kaur Gill, Labour’s international development spokesperson, called on BBC’s Newsnight on Monday for a “very simplified process”, saying: “At the moment, unless you’re a partner, or you have dependents, or someone to care for, this scheme does not apply to you.”
She said: “Many of the people fleeing Ukraine will want to stay in neighbouring countries. So only those people that have family members in the United Kingdom, they want to be able to join them and we’ve got to enable a process that is simple, that enables them to do that.”
Asked whether Labour wants an ‘open door’ policy, the frontbencher replied: “What we’re saying is we need a simplified scheme. We’ve already got one, the Hong Kong one – it’s working really well, we need something similar to that.”
44 Tory MPs in the ‘One Nation’ caucus wrote to the Prime Minister this week asking for him to make it as easy as possible for Ukrainians to seek refuge in the UK. The letter came after a minister suggested refugees would need to apply to be fruit pickers, in a tweet that was later deleted.