Priti Patel caves in and simplifies 'shameful' Ukrainian visa system

10 March 2022, 12:19 | Updated: 10 March 2022, 13:23

Patel has been heavily criticised for the Home Office's slow processing of Ukrainian visas
Patel has been heavily criticised for the Home Office's slow processing of Ukrainian visas. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Ukrainians with passports will no longer need to go to a visa centre to give biometric data before coming to the UK.

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Home Secretary Priti Patel announced a new streamlined online visa application system for refugees after coming under sustained criticism for the slow processing of visas.

Some 2 million Ukrainians are thought to have fled the Russian invasion, most escaping to Poland.

But it was announced on Wednesday just 957 applications had resulted in granted visas so far, with the Home Office processing more than 20,000.

Read more: End visa requirements for Ukrainians fleeing war, ambassador urges

Read more: Russia taking 'continuing losses' as aerial footage shows devastating attack on tanks

After MPs from across the aisle, including Conservatives, took aim at Ms Patel, she said: "From Tuesday, I can announce that Ukrainians with passports will no longer need to go to a visa application centre to give their biometrics before they come to the UK.

"Instead, once their application has been considered and appropriate checks completed, they will receive direct notification that they're eligible for the scheme and can come to the UK.

"In short, Ukrainians with passports will be able to get permission to come here fully online from wherever they are and will be able to give their biometrics once in Britain.

"This will mean that visa application centres across Europe can focus their efforts on helping Ukrainians without passports."

Ms Patel said the security services believe the UK can still be protected by any Russian effort to infiltrate the country by operatives claiming to be refugees from Ukraine.

Ms Patel told the Commons: "I am in daily contact with the intelligence and security agencies who are providing me with regular threat assessments.

Read more: Three dead including child as Russia accused of war crime for strike on maternity unit

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"What happened in Salisbury showed what Putin is willing to do on our soil. It also demonstrated that a small number of people with evil intentions can wreak havoc on our streets."

The Ukrainian visa system is restricted to people who are relatives of people settled in the UK to move and join them.

Another method, which would allow people and companies to sponsor Ukrainian refugees, has not been set up yet.

The affair has drawn anger and unfavourable comparisons to European countries who have already allowed in tens of thousands of refugees at least, or who have heavily streamlined refugee processing.

LBC saw this week how a UK visa application centre in Poland did not open its doors to a crowd of freezing people clutching British passports as they tried to help their loved ones fleeing the war.

Yvette Cooper, whose urgent question brought Ms Patel to the Commons, said: "Is this still just being restricted to those with family?

"Are they still going to have to fill in multiple online forms, or would she now say that all those who want to come to the UK who have fled the fighting in Ukraine can now come here without having to fill in loads of online forms or jump through a whole load of hoops?

"This has just been shameful, making vulnerable people push from pillar to post in their hour of need - week after week we have seen this happen.

"It is deeply wrong to leave people in this terrible state. Our country is better than this. If she can't get this sorted out, frankly she should hand the job over to somebody else who can."

Among the critics was the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, who called for visa requirements to be dropped.

He told MPs on Wednesday that at least 100,000 Ukrainians could try to join their relatives in the UK, and that his wife had struggled to get a visa after he took up his role in Britain.

"I understand how sensitive it is for your society, especially after the immigration crisis, refugee crisis with Syrians, which we believe was manufactured by Russia pushing out these people from Syria, flooding with immigration, wave after wave, to Europe," he said.

"That would definitely resolve all the issues, but how reasonable, how justified it is with your own system, that's frankly for you to decide.

"We will be happy if all the barriers are dropped for some period of time when we can get maximum (numbers) of people, then we will deal with that."

He added that he did not expect many to go to the UK and added: "I don't want to see these pictures of people banging at the doors in Calais and scratching the doors which are quite sealed."

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