A Great British UnwelcomeFamily Wanting to Help Ukrainians ‘Stuck in Catch 22’
Vicky Sargent shares one family’s account of trying to navigate the “impossible” Government scheme for settling Ukrainians in homes across the UK
Like many others in the UK, my partner and I have been watching the situation in Ukraine unfold with a mixture of disbelief and horror.
Although we have no friends or family there, we have been getting more information about the war from a documentary film-maker based in Lviv, for whom my partner (also a film-maker) was helping to raise money to complete a project.
Initially, Snizhana insisted that she would be staying put. Then, eight days ago, she messaged us to say that she and her 13-year-old daughter wanted to leave. Even from their base in the west of Ukraine, they felt increasingly insecure.
Could we act on the invitation that we had already made for her to come to the UK?
We had heard about the UK’s initially negative response to the prospect of Ukrainian refugees but thought that it had been fixed. How wrong we were.
What we have experienced since we first encountered the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme just over a week ago has left us embarrassed and ashamed of our country and deeply angry at this Government.
Uniquely in Europe, the UK has decided that Ukrainian refugees need visas. The gov.uk website states: “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. It is free to apply. You will be able to live, work and study in the UK and access public funds.”
So we completed the necessary forms as a sponsor and this was acknowledged by Homes for Ukraine last week.
Next to the visa applications. On this, the gov.uk states: “If you hold a valid Ukrainian international passport or an expired Ukrainian international passport with a formal extension stamp issued by the Ukrainian Government, you will need to complete an application online, but you do not need to attend an appointment at a visa application centre (VAC) to give your biometric information.”
It lists various documents that are required and says that “you can upload your documents using our commercial partner document upload app”.
We completed the nine-page form and then went to upload the documents. The upload function did not work.
We made enquiries online and found, among others, a clergyman in Herefordshire who has been trying to bring a family over to the UK for weeks and has been prevented by the same malfunction – as long ago as 18 March.
It is impossible to contact TLS, the ‘commercial partner’ running the online visa process, for any alternative or indeed any information at all, and the ‘helpline’ run by Department of Levelling Up says that it can do nothing about the problem.
Perhaps then the surest and quickest solution is to have our Ukrainians visit a VAC in person? After all, didn’t the Home Secretary tell Ukrainians who went to Calais in the early days that they just needed to go to Paris and do this?
Unfortunately, it is impossible to get any information about the in-person visa application process for Ukrainians who choose to do this. TLS also runs the VAC in Paris, but has published no new information for Ukrainian applicants.
The standard information for visa applications available from the TLS website describes a heavily bureaucratic system in which nothing can progress or any appointments be made until lengthy forms have been completed and fees have been paid. Yet visa fees for Ukrainians have been waived.
TLS did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Meanwhile, a Government spokesman said: “We are moving as quickly as possible to ensure that those fleeing Ukraine can find safety in the UK through the Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine. We have streamlined the process so valid passport holders do not have to attend in-person appointments before arriving in the UK, simplified our forms and boosted caseworker numbers, while ensuring vital security checks are carried out. We continue to speed up visa processing across both schemes.”
But our reality has been a Catch 22. We can’t apply online. But we can’t apply in person either. Welcome (not) to Global Britain in 2022.