Welcoming Ukrainian nationals in the UK: Immigration routes and key considerations

Posted on 5 May 2022 by The Manufacturer

Many businesses have Ukrainian staff that they are seeking to bring safely to the UK. Or they may be looking to help other Ukrainians who are fleeing from war and are considering whether they can assist with relocation.

Businesses may also be thinking about how to utilise new visa schemes both to help from a humanitarian perspective and to fill gaps in the workforce. For an industry heavily impacted by loss of access to the European labour market, existing visa routes are not always the answer and it’s more important than ever to explore new ways of accessing a diverse talent pool.

There are a number of routes available for Ukrainian applicants to work in the UK, although working will not always be the key consideration. Other factors like the logistics of leaving Ukraine or travelling onward to the UK, individual circumstances, accommodation, language skills, and critically, emotional wellbeing will form a large part of that decision.

New immigration routes for Ukrainians

In March 2022 the UK government opened two new visa routes for Ukrainians to enter and remain in the UK – the Homes for Ukraine Scheme and the Ukraine Family Scheme.

Both routes have different requirements but a similar process. Applicants submit an online application and enrol biometric details digitally. There are no English language requirements, no government fees and applications are automatically prioritised.

Visas issued under both schemes are awarded for up to three years, providing immediate access to work, benefits, and healthcare. Importantly though, the Home Office hasn’t confirmed the position on extensions and settlement.

Homes for Ukraine

Currently this scheme allows individuals to sponsor applicants and provide suitable accommodation for a minimum of six months. A second phase to allow organisations to become sponsors is envisaged but with no set timeframe or details as yet.

Sponsors can be of any nationality and status, provided they have at least six months’ permission to remain in the UK. Individuals and organisations who wish to become sponsors but don’t know anyone personally should register online.

The Ukrainian national must:

  • Have a sponsor under the Homes for Ukraine scheme
  • Be a Ukrainian national or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national
  • Have been residing in Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2022.

The key to this route, unlike any others, is the requirement to provide accommodation, so it’s a substantial commitment for those looking to sponsor.

Ukraine Family Scheme

Unlike the Homes for Ukraine route, only specific UK-based family members can be a sponsor:

  • A British national
  • Those who hold settled status in the UK
  • Someone from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland who has pre-settled status and started living in the UK before 1 January 2021
  • Someone with refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK.

The Ukrainian national must:

  • Be applying to join or accompany a UK-based immediate or extended family member sponsor (as above)
  • Be Ukrainian or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national who is applying to the scheme.
  • Have been residing in Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2022.

There is no requirement for the sponsor to provide accommodation – they can sponsor the applicant simply by virtue of their relationship to them.

Other sponsorship routes: Skilled Worker

UK employers holding a valid sponsor licence can sponsor individuals to work in the UK where:

  • There is a genuine vacancy which the individual is qualified.
  • The role is skilled to RQF level 3 or higher and pays a salary of at least £25,600 (there are some exceptions where this requirement will be lower or higher).
  • The applicant meets the English language requirement.

Visas can be granted for up to five years, are extendable and lead to settlement. The applicant can only work for their sponsor in the role in which they are being sponsored. There is little doubt that the Skilled Worker visa offers more from a business continuity perspective but there are obvious drawbacks.

Firstly, this won’t work unless you have roles that meet the requirements and can find the right candidates. Where it can work, sponsorship comes at a cost, with government fees ranging from around £6,500 to £11,000.

The application process is more protracted than under the new schemes. The individual must attend a biometric appointment in person and then wait usually around three weeks for the visa to be issued, with the potential for delays.

Skilled Workers can access the NHS but cannot access other benefits. Again, there is no requirement to provide accommodation. This route is likely to be suitable for companies with defined roles for specific individuals whose primary goal is to work in the UK and may not fit the Ukraine Family Scheme or Homes for Ukraine.

Other considerations

Employers will be aware that immigration considerations make up one part of a much wider set of issues. Arranging transport, potential language barriers, obtaining a bank account, accessing medical care, childcare and schooling, obtaining an NI number and professional support for emotional wellbeing will all be top priorities. But supporting visa applications can provide security and access to critical infrastructure to help people establish themselves outside of Ukraine and at the same time can be a valuable tool for your business.

The authors

Charlotte Wills headshot (1)

Charlotte Wills is a Director at global immigration law firm Fragomen LLP.

She provides immigration advice to a wide range of UK and international manufacturing businesses helping them achieve successful global mobility programmes. She can be reached by email:  [email protected].

Kirsty Moore Half Body (2) Kirsty Moore is an Associate at global immigration law firm Fragomen LLP. She helps manufacturers navigate the Points Based System, particularly Tier 2 visas.

She can be reached by email: [email protected]