The government has acknowledged that processing problems within the Interior Ministry have led to delays between the approval of visas for Ukrainian refugees and the email notification that visas have been granted – preventing many vulnerable people from quickly getting to safety.
Politicians from all parties highlighted a number of serious issues with the Homes for Ukraine visa regime during an urgent question in the Commons on the Interior Ministry’s handling of the refugee crisis.
The latest figures show that only one in five of the visas issued under the Homes for Ukraine scheme had arrived in the UK. MPs suggested that the relatively small number of people traveling was the consequence of visas not being issued to family units at the same time and that the approval of child visas often took several weeks longer.
About 86,000 visas have been issued to people fleeing Ukraine under the government’s two Ukraine refugee schemes (Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine Scheme), but only 27,100 have traveled to the UK. Of the 51,300 visas issued under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, only 11,000 have actually arrived in the UK.
Interior Minister Kevin Foster dismissed reports that there was a deliberate Interior Ministry policy to withhold children’s visas as nonsense. “I am aware of the allegations that have been made, the false allegations, I must say, that there is a deliberate step to withhold individual visas. That is absolute nonsense, ”he told the Commons.
But he admitted that there were bureaucratic problems, which meant that refugees did not immediately receive emails informing them that visas had been granted. “We have been aware of a problem with the way the current system works, in terms of the decision that needs to be made and then sent,” he said.
It has been clear for a number of weeks that there are serious delays between getting visas approved and refugees receiving emails that they are allowed to travel. This is believed to be the result of a workflow lag between two separate teams of officials, where one group is responsible for visa decisions and another group based elsewhere is responsible for communicating these decisions.
Foster said there was a separate team working to “secure dispatch” but said the government was working to create “a fully online” automated system next month that would “solve the particular problem”.
Shadowed Home Secretary Stephen Kinnock said there was widespread frustration over the speed with which refugee cases were being processed, adding: “For far too many, the hotline has become stone cold.”
Several MPs said delays in issuing visas caused refugees to run out of money, exposing them to homelessness and a host of other dangers while waiting for the UK government to issue their visas. Stuart McDonald, spokesman for the Home Office of the Scottish National Party, said the government had erected “a massive wall of bureaucracy and bureaucracy” which “caused completely inevitable misery for Ukrainians fleeing the war” and called for the visa regime to be scrapped .
SNP member Deirdre Brock highlighted the case of Yulia, a Kharkiv elementary school teacher who has been waiting more than a month for her two-year-old daughter’s visa to be granted. Earlier this week, she was told that the visa had been granted and that travel documents would be issued in a few days.
“But the child’s mother had been called up by mistake, as it was in fact someone else’s visa that had been given, and it would take about two more weeks before the correct visa came through. These people are, in fact, homeless, “she said.” Every day the message that they are welcome in the UK disappears, a little more. “
‘I feel powerless’
Andrew Saunders, who has offered to sponsor Yulia and her daughter, Diana, said: “From start to finish, it has been a dizzyingly incompetent and inappropriate process – it was supposed to take three to five days, but we are more than a month in and we are still awaiting a visa for the two-year-old. ”
Yulia, who asked that her last name not be printed, said she was puzzled by the need to make lengthy checks before issuing a visa to a two-year-old. After a month in Germany, she said, she was running out of money and her daughter was more and more restless. “I feel really sad and frustrated. We have already lived in four places and we have to move again this weekend, so I am looking for a fifth place to live. I feel powerless.”
A government spokesman said: “We are processing thousands of visas a day – this shows that the changes we have made to streamline the service are working and we will continue to build on this success so we can speed up the process even further. more.”