Charlie Pring

Senior Counsel

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Vikki Wiberg

Senior Counsel

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Alexandra MacMahon

Senior Immigration Adviser

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Charlie Pring

Senior Counsel

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Vikki Wiberg

Senior Counsel

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Alexandra MacMahon

Senior Immigration Adviser

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16. März 2022

Legal and practical guide for people leaving Ukraine to the UK

  • In-depth analysis

Update from 16 March 2022

How can people leaving Ukraine enter the UK?

EU countries have permitted visa-free entry and have agreed to implement the Temporary Protection Directive to protect those fleeing war in Ukraine. In contrast, the UK requires all nationals of Ukraine to have a UK visa or immigration permission before entering the UK. That visa requirement applies in all cases, regardless of the traveller's personal circumstances or visa eligibility. Airlines and other transport operators are unlikely to allow Ukrainian nationals to travel to the UK without a valid visa or evidence of appropriate immigration permission.

Unless applying for the Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine schemes (see below), the applicant must attend a Visa Application Centre (VAC) outside the UK to provide face scans and fingerprints (biometrics) as part of the visa process.

Ukrainian nationals that already hold a valid UK visitor or other visa issued before the invasion can still travel on that visa if the visa conditions continue to be met. Any visitor entering the UK may be asked at the UK border about their intention to leave. The response to this will depend on the longer-term plans of the traveller, including considering the concession available allowing Ukrainian visitors to switch into other visa routes.

The requirements on entry to the UK for other non-Ukrainian nationals that are resident in Ukraine depends on the nationality (passport) of the individual. For example, nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA) do not need a prior visa to enter the UK as a visitor.

Should Ukrainian nationals arriving in the UK claim asylum?

Asylum is outside the scope of this guidance and our firm's UK work. These FAQs focus on other available visa routes. Ukrainians arriving in the UK are likely to be eligible for asylum and/or humanitarian protection due to (for example) a well-founded fear of persecution on the ground of Ukrainian nationality. Other grounds may also apply.

It is not possible to claim asylum outside the UK, including at ports in Europe. There is also no 'asylum seeker visa' for people to enter the UK for the purpose of claiming asylum.

There is more information on the Right to Remain website, but we recommend taking advice from an asylum specialist before applying for asylum. There are restrictions imposed on all asylum seekers and limited funds available to the applicant once an application for asylum is made. The applicant will probably not be permitted to work in the UK while the claim is pending, which may take many months to process.

Anyone wishing to apply for asylum will need to do this quickly after arrival in the UK. Any delay may count against the applicant in their claim.

How to apply for a visa

All UK visa applications must be submitted online, but some applicants to the Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine schemes do not need to attend a visa appointment to give their fingerprints and face scans (biometrics) at a VAC outside the UK. That was previously required for all applicants when the Ukraine Family Scheme launched, but this part of the process was removed from 15 March 2022 for some (not all) applicants as explained below.

All other visa applicants must enrol biometrics at a VAC appointment. The VAC in Kyiv is closed, and although there was a temporary pop-up VAC in Lviv, that has also now closed.

Applicants for visitor visas or visas of any other type (such as work or study) that can travel safely over the border can apply in a neighbouring country. For example, applications can be submitted in Poland, Romania, Hungary or Moldova, but all commercial flights from Ukraine have been suspended so flights out of Ukraine are not available. Also, as we understand it, following the declaration of martial law by the Ukrainian government, all male citizens between 18 and 60 have been banned from leaving Ukraine.

For those able to travel safely, VACs are currently operating throughout Europe including:

How long can Ukrainian nationals stay in the UK?

This depends on the type of visa or permission granted. For example, visitor visas are valid for a maximum of six months from entry, although there are concessions for Ukrainian visitors (see below) that may permit them to switch into a different visa category without having to leave the UK.

How can Ukrainians join British or other family members in the UK?

The Ukraine Family Scheme (UFS) launched on 4 March 2022. This scheme is not open to all Ukrainian nationals leaving Ukraine – it is only available to those Ukrainians (and immediate family members) that are family members of British nationals, settled persons and others in the UK (defined below). Eligible applicants can apply to join family members or extend their stay in the UK.

It is free to apply, and applicants granted permission will be able to live, work and study in the UK and access public funds. A visa under this scheme will be granted for up to three years.

To apply to the UFS applicants must:

  • be applying to join or accompany a UK-based family member, and
  • be Ukrainian or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national who is applying to the scheme, and
  • have been residing in Ukraine prior to 1 January 2022 (including those who have now left Ukraine).

Anyone needing assistance can call the 24/7 free helpline +44 808 164 8810 (0808 164 8810 for those in the UK). Anyone unable to contact UK 0808 numbers can call +44 (0)175 390 7510.

What UK-based family members qualify?

The UK based family member of the visa applicant must be one of the following:

  • a British national
  • someone settled in the UK - for example, they have indefinite leave to remain, settled status or proof of permanent residence
  • someone from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland who has pre-settled status and started living in the UK before 1 January 2021, or
  • someone with refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK.

The applicant will need to provide evidence that their UK-based family member is one of the following:

1. an immediate family member, meaning one of:

  • a spouse or civil partner
  • an unmarried partner (the couple must have been living together in a relationship for at least 2 years)
  • the applicant's child under the age of 18
  • parent (if the applicant is under 18)
  • fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner

2. an extended family member, meaning one of:

  • parent (if the visa applicant is over 18)
  • child who is over 18
  • the applicant's grandparent
  • the applicant's grandchild or the applicant's partner’s grandchild
  • the applicant's brother or sister
  • the applicant's aunt or uncle
  • the applicant's niece or nephew
  • the applicant's cousin
  • the applicant's mother-in-law or father-in-law
  • the applicant's grandparent-in-law
  • the applicant's brother-in-law or sister-in-law

3. an immediate family member of an extended family member, meaning one of:

  • spouse or civil partner of an extended family member
  • child under 18 of an extended family member
  • parent of a child under 18 who is an extended family member
  • fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner of an extended family member

If the UK-based family member is the applicant's (or an extended family member’s) spouse, civil partner, fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner the relationship must have started before 1 January 2022.

What about other British or settled family members not on that list?

The guidance states that other family members will be considered on a discretionary basis where there are 'exceptional circumstances'. This will depend on what meaningful connection the applicant has to their immediate family unit, their sponsor in the UK, and the UK itself. A case may be exceptional where a decision to refuse the visa would mean separating an individual from their long-term family unit in Ukraine.

Are all UFS applicants are exempt from attending a biometrics appointment at a VAC?

No. To be exempt from attending a VAC, the applicant must hold a valid Ukrainian international passport or an expired Ukrainian international passport with a formal extension stamp issued by the Ukrainian government. Those applicants will need to complete an application online, but do not need to attend an appointment at a VAC.

If the application is approved, the applicant will receive an official approval letter confirming they can travel to the UK. That letter will allow them to board a plane or other form of transport. On arrival in the UK, the traveller can show the letter to a Border Force official who will endorse the applicant's passport with a six-month stamp. Each person will then need to submit biometrics (that may be possible through an app, or alternatively by visiting an application centre in the UK) within that six-month period to extend stay up to three years.

Applicants that do not hold a valid Ukrainian international passport (for example if they only hold a domestic passport or ID card) will need to book and attend an appointment at a visa application centre outside the UK as part of the UK visa process. Children under 5 that do not hold a valid Ukrainian international passport will not have fingerprints taken but will still need to attend a VAC appointment to have a digital photograph taken. Rather than just an approval letter, successful applicants will receive a visa to enable them to travel to the UK.

What evidence is needed to apply to the Ukraine Family Scheme?

Applicants will need to apply online and provide evidence of:

1. their identity, for example

  • a valid passport (as above, only those with an international Ukrainian passport will be exempt from attending a VAC outside the UK)
  • an expired passport that expired in the last 10 years for applicants over 25 or last 5 years for applicants under 25
  • a Ukrainian nationality identity card, or a combination of other documents containing a facial image such as a photo driving licence and a birth certificate), or
  • an emergency certificate issued by a Ukrainian authority since March 2022.

2. their (UK-based) sponsor's identity, such as a copy of the biographical page of their British passport or a ShareCode for the holder of an eVisas under the EU Settlement Scheme or otherwise.

3. their relationship to their UK-based family member. For example, a marriage certificate or birth certificate for a child if one is available. Applicants that are unable to provide this document can still apply, explaining why they are unable to do so.

4. their residence in Ukraine prior to 1 January 2022, for example providing a passport, official documents issued by the Ukrainian authorities, utility bills, mortgage statements, medical letters etc, although obviously supporting paperwork may be extremely difficult to obtain especially for those that have already fled their homes. Residence should be assumed in most cases.

There is no English language requirement, no salary or funds requirement and no tuberculosis (TB) testing requirement, so no relevant evidence of these is required. There are also no visa fees or Immigration Health Surcharge fees (to give access to free NHS healthcare in the UK) to pay either. After arrival in the UK, visa holders do not need to register with the police.

If supporting documents are unavailable, applicants should explain why they are unable to provide the document in question and request discretion.

How long will it take to process a Ukraine Family Scheme visa?

Applications will be 'prioritised" with an aim to make a visa decision as quickly as possible, but for those applicants that must attend a VAC outside the UK, there may be pressure around availability of biometric appointments, which may cause delays.

What rights are available with a Ukraine Family Scheme visa?

Visa holders will have the unconditional right to live in the UK for the three-year visa period. They can work for any employer and will have free access to healthcare, education and benefits. The usual restriction on UK visa holders that prevents them from accessing public funds and benefits, or receiving housing assistance, will not apply to anyone granted Ukraine Family Scheme status.

What about Ukrainian nationals that do not have British or settled family members?

Unfortunately, the Ukraine Family Scheme does not extend to every person with family members in the UK. For example, it does not apply to a Ukrainian citizen in the UK on a temporary time-limited work or study visa that has extended family members such as parents or grandparents living in the Ukraine.

Those in Ukraine should check whether they have a visa route based on the UK immigration status of their non-British family member or partner that lives in the UK. For example, if the person resident in the UK has status under the EU Settlement Scheme ("settled" or "pre-settled status"), that may provide an alternative route for immediate and extended family members that do not qualify under the Ukraine Family Scheme.

For anyone else that does not have a qualifying family tie to the UK or an alternative UK visa option available (such as a sponsored Skilled Worker visa or Global Talent visa), the UK government has announced plans for a new sponsorship-based refugee scheme for Ukrainians and their immediate family members. This humanitarian scheme will allow sponsors, such as communities, private sponsors or local authorities, to bring those forced to flee Ukraine to the UK.

There will be no visa cap or limit on this scheme and the UK will grant visas for as many Ukrainians as wish to come and have matched sponsors.

Those who come under this scheme will also be granted leave for an initial period of three years and will be able to work and access benefits and public services.

The UK intends to make sure that those who want to sponsor an individual or family can volunteer and be matched quickly with Ukrainians in need, working closely with the devolved administrations and local authorities across the country.

Phase one of the scheme for Ukrainian applicants to apply for immigration status to live with a private individual sponsor in their UK home for at least 6 months will open on 18 March.

Like with UFS:

  • applicants must have been resident in Ukraine prior to 1 January 2022, and
  • only Ukrainian citizens with a valid international passport will be exempt from attending a VAC. All other applicants to the Homes for Ukraine scheme must attend a VAC outside the UK.

Are there are concessions for Ukrainian citizens already living in the UK?

Yes. It is now possible for applicants to apply online inside the UK to switch into the UFS (this was not possible when the scheme first opened) and then attend a visa appointment centre.

UKVI has agreed some other temporary concessions to support Ukrainian nationals currently in the UK who are now unable to return when their existing visa expires. These concessions will assist Ukrainian nationals in remaining in the UK without having to leave and re-apply from overseas.

Ukrainian citizens that are already in the UK and unable to return to Ukraine may be able to extend their visa or switch to another immigration route even if their visa route does not normally allow this. In addition to the ability to apply to the UFS, examples of the concessions are set out below, but the full list is available here.

  • For visitor visa holders in the UK, UKVI has introduced a temporary concession to allow Ukrainian nationals to switch into a points-based route (such as work or study) or a family visa route from inside the UK. Applicants will need to meet the requirements of that visa route and pay the associated visa fees.
  • Anyone on a Skilled Worker visa that is due to expire can apply to extend their permission or apply for settlement if they meet the requirements. Full details can be found in the Skilled Worker visa guidance.
  • Anyone on a Student visa that is due to expire can apply to extend their leave or switch to a Graduate visa, if they meet the requirements. Full details can be found in the Student visa guidance.

What is the minimum salary in the UK?

Minimum salary is governed by National Minimum Wage rules and depend on the age of the worker.

Links to useful websites

Contacts at Taylor Wessing London

This general guidance is correct as at publication, but the rules and guidance are changing frequently without notice, so is not a substitute for legal advice. Immigration laws are always subject to change.

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