Priti Patel is expected to bow to pressure and fix the shambolic refugee scheme amid reports that the Prime Minister is losing faith in her handling of the crisis.
Scores of Ukrainian evacuees expressed their frustration at British red tape yesterday, including some sent to a Home Office centre in Lviv in the war-torn country that had shut down days earlier.
It was announced last night that 100 British military personnel in civilian dress are going to Poland to help organise the visa application centre (VAC) in Warsaw.
Liz Trusst (left), Boris Johnson (centre) and Priti Patel (right) listen to Ukrainian president Zelensky address the House of Commons. Miss Patel has faced criticism for her handling of the visa crisis being faced by Ukrainian refugees
Waiting: Kiril Minskiy, 11, Alexandra Minskiy, Natali Honcharuk, Victoria Kuldusheva, Veronica Kuldusheva, stand outside of a temporary UK Visa Office in Rzeszow, Poland, set up to deal with British visa applications from Ukrainians fleeing war
It came as former prime minister David Cameron suggested the UK’s programme should be more generous.
One option could be allowing Ukrainians into Britain just by showing their passports, he told LBC’s Tonight with Andrew Marr, adding: ‘Let’s find a way to get it done.’
The Daily Mail understands the Home Secretary is planning to unveil significant moves to streamline the refugee scheme and open it to all Ukrainians with family in Britain, although she will stop short of dropping visa requirements altogether.
New measures will mean Ukrainians already here for work or on other short-term visas will be able to apply for a free three-year visa that will let them bring relatives here, Home Office sources said.
Until now the refugee scheme has been limited to relatives of Ukrainians with permanent rights to be in the UK.
In further moves planned by ministers, refugees who have visited Britain in the past five years will be able to re-use biometrics from earlier visa applications.
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This will aim to reduce bottlenecks at VACs across the continent where refugees must attend appointments to have fingerprints and facial scans taken.
The number of refugee visas granted so far reached 957 yesterday as the Education Secretary predicted Britain will end up taking in around 200,000.
Nadhim Zahawi, whose family fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, told The Spectator the Government had ‘struck the right balance because it’s right to have some checks as to who we’re settling here’.
The planned changes to the visa scheme come amid fierce criticism of Britain’s existing set-up.
A senior Tory source said: ‘Priti Patel’s stock is falling fast.
‘People want us to be generous, the Prime Minister is saying he wants to be generous, but reality on the ground is making a mockery of that.
‘The Home Office has to stop looking at this from the point of view of trying to control numbers.
‘The point of controlling our borders is we can choose to be generous when circumstances demand.’
Another Whitehall insider said: ‘Priti has not got a grip on this.
‘What we are seeing is the classic Home Office approach of trying to bureaucratise everything and squeeze the numbers, which is the opposite of what the PM is asking for – it’s not surprising he’s getting frustrated with her.’
An ally of Miss Patel acknowledged it was taking time to get the process running smoothly but said it was ‘not fair to blame it all on her’.
The source voiced irritation with Michael Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which has yet to produce details of the new ‘sponsorship route’ for refugees.
‘Priti is getting all the flak for refugees, but there is nothing she can do about the sponsorship route until Gove has decided what it is,’ the source said.
Downing Street insisted yesterday that Boris Johnson still has ‘full faith’ in the Home Secretary.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko also criticised ‘bureaucratic hassles’ yesterday, telling the Commons home affairs committee that, for example, biometric checks should be dropped for child evacuees.
A ‘pop up’ VAC will open in Lille, France, today but will only deal with applicants referred by Border Force officers at Calais, where hundreds of Ukrainian refugees have already turned up.
Other applicants are being urged to go to other centres across Europe.
But a British-Ukrainian sales manager Vitalii Morgun, 36, who drove to the Hungarian border with Ukraine to collect family who had fled, said that when they reached the Brussels VAC he was shocked to find just two officials on duty. ‘It’s a joke… it’s hopeless,’ he said.
And a British citizen, Joe from Hampshire, who flew to Poland to help get his mother and niece to the UK, said the Home Office told him to apply for visas in Lviv – even though the centre has shut.
He told The Daily Telegraph: ‘Basically the Home Office staff don’t have the same information as the people do on the ground.’
Enver Solomon, of the Refugee Council charity, told MPs the Government was placing ‘paperwork over people’.
The tortuous process for gaining entry
Ukrainian refugees hoping to come to the UK must go through the following painstaking process under the Government’s Family Visa Scheme:
- Create an online account on the Home Office website and fill in a detailed application form.
- Upload proof their qualifying family member has permanent residence status in Britain, such as a copy of the Home Office vignette in their family member’s passport.
- Upload proof they had been living in Ukraine before January 1 this year.
- Provide evidence they are related to the qualifying family member in Britain, such as birth certificates or marriage certificates. If documents cannot be provided, applicants must ‘explain why you are unable to do so’.
- Translate all above documents into English and upload them to the website.
- Book and attend an in-person appointment at a Home Office visa application centre in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova or France so officials can take biometrics – fingerprints and a facial scan. The booking system frequently crashes and there are reports the earliest slots available are in two weeks’ time.
- Although normal visa requirements for a tuberculosis vaccination certificate have been waived, some applicants have mistakenly been asked to provide them.
- Wait while the application is decided by caseworkers in the UK and security checks are carried out.
We drove 1,600 miles… then UK turned us away
A Ukrainian mother and daughter who drove 1,600 miles from Kyiv were turned away in Calais by UK border staff who ‘shrugged’ as they pleaded to be let through as refugees.
Alena Semenova, 22, and Tetyana Tsybanyuk, 40, had bought a ticket on an Irish Ferries sailing to Dover and had passed the French border, but were stopped by seemingly indifferent British officials who detained them ‘like criminals’ because they did not have visas.
Miss Semenova, a former medical student trying to reach her godparents in Glasbury, Powys, said: ‘We did not understand what was happening, why we were detained as criminals.
urned back at the border: Alena Semenova and Tetyana Tsybanyuk were trying to get to Wales but must go to Paris first
‘But the border guard officer shrugged her shoulders and said that they would not let us through without a visa.’
They then had to drive 180 miles to Paris where they are hoping to gain visas.
But this will only happen if the Government eases restrictions for Ukrainians without relatives in Britain.
Her godfather, Graham Blackledge, a chiropodist whose wife Alla is also from Kyiv, said: ‘Let them come over, house them, feed them, look after them. And then if you want to start processing them, but in the first instance help.
‘And to accuse those seeking sanctuary in Britain of perhaps being Russian spies trying to infiltrate the UK, you should be ashamed of yourself.’
At the Polish processing centre, Natalia Honcharyk, a 28-year-old marketing executive from Kyiv, said: ‘It’s not like we are going on holiday. We only want to get to Britain to seek safety there.’
She and her 37-year-old sister, Viktoriia Kudlysheva, a civil servant, hope to stay with a cousin in Bristol.
‘We are unsure if our application will be accepted here because we had originally booked an appointment in Lviv,’ Miss Kudlysheva said.