Supporting Ukrainian Refugees through Local Sponsorship

This information is correct as of 10:30 on 31 March 2022. This article is written by Shara Pledger,
Senior Associate at Pinsent Masons.

In response to the Ukraine crisis the UK has launched two bespoke visa schemes for Ukrainians and their qualifying family members. Both schemes give the opportunity for applicants to relocate to the UK with permission to work, study, and claim public benefits. Both schemes also give time-limited permission in the UK for 3 years only, although we may see options for extension and/or settlement at a later date.

What are the options?

There are two schemes available at present: the Family Scheme and the Sponsorship Scheme (also know as Homes for Ukraine).

The Family Scheme requires the applicant to have a qualifying UK-based family member to support their application. Eligibility is not based on the nationality of the UK resident, instead that person’s immigration status dictates whether the applicant may apply. To be successful, there must be a UK supporter who is a British/Irish national, is permanently settled in the UK, has status under the EU Settlement Scheme, or is someone with asylum or protection status. Applications are free of charge and – where the applicant has access to their passport and to documents proving the connection with their qualifying family member – relatively easy to process.

This scheme does not cover everyone, and Ukrainians in the UK as temporary migrants cannot support their family in this way, for example. These, and any other applicants, may apply via the Sponsorship Scheme instead.

The Sponsorship Scheme turns attention away from the nationality of the UK supporter and towards the practical offer of sponsorship that they can make. There must be an offer of suitable UK accommodation for a minimum 6 months. Such an offer can be made by an individual or an organisation (such as a business or a charity). This means that there is an opportunity for an applicant with no prior UK connections to relocate here.

Limitations of the schemes

The Family Scheme is working reasonably well where an applicant can satisfy the qualification criteria and prove this. Where documents are missing, applications can still be made but may take longer to be processed. If specific criteria cannot be satisfied (such as the need for the applicant to have been living in Ukraine on or immediately before 01 January 2022), the route cannot be used.

The Sponsorship Scheme has been seeing bigger problems, largely due to the requirement for a named sponsor on the application form. Without this, the application cannot be processed, so a service is needed to match a potential applicant with a suitable UK sponsor. When the Sponsorship Scheme launched, there was no centralised function matching in this way, meaning that those wishing to offer support need informal connections. Charities have been trying to assist, but the numbers approved under this route are currently only a fraction of the Family Scheme. This a reflection of the shorter period during which the Sponsorship Scheme has been operational, but also the difficulties that applicants are experiencing. Successful applications may now rise sharply. The Scottish and Welsh governments can act as a 'super sponsor', in which the government is named as sponsor without the need to match applicant and UK individual/organisation. Also, on 1 April an official "matching service" was announced, administered by the charity Reset Communities and Refugees. Hopefully these initiatives together will ensure that the goodwill and generosity of the public will not go to waste.  

Long-term, planning is needed to support applicants as they move beyond initial accommodation and towards the end of their visa. People may need help to access services in the UK and to establish a life here. Status under these schemes is not status as a refugee: there is no real recognition of the circumstances that has brought people to the UK and the profound effect this will have on their lives. The UK’s schemes also are currently only for those who are Ukrainian nationals or qualifying immediate family members; there is no special support for other nationalities, fleeing this or any conflict.

READ Shara Pledger's Presentation

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