With the sudden outbreak of war systems had to be put in place quickly and our bilateral aid response and military support has rightly been applauded not least by the Ukrainians themselves.
I know though our visa processes to support refugees was slow to get off the ground and that is why, nearly three months on, I want to provide an update and some background on the process. My office has supported about 32 constituents who have applied to host Ukrainians, either single people or families.
This is around 75 refugees in total. This is not the total number applying – just those that have been raised a case with my office. Each MP’s office has a dedicated phone line to the Home Office Ukrainian refugee visa helpdesk.
Every morning my team is among the first on the phones taking up any issues raised by potential hosts and we regularly chase longstanding applications. However, we found that chasing every application every day lengthened the process as the member of staff in the Home Office who was processing the application was breaking off to update me. A balance had to be struck.
Many of the questions we get asked are around why the process is still taking a long time although the process is certainly quicker and smoother than it was at the outset. There are many reasons why applications take time. Extensive checks need to be made to ensure the safety of both the host and the refugee. These include a DBS check on the host. This is a process that checks that the hosts are suitable for the refugees as there are sadly unscrupulous individuals who may want to take advantage.
If children are among the refugee family than an enhanced DBS check will be required for obvious reasons. A host property must be suitable for the refugees in terms of size and facilities available.
This is checked by the local authority and will either conclude the property is safe and or make suggestions as to what the host needs to do to make it so.
The Home Office will also do checks on the refugees to ensure that the refugee is not put in accommodation where the host might be at risk. The suitability check therefore has to work both ways.
These checks are confidential and so my office is not informed which checks are being done on which individuals nor can any estimate be given on how long those checks will take.
This is because the checks may include several police forces both here and in Ukraine. We often get families where the application process for at least one of the refugees in that family is taking longer and this means, understandably, the whole family are reluctant to travel – particularly where that family member is a child.
The Home Office has significantly improved the linking of family members during the visa process as a result of feedback from MP’s offices.
There are always ‘one-offs’ such as the case of a woman who gave birth after she had applied for the refugee scheme but before her details had been processed. The newborn, for their own safety, needed a passport or birth certificate in their home country before an application could be made.
I am pleased to report that fewer new applications are coming forward and outstanding applications are being completed. It is also noticeable as the tide has turned somewhat in the war that a small number of families have chosen not to complete the journey to their host countries.
That said my office has a specialist caseworker who deals with all immigration and refugee cases so we are equipped to address any cases as soon as they are brought to us.
Local people should continue to bring these to us and we will do the best we can to get updates and escalate longstanding applications.