Changes To Ukrainian Refugee Visas "A Step In The Right Direction" But Priti Patel Faces Calls To Go Further
A 'streamlined' Ukrainian refugee visa process has been hailed as “a step in the right direction” by some Conservative MPs, but Priti Patel is still under pressure to reform the policy further after a week of Home Office chaos.
Tory MPs told PoliticsHome the home secretary is in an “unenviable position” managing refugee resettlement, but some remain unsure why “we’re not further ahead of the curve” given intelligence of an invasion existed in advance.
On Thursday morning Patel announced Ukrainian passport holders with family members in the UK will have access to a streamlined online system for securing UK visas from next week.
Changes to the immigration process for Ukrainian refugees follows fierce criticism of the scheme which provides those fleeing war an opportunity to secure a UK visa if they have a close family member already here.
From next Tuesday, those with a Ukrainian passport will no longer need to make in-person visits to processing centres in other European countries.
It comes after scenes of chaos at UK processing centres across Europe where tens of thousands of refugees have submitted applications to join family in the UK, resulting in delays and hurdles for those applying for the scheme.
For the past week Patel faced pressure from across the Commons to halt the resettlement crisis, with one senior source saying there was concern in government "from top to bottom" that Britain’s response to Vladimir Putin's attack was being let down by the Home Office.
The insider added that Patel was "the odd one out" within the Cabinet when it comes to how open the UK's scheme for Ukrainian refugees should be.
Thursday's changes to immigration procedures were welcomed by some Conservative MPs, who described them as "a step in the right direction".
“The announcement today is good as it fixes the speed issue and means from a refugee perspective we can help on a longer-term basis,” Conservative MP Antony Higginbottom told PoliticsHome.
“But I don’t want it to distract government attention away from bringing the conflict itself to an end,” he added.
Higginbottom described government as having done "a great job on Ukraine overall" and said the Home Office had to "adapt" its refugee policy because the war is likely to last longer than anticipated.
Tory MP Matt Vickers told PoliticsHome that “the bureaucratic nature of so much of our Civil Service does not lend itself to quick action” but Patel “is right to take the necessary executive action and sort this problem to save lives”.
"It's brilliant to see the Home Secretary has lifted visa requirements," the MP said.
Echoing Vickers, a senior Conservative MP told PoliticsHome they welcomed the Home Office’s “sensible move”, but that they “still don’t understand…. why we’re not further ahead of the curve”.
“We haven’t had a satisfactory answer on that,” the MP said.
Speaking on the PoliticsHome podcast, The Rundown, former cabinet minister Robert Buckland said it is now vital that Britain's new refugee minister, Richard Harrington, brings together "as many officials as possible to the frontline to process these applications as quickly as possible, so that Britain can play its full part in welcoming refugees from an appalling situation".
Tory politicians and insiders PoliticsHome spoke to stressed that maintaining security throughout the refugee resettlement process is important to them, and streamlining visas in a way they believed could compromise public safety should not be considered.
“Making it easy for large numbers of people to enter the UK in a short space of time from a conflict zone where one of the combatants is a strategic enemy of the UK is not good news from a security perspective,” a senior government source told PoliticsHome.
“Russia has had a lot of covert human intelligence sources in Ukraine for a long time now and could exploit the relaxing of conditions of entry with the aim of moving individuals into the UK,” they added.
While opinions on the Home Office seem to have softened among some on the Tory benches at this end of the week, refugee charities have maintained that Patel’s record on Ukraine is “farcical and shameful”.
“A highly bureaucratic and restrictive family visa scheme to deal with a crisis in which more than two million people have been displaced is not only inadequate, it’s immoral,” Tim Naor Hilton, Chief Executive of the charity Refugee Action, said.
“We need an immediately accessible route for Ukrainians to travel to the UK to seek safety here and a long-term commitment to resettle 10,000 refugees a year,” he added.
This morning Labour shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told the Commons the Home Office’s handling of refugees has “a total disgrace… bringing shame on our country”.
Cooper said streamlining visa applications online “will be a relief for many”, but efforts to resettle Ukrainians "don't yet go far enough”.
“Even those using online applications will still have to jump hoops,” Cooper said.
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