Priti Patel Has Apologised For "Frustrating" Delays To Ukraine Refugee Visa Scheme
Priti Patel has apologised for the delays to the scheme
Home Secretary Priti Patel has apologised for delays to the Ukraine visa scheme as data reveals fewer than 3% of applicants have arrived in the UK.
Official government figures released on Friday showed 10,067 visas had been issued through the Homes for Ukraine scheme since it launched over three weeks ago, despite more than 200,000 people in the UK registering to host.
Of those visas issued under the scheme, just 1,200 had arrived in the UK as of 5 April, leading to claims the Home Office is leaving people stuck in "visa limbo".
Speaking to the BBC following publication of the figures, Patel issued an apology for the delays and insisted she was working to further "streamline" the process.
"I apologise with frustration myself," she said.
"I'll be very candid, it has taken time, any new visa system takes time. We are processing and I'm streamlining processes.
"I streamlined the family scheme in less than a week, and we simplified that, and we changed the way certain checks are done."
But pointing to the new figures, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said around 30,000 Ukrainian people were stuck in "visa limbo" with around half having already waited more than ten days to get a response to their application.
"This is a total disgrace," she said. "Where is the Home Secretary? She needs to account for the scandalous and shameful delays that are letting everyone down."
A number of sponsors who have spoken to PoliticsHome have said they have been waiting for as long as two weeks without receiving any updates from the Home Office, while others have warned they are still encountering problems with the system for uploading support documents.
One sponsor, Claire, said the family she was sponsoring had only finally received their visas on Friday despite having submitted the forms over three weeks ago.
"It's a postcode lottery – and many thousands are still waiting," she said.
Another warned the Ukrainian family they have sponsored have been left waiting in a dangerous part of the country for more than two weeks while they wait for the Home Office to process their visa.
"It's becoming increasingly dangerous where they are, and there are more refugees arriving every day as the Russians continue to encircle other areas nearby," the sponsor told PoliticsHome.
"The Home Office are clearly not moving fast enough, and it's becoming increasingly clear they need to drop these security checks to speed things up."
But Patel denied that security concerns were responsible for the current delays and said the Home Office would continue to carry them out to ensure the public was "protected and safeguarded".
"We want to give people the status and security of coming to our country along with the warm welcome. We have to ensure that they are protected and safeguarded in the United Kingdom as well," she said.
"I see security and intelligence, not just advice, but reports every single day. I know what is going on in the world. I know what is going on in the region. I know what Russia is capable of."
Alex Fraser, director of refugee support and restoring family links at the British Red Cross, urged the Home Office to lift the visa requirements temporarily, and carry out security checks once refugees had arrived in the country.
"The whole process is taking far too long. Complicated visa schemes have delayed or deterred many people from seeking safety in the UK. That's why we continue to urge the UK Government to temporarily lift visa requirements so more people can reach the UK quickly and safely," he told PoliticsHome.
"We're also increasingly concerned about the access to information about support people are receiving when they arrive."
Fraser said the charity was already seeing an "increasing number" of calls to their support lines from Ukrainians struggling to get cash and housing after arriving in the UK.
He added: "In our view, the quickest way to help people right now is for the UK Government to stop the need for visas for those fleeing Ukraine, this would also bring the UK in line with a great many other countries who have been doing this since the start of the crisis.
"Security checks would still happen on arrival, but this would free up the capacity of the authorities to help people as they arrive, instead of wading through visa applications."
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