UK Refugee Sponsors Accuse Home Office Of "Hiding" From Delayed Ukraine Visa Applications
The Home Office has been accused of "hiding" from criticism of its Ukrainian refugee scheme after a group of UK sponsors attempted to deliver a letter setting out their frustrations over delayed applications.
The group has described "unacceptable" delays to applications for the Homes for Ukraine scheme as they attempted to provide details to the Home Office this morning of nearly 400 cases of refugees still awaiting confirmation of visas.
Under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, refugees can come to the UK after being linked with a sponsor. According to the latest government figures, there have been 55,600 applications for visas via the sponsor route.
Sponsors who have been linked with refugees experiencing delays with the scheme had hoped to deliver a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel and refugee minister Lord Harrington demanding answers over the lengthy application process, but were told by security staff the letters could not be accepted for security reasons.
Lauren Corbishley, who collated responses from UK sponsors, said they had decided to deliver the letters directly because people were "tearing their hair out" after waiting over a month for updates on their applications.
The letter, which represents almost 400 applications submitted by over 100 UK based sponsors, came while some cases were still waiting for updates over a month after their initial application, despite Harrington claiming the department were aiming to process visas within 48 hours.
It is understood that hundreds of civil servants have been drafted in from across other government departments in an effort to clear the backlog of applications, which is still in the tens of thousands.
But in the letter seen by PoliticsHome, the group said those waiting for applications were "understanding" that there were a large number of cases to work through, but demanded urgent steps are taken to clear the backlog.
"We can no longer be told to wait," they wrote. "How long do we wait? It's been a month for some now. A month with nowhere to go, no answers from the helpline, just wait, wait, wait."
They added: "It is disgusting. It is making people ill. We are not interested in blame – we just need a plan and promise that each and every one on this list will be assessed and visa letters given within the promised 48 hours."
Last week PoliticsHome reported that MPs had been told by the Home Office to stop "chasing" updates on cases, and that applications were being processed in the order they were submitted.
But the group of sponsors believed it was "not true" that older applications were being processed first.
"If this is happening, then why are these applications still outstanding as these 300+ applied first?", one sponsor said.
A Downing Street spokesperson said the Prime Minister could "certainly understand the strength of feeling for those wanting to provide safety to Ukrainians fleeing this conflict" and that ministers had a "desire to speed things up".
According to official government figures, a total of 56,500 visas have been issued to Ukrainian refugees, including 31,400 through the direct family route, and a further 25,100 through the sponsorship scheme.
Jill Stevens, who applied for a mother and her two young children over a month ago, said the family had initially fled to Italy but had now returned to Ukraine while they waited for their visas to be issued.
Stevens said she had traveled to London to help deliver the letter because she was "desperate" to get the family to safety in the UK.
"They see missiles going over, they have numerous air raids. They are not being bombed as we speak," she told PoliticsHome.
Stevens said she was now concerned that further Russian aggression, including bombing the city of Lviv this weekend, a key transport hub on the western border, could leave them trapped even once their applications are approved.
"I'm frustrated and angry. I'm embarrassed because I speak to my [sponsor] family every day and every day I have to say sorry because we haven't heard anything," she added.
"We are all so invested in this, we've jumped through hoops, we've had DBS checks, home checks, the community has rallied around to get stuff for them, it's bringing out the best in people, but we are just bogged down in red tape."
Peter Seymour, who joined Stevens in delivering the letter, said the group had decided to take action because it was "impossible" to get a response from the Home Office.
"It is farcical. It just looks bad," he told PoliticsHome. "[The Home Office] have got no way of tracking any application. As a user of the system you've got no way of even knowing where the application is.
"They're not acknowledging receipts or documentation in a timely manner and if you've got no way of checking where your application has got to then you've got to keep pushing."
Another signatory of the letter, Vera Kempe, said she had been waiting four weeks to get any response on the application she made for a mother and her 13-year-old son.
"The mother is desperate to get somewhere safe where they can heal and rebuild their life," she told PoliticsHome.
"She is, however, afraid to leave Ukraine without the guarantee of a visa because it feels too uncertain having never been abroad.
"Yet with bombs now falling on Lviv, nowhere is safe in Ukraine and I am desperate to get them out."
The Home Office has been approached for comment.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe