British hosts are preparing a lawsuit against Priti Patel over continuing delays to granting visas for Ukrainian refugees – with nearly 60,000 stuck in limbo due to Home Office bungling.
A class action lawsuit is set to be launched over ‘inordinate and unreasonable delays’ in processing hundreds of visa applications for the Home for Ukraine scheme that were made in March.
At least 800 Ukrainian refugees still waiting for visas after applying within the first two weeks of the scheme opening.
In total, 59,000 Ukrainians who have been granted visas have still not arrived in the UK, despite the Russian invasion taking place more than two months ago.
Home Secretary Priti Patel faces legal action over delays to granting visas to Ukrainian refugees
Protesters at a ‘Vigil for Visas’ demonstration last month on Parliament Square in central London
Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted that refugees could have been helped to get to the UK faster.
Why is the Government facing legal action over Homes for Ukraine?
The Government is facing legal action over “inordinate and unreasonable delays” in processing hundreds of visa applications made in March by Ukrainian refugees.
Would-be hosts have instructed lawyers on behalf of hundreds of refugees who have spent weeks waiting to come to the UK.
Here is some information about the Homes for Ukraine scheme and the waits refugees and their UK sponsors have been experiencing.
What is the scheme?
The Homes for Ukraine programme allows individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to bring people escaping the war to safety even if they have no ties to the UK.
Anyone with a room or home available for at least six months can offer it to a Ukrainian individual or a family, though those offering to host will be vetted and Ukrainian applicants will undergo security checks.
The scheme opened for applications more than six weeks ago on March 18.
How many UK sponsors have offered up their homes?
More than 200,000 would-be hosts have registered their interest.
Members of the public have been praised for their “amazing” and “incredible” generosity.
How many Ukrainians have applied and how many have arrived?
As of last week, some 74,700 refugees had applied for visas through the sponsorship scheme, according to official figures.
Some 11,110 have arrived in the UK – about a fifth of the 51,300 people with visas granted under the scheme.
Government officials believe some people applied for visas so they have the option of coming to the UK but are staying in countries bordering Ukraine so they can return home sooner, while others have changed their minds.
There are also multiple cases where Ukrainians are unable to travel because some family members, usually young children, are waiting for longer than their relatives for their documents.
And there are reports of some refugees not being made aware that they have permission to travel.
Why is the Government facing legal action?
There have been widespread concerns about the length of time refugees have been waiting for their visas under the scheme.
Would-be hosts have compiled figures showing that hundreds of Ukrainians who applied for visas within the first two weeks of its launch are still waiting.
The groups who are threatening legal action on behalf of those waiting – Vigil 4 Visas and Taking Action Over The Homes For Ukraine Visa Delays – say the delays have put people in Ukraine and border countries at risk and heaped “considerable pressure and strain” on UK hosts.
A judicial review could be brought on the grounds that the Home Office has a policy of delaying the March applications and deciding later applications instead – or that the system is “so chaotic and unstable” that it is unreasonable.
What has the Government said?
In an interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Boris Johnson admitted the UK could have reacted faster in helping Ukrainian refugees, though he said “large numbers” are now coming to Britain.
Previously, the Government has acknowledged that waits of several weeks for some refugees are “unacceptable”.
In early April, Home Secretary Priti Patel apologised “with frustration” after coming under fire over the time it was taking for refugees to arrive.
And refugees minister Lord Harrington previously said the process was too long and not “as seamless as it should have been”.
A Government spokesman said it has streamlined the visa system, simplified the forms, and boosted staff numbers and that officials are “now processing visas as quickly as they come in”.
Pressed on why the UK is making it harder for refugees than other European countries in an interview conducted by Susanna Reid on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, he defended the Government’s current efforts.
‘Well, we have done a huge amount to help Ukrainian women and children in the area but we’re now seeing large numbers come to the UK,’ he said.
‘So far, 86,000 visas have been issued and 27,000 are already here and I want to say, thank you – 27,000 is a lot and it’s growing fast and I want to pay tribute to all those who are helping to look after Ukrainians.
‘Could we have done it faster? Yes, perhaps we could.’
Earlier on the programme, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK said many refugees coming to Britain had to first wait in European towns such as the French port city of Calais as the UK ‘unfortunately’ does not offer visa-free access.
Vadym Prystaiko said he ‘restarted negotiations’ on the issue with the Home Secretary with the aim of suspending ‘this unnecessarily long, difficult bureaucratic procedure’.
The groups behind the action against the Home Office, Vigil 4 Visas and Taking Action Over The Homes For Ukraine Visa Delays, say the delays have put people in Ukraine and border countries at risk, and heaped ‘considerable pressure and strain’ on UK hosts.
Lawyers for the groups are planning to send a pre-action protocol letter to the Home Office this week, asking it to ‘sort out the endless muddles and tangles’.
They could then apply for a judicial review of the Government’s visa-processing policy.
Katherine Klinger, who has helped organise vigils outside the Home Office over the past week, said: ‘Perhaps the most striking thing I’ve noticed is the utter despair, shame and sense of responsibility so many hosts report.
‘Hosts are in tears sometimes when they report to us what has happened in the past six weeks – dozens of emails, phone calls, letters, trips to the Home Office, MPs’ involvement etc – it’s very humbling.’
The groups are due to launch an online crowdfunder on Tuesday morning to raise up to £15,000 to help pay for the legal costs.
When it goes live, the page will read: ‘If the Home Office does not get a grip on this urgent and potentially catastrophic situation, we will bring our action for judicial review and ask that it is considered urgently in light of the vulnerability of so many of the March applicants.’
Mr Johnson said ‘large numbers’ of those fleeing the war are now coming to Britain.
In an interview with Susanna Reid on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, he said: ‘So far 86,000 visas have been issued and 27,000 are already here and I want to say ‘thank you’ – 27,000 is a lot and it’s growing fast and I want to pay tribute to all those who are helping to look after Ukrainians.
‘Could we have done it faster? Yes, perhaps we could.’
The legal letter will highlight 10 cases of Ukrainians who are still waiting for their visas after applying during the days after the Homes For Ukraine scheme first opened on March 18.
These include the case of a Ukrainian mother and her daughter, aged under 10, who applied for their visas around five weeks ago.
The mother received her visa on April 18 but the little girl is still waiting.
The legal action is being prepared by Amanda Jones, an immigration and public law barrister, and follows a previous successful individual challenge, the group said.
Ms Jones challenged the Government on behalf of a member of the Marlow Ukraine Collective, who had been waiting more than a month to bring the family she is sponsoring to the UK.
Rebecca Lewis, a 44-year-old teacher from Marlow, Buckinghamshire, sought help after the mother she is sponsoring received her visa on April 9 but her children, aged four and five, were still waiting.
After Ms Jones contacted the Government, within nine hours the family was told the remaining visas were ready, she said.
Ms Jones said the judicial review would be brought on the grounds that the Home Office has a policy of delaying the March applications, and deciding later applications instead – or that the system is ‘so chaotic and unstable’ that it is unreasonable.
She said: ‘A group of British citizens who responded to the call for generous people to sponsor Ukrainians for visas, host them for at least six months, and provide moral and emotional support under the Homes For Ukraine programme are at their wits’ end.
‘Hundreds of applications made on or before 31st March remain outstanding.
‘Phone calls to the Home Office are a waste of time. MPs chasing the Home Office get contradictory and unhelpful replies.
‘The Ukrainian applicants – the vast majority of whom are women and children – are running out of money, hope and support in Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, and more. Many have no proper accommodation and are reliant on food donations.’
Protesters are angry that tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees have still not arrived in the UK – despite being granted visas
A Government spokesman said: ‘In response to (Vladimir) Putin’s barbaric invasion we launched one of the fastest and biggest visa schemes in UK history. Over 86,000 visas have been issued so Ukrainians can live and work in the UK.
‘The changes the Home Office has made to streamline the visa system, including simplifying the forms and boosting staff numbers, are working and we are now processing visas as quickly as they come in – enabling thousands more Ukrainians to come through our uncapped routes.’
How many Ukrainian refugees has YOUR area welcomed? Map reveals how many visas have been issued under Homes for Ukraine scheme, as Buckinghamshire comes top
New data published by the Home Office has revealed which areas of the country are welcoming in the most refugees under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme.
The figures put Buckinghamshire at the top, having granted 507 visas. Wiltshire and Cornwall come out second and third highest, having approved 402 and 337 visas respectively.
The figures are for lower tier local authorities in England, and show that 507 visas have been granted in Buckinghamshire, 402 and 337 in Wiltshire and Cornwall, and 311 and 307 in the London boroughs of Wandsworth and Barnet