More than 200 visas have been issued so far to Ukrainians being sponsored to stay at homes in Greater Manchester, new figures revealed today. But the publication of the welcome statistics comes amid an ever-growing backlash over the speed it is taking to process applications, with many families in Greater Manchester and across the country claiming delays were putting lives at risk.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continued, the Home Secretary today apologized ‘with frustration’ after coming under fire over the time it is taking for Ukrainian refugees to arrive in the UK. But Priti Patel denied visa requirements and checks were slowing down the process and causing delays, insisting the UK will ‘absolutely see changes in numbers’ as work continues.
It’s estimated that more than four million refugees have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, and an estimated 6.5 million people have also been displaced from their homes within the country.
The first phase of the Government’s ‘Homes for Ukraine’ sponsorship scheme opened on March 18 for visa applications from Ukrainian applicants who have named people in the UK willing to sponsor them. Sponsors are being asked to provide accommodation for at least six months.
That scheme is separate to the Ukraine Family Scheme, for those with families already living in the UK. Around 12,000 people had arrived in the UK under Ukraine visa schemes as of Tuesday, according to the latest available Home Office figures.
Some 10,800 people had arrived under the Ukraine family scheme but only 1,200 had made it to the UK as part of the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme, provisional data published on the department’s website showed. As of Thursday, about 79,800 applications had been submitted to the schemes and 40,900 visas had been granted.
Of these, 43,600 applications were for the sponsorship scheme, with 12,500 visas issued. Out of 36,300 requests made for family visas, 28,500 had been approved.
A list of the number of visas issued under the Homes for Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme as of April 6, broken down by the local authority of the sponsor’s property, was released on Friday. The data was published by the Home Office and the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities and showed Buckinghamshire – with 151 – as the area with the highest number of granted Homes for Ukraine visas.
The figures for Greater Manchester are:
The number of sponsors in Greater Manchester hasn’t been revealed. Visas have been issued to local authorities based on the postcode of the sponsor’s address, or of the accommodation address if the applicant is not staying with the sponsor. Not all records of visas have a postcode that has been mapped to a local authority area, but the number of records excluded is less than one per cent.
The data is provisional and is likely to include some duplicate records, so may not be an exact record of the number of individuals who have been issued visas. The data does not contain the number of visas issued through the Ukraine Family Scheme, which allows applicants to join family members or extend their stay in the UK.
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In a pre-recorded interview with the BBC, which aired on Friday, Ms Patel said: “I apologize with frustration myself… it takes time to start up a new route. We are processing and, as I’ve said as well, 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. Also, I’m working to automate where we can.”
The news prompted criticism from politicians as well as charities and campaigners who reiterated calls for the Government to waive visa requirements to speed up the process. Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called on Ms Patel to resign over her ‘failure’ to help those fleeing Ukraine with effective refugee schemes.
He claimed the Government was ‘squandering’ the ‘amazing generosity’ of Britons who had offered up their homes to Ukrainians with ‘needless bureaucracy and delays’, later adding on Twitter: “An apology isn’t enough. She must resign.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, described the figures as ‘scandalous and shameful’, claiming thousands of people are ‘stuck in limbo’ as she called on Ms Patel to “account for this national disgrace”.
Alex Fraser, British Red Cross director of refugee support, urged the Government to ‘temporarily lift visa requirements’, adding: “The whole process is taking far too long. Complicated visa schemes have delayed or deterred many people from seeking safety in the UK. “
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