Home secretary Priti Patel apologized for the “frustration” of the slowness of the visa scheme, as it emerged that just over 1,000 Ukrainians have actually arrived in the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which allows Ukrainians to live in Britain after matching with hosts offering free accommodation for a minimum of six months.
A separate, family visa scheme, is only open to people who have close relatives already resident in the UK.
Households in Edinburgh have agreed to take in the largest number of Ukrainian refugees of all local authorities in Scotland, according to the most recent statistics, with 116 people having been granted visas to stay with people in the city under the Home for Ukraine scheme. The total of 566 is more than double the number of visas issued at this time last week.
The Highlands has been granted the next largest number of visas through the scheme – which allows Ukrainians to live in Britain after matching with hosts offering free accommodation for a minimum of six months – at 38, followed by Fife, at 37. Visas handed out for people to live in Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, have totaled just 32.
The latest statistics include 35 refugees whose applications have been approved under the Scottish Government’s super sponsor scheme. Under the super sponsor scheme, refugees do not need to have arranged a private host before they arrive in Scotland and can instead list the Scottish Government as their sponsor.
Ms Patel apologized for the slowness of the roll out of the scheme.
She said: “I’ll be very candid, it has taken time. Any new scheme takes time, any new visa system takes time,” said Ms Patel. “It’s been frustrating. I apologize, with frustration, myself.”
However, Ms Patel denied visa requirements and checks are slowing down the process and causing delays, insisting the UK will “absolutely see changes in numbers” as work continues.
Around 12,000 people had arrived in the UK under Ukraine visa schemes as of Tuesday, according to 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 shows.
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.
Ukraine-Russia: Ukrainian refugees forced to present to Scottish councils as hom…
The Scottish Government’s minister with special responsibility for Refugees and Ukraine, Neil Gray, said the situation was “simply unacceptable”.
Mr Gray said: “Scotland stands ready to provide immediate safety and sanctuary to displaced Ukrainians as a result of this illegal war but these latest figures lay bare the glacial pace at which the UK Government is moving to approve visas.
“To grant just 40 visas through the Scottish super sponsor route – a tiny fraction of those Ukrainians who have applied under the scheme – is simply unacceptable, and is wholly inadequate in providing immediate help to displaced people from Ukraine in need of safety.”
He added: “The slow progress is not just deeply frustrating to the Scottish Government but also to the many thousands of generous and kind volunteers who are ready to offer a warm Scots welcome to Ukrainians.”
Ms Sturgeon said the process of granting visas remained “painfully slow”.
She said that reception centers had been set up in Scotland to temporarily host those who had arrived under the Scottish Government super sponsor scheme.
She said: “The bit in the middle is the granting of the visas and we hope to see that speed up. I know there is work being done at UK government level to try to speed it up but, and I think UK government ministers would admit this themselves, that bit remains too cumbersome and it is taking far too long.”
She added: “We need to see real progress there.”
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”.
Government officials believe some people have applied for visas so they have the option of coming to the UK, but are staying in border countries so they can return to Ukraine sooner. Others may have applied but then changed their minds, deciding to stay where they are or travel elsewhere.
Gary Christie, spokesman for the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “Today’s announcement from the Home Office that only 1,200 people from Ukraine have arrived in the UK through a sponsorship route is a woefully low number. The Home Secretary has apologized for these delays, but apologies alone do not bring people to safety.
“In continuing to insist on operating a visa scheme for people fleeing this dreadful conflict, the UK is an international outlier. This is not the time for sluggish bureaucracy.”
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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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.