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Lanarkshire and Falkirk Liberal Democrats

Chamberlain questions minister over ‘broken’ Ukrainian visa system

April 29, 2022 12:14 PM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

North East Fife MP Wendy Chamberlain has questioned the migration minister over the situation facing Ukrainian refugees seeking to come to the UK. She secured an urgent question over numerous concerns about the operation of Visa Application Centres. She also raised the case of two children who have finally been granted permission to come to North East Fife more than a month after their family first applied.

Under the 'Homes for Ukraine' scheme, Ukrainian refugees with passports are required to have biometric tests carried out before they can travel to the UK. The vast majority of those who have to go through this process are young children who do not yet have their own passports.

These checks take place at Visa Application Centres which are operated by a private company under a Home Office contract. Even before the war in Ukraine, an inspection found that these centres had issues in meeting targets for the speed of application, inadequate support for vulnerable applicants, and a lack of transparency from the Home Office.

Wendy Chamberlain's staff have assisted more than fifty refugees who have applied to come to the UK, many of whom have faced extensive problems with the VACs' processing of applications. There have been extensive delays for appointments and decision-making, wrong information has been provided to families causing unnecessary distress and confusion, families have been called for appointments only to be sent away again often without adequate explanation, basic errors have made in relation to applicant details sometimes on multiple occasions, and applications have been apparently lost with no information on how or what has happened to them.

Ms Chamberlain raised the case of two Ukrainian children, Sofia and Kirill who are 4- and 12-years-old. They and their family have been sponsored under the 'Homes for Ukraine' scheme by a couple living in North East Fife. The children experienced significant trauma from the devastation they saw in Ukraine.

Their family submitted their visa applications in mid-March, but the children's visas were only granted yesterday, weeks after the adults in their group were given permission to travel. They made three visits to a VAC, each time waiting for hours before being sent away. Both children were issued incorrect documentation which had to be reprocessed. Throughout this time the family were moving between temporary accommodation.

Avril McIvor, who sponsored Sofia, Kirill, and their family said:

"My partner and I are delighted that our friends from Ukraine have finally had all their applications approved. The family have been amazingly resilient, but the sad reality is that it proved easier to escape a war than to come to the UK. The delay in coming to the UK has compounded the trauma they have suffered. The fact that it took this long for the visa applications to be approved shows that the system is broken."

Wendy Chamberlain added:

"I am glad that Sofia, Kirill, and their family are now finally able to come to the UK. But like far too many they unacceptably long wait for visa applications to be processed.

"The VACs are not providing anywhere near the service required by but the Home Office seems unable to do anything about it. My staff and I made representations to senior Home Office officials, including via the minister for refugees. Even they could not get answers, with one official admitting that this was not the service that should be expected at a basic level, never mind for families fleeing war.

"The minister's response to my urgent question was unacceptable and tone-deaf, referring to the Ukrainian refugees who have applied as 'customers'. He failed to answer the specific points I put to him. He didn't address the concerns that I raised and instead talked about the future of the immigration system. The reality is that this is about helping desperate people fleeing war now. The government needs to take their head out of the sand and acknowledge that the current system is broken."