Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
28 February 2022

UK will be a cold house for Ukrainian refugees

Labour condemns “shameful” limits to visa rules for families fleeing war.

By Ailbhe Rea

Boris Johnson has announced that Ukrainian refugees can come to the UK if they have immediate family here, as the conflict in Ukraine enters its fifth day. Explosions were heard across Ukraine’s cities last night, and President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that the next 24 hours will be crucial for his country. 

“Any person settled in the UK will be able to bring their Ukrainian immediate family members to join them here,” No 10 said last night. “This will benefit many thousands of people who at this moment are making desperate choices about their future.” The announcement comes after sustained pressure on the UK government to accept more people fleeing Ukraine, ahead of a refugee crisis that is expected to involve millions of people.

But the small print reveals that these provisions will only apply to married and long-term couples and children under 18 seeking to be reunited with their parents. Applicants will still be subject to English language requirements and a minimum income requirement, with a government caveat that: “Given the current circumstances, if somebody does not meet these requirements, UKVI [Visas and Immigration] will consider an alternative grant of leave to come to the UK.” But there is no guarantee that, after consideration, a visa will be given to those who fall short of one of these requirements, even if they fall into the limited category of eligible family members.

The Labour Party has described the narrowness of these changes to visa requirements as “shameful”, while the Liberal Democrats have said that: “Boris Johnson needs to follow the lead of our European neighbours and set up a simple, rapid scheme to resettle Ukrainian refugees in the UK. Anything less would be a failure of moral leadership and leave thousands at risk.” The EU agreed unanimously last night that all member countries will take in Ukrainian refugees for up to three years without asking them to first apply for asylum. 

These developments come as the House of Lords prepares to debate amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill today. The conflict in Ukraine has illuminated a cause for concern in the bill, with Conservative peers, as well as many cross-bench and other peers, voicing their doubts and planning amendments to a clause that would criminalise many Ukrainian refugees entering the UK via irregular routes. This bill has been controversial for a long time, with fears that it creates an asylum model that undermines internationally established refugee protection practices. Ukraine has lent the policy a new urgency and poignancy. Between the smallness of the visa changes for close family and the legislation moving through parliament, the UK is going to be a cold house for Ukrainians fleeing war, with very few exceptions. The question is whether the concern growing among Conservative peers will spread to the rest of the party and ultimately force the government to either introduce a resettlement scheme for Ukrainians, and/or adapt its wider policy on refugees, now that it is being seen in a new, starker light.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them
Topics in this article: ,