Ukraine crisis: Changes to entry requirements into UK for Ukrainians 'not good enough', says Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon has said changes to UK entry requirements for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict with Russia are “not good enough” after the home secretary announced those with passports would be able to come to the UK via a “fully online” process as of Tuesday.

Ukrainians will only have to give their biometrics once they are in Britain, Priti Patel said, as she announced changes to the ongoing barriers facing Ukrainian refugees attempting to enter Britain.

However, the First Minister said this was “not good enough”, as people from Ukraine would still need to complete a visa application process before they could travel to the UK.

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Ms Sturgeon initially welcomed the changes Ms Patel announced, saying the “sanctuary first, paperwork second” approach was “a massive relief” despite it being “belated”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel announces new changes to Ukrainians entering UK (Photo by Matt Dunham - WPA Pool/Getty Images).Home Secretary Priti Patel announces new changes to Ukrainians entering UK (Photo by Matt Dunham - WPA Pool/Getty Images).
Home Secretary Priti Patel announces new changes to Ukrainians entering UK (Photo by Matt Dunham - WPA Pool/Getty Images).

But speaking at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said: "It is still requiring a visa application process and that is not good enough. We need to waive that process, allow people to get here and then do the paperwork after that.

"That is not just the humanitarian thing to do. That is what other countries are doing as well.”

The First Minister “strongly supported” the position the UK Government must remove all visa barriers to allow refugees to be welcoming quickly and securely without delay.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Patel earlier announced Ukrainians with passports would no longer need to go to a visa application centre to give their biometrics before they came to the UK.

She said: "Once their application has been considered and appropriate checks completed, they will receive direct notification that they are eligible for the scheme and can come to the UK.

"In short, Ukrainians with passports will be able to get permission to come here fully online from wherever they are and will be able to give their biometrics once in Britain.

"This will mean visa application centres across Europe can focus their efforts in helping Ukrainians without passports.”

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The new process will be available as of Tuesday, “in order to make the relevant technology and IT changes”.

The UK Government has also increased the capacity at application centres to more than 13,000 appointments per week.

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Despite more than 2.1 million people having fled Ukraine, according to UN estimates, the latest figures from Downing Street say Britain has granted just 957 visas.

Boris Johnson has come under increasing pressure, including from Kyiv and his own Tory MPs, to rapidly increase the rate of Ukrainians being welcomed into safety in the UK.

Ukrainian ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko previously called for an end to the “bureaucratic red tape” restricting refugees from seeking sanctuary in Britain.

Although the Scottish Refugee Council welcomed the move from the home secretary – if it helps people reach safety faster – the organisation said there was “no time” for people to apply for visas when fleeing a war zone.

Sabir Zazai, the council’s chief executive, said: “We do not understand why the UK Government continues to drag its feet in the midst of such urgent and obvious suffering.

"Ireland brought in a full visa waiver scheme days ago and 27 EU countries have pledged to offer three years temporary protection to people fleeing Ukraine, with no visas required.

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"The UK continues to lag behind as an international outlier in its sluggish and meagre response.

“There are people caught up in this conflict who do not have a Ukrainian passport. Other may be struggling for digital access. All will no doubt be living with extreme trauma and under impossibly difficult circumstances. Narrow bureaucratic schemes like the UK’s often fail to offer comprehensive safety to the range of people affected by war.

"The UK Government must respect the UN Refugee Convention and offer safety to people of all nationalities who are forced to flee.”

Ms Zazai also expressed concerns over the Nationality and Borders Bill. Under Clause 11 of the Bill, which was rejected by Holyrood, those who are forced to take “irregular journeys” are criminalised.

She said: “This crisis has made the cruelty of this Bill all too clear to see. The House of Lords have voted over the past two weeks to remove many of this Bill’s most harmful clauses.

"MPs must now follow suit when the Bill returns to the Commons and significantly amend this law, legislation which is totally unfit to meet the moral and practical needs of today’s unstable world.

“We know that Scotland wants to offer a warm welcome to people fleeing this conflict and we stand ready to work with our communities and the Scottish Government to help deliver this welcome.”

The SNP has also called for the UK Government to “ditch its attack on the Refugee Convention” through its “toxic” Nationality and Borders Bill.

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Labour shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper questioned why it took Ms Patel being “taking hauled into the House of Commons” to make “ basic changes to help vulnerable people who are fleeing from Ukraine”.

Ms Patel defended the decision to make checks on Ukrainian nationals before they came, saying she had sought advice from the security services before making the change.

While EU nations are allowing Ukrainian nationals to stay long term without visas, the only routes to the UK are existing ones, either for people with family ties, or if they are sponsored by an individual or organisation. However, there are complaints from those acting as sponsors there are long waits to the UK sponsorship scheme and the system is “poor”.

Ms Sturgeon said she hoped she would have confirmation over the next couple of days from the UK Government on the opening of the community sponsorship route.

The Scottish Government has put a proposition to Michael Gove, who is overseeing the arrangements, that would allow the Scottish Government, alongside the Scottish Refugee Council and Cosla, to run the scheme in Scotland.

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