Employing Ukrainian citizens: Options for entering and staying in the UK

Authors: Imogen Dodd & Jenna Linney, Fragomen

The UK Government has responded to the crisis in Ukraine with a number of immigration concessions and visa schemes that aim to simplify entry requirements for Ukrainian citizens. Law firm Fragomen explores the considerations for UK employers that are seeking to welcome Ukrainian citizens into their workforce.

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Ukrainian citizens who wish to enter the UK are still required to secure immigration permission prior to entry. This includes those entering under visitor, family, work and study routes. However, the Home Office has been exercising discretion when considering such applications.

Individuals who leave their country through fear of persecution can apply for asylum in the UK. The asylum process can be lengthy and asylum seekers are not usually permitted to work while their application for refugee status is pending. Therefore, seeking asylum may not be the best solution for Ukrainian citizens.

While the ordinary family, work and study routes remain the most secure for those who want to stay permanently in the UK, they may not be the quickest ways initially for Ukrainian citizens to obtain permission to come to the UK.

Ukrainian citizens can benefit instead from one of the recently introduced schemes that are aimed at providing a simple and timely application process to enter the UK.

Ukraine family scheme

On 4 March 2022, the Government introduced a new expedited visa category for Ukrainian citizens and their dependants to join settled family members in the UK. This route is applicable to Ukrainian citizens who do not meet the criteria for a UK family visa. To qualify, the applicant must:

  • be Ukrainian, or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian citizen also applying under the scheme;
  • have been residing in Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2022; and
  • be applying to join or accompany their UK-based family member in the UK.

The UK-based family member must be settled in the UK. This includes:

  • British nationals;
  • those with indefinite leave to remain; and
  • those registered under the EU settlement scheme.

Family members who hold only temporary status in the UK, for instance those on a work visa, are not included under the current requirements of the scheme.

Homes for Ukraine scheme

Phase one of the Homes for Ukraine scheme opened on 18 March 2022 to individuals who have a named individual in the UK who is able to sponsor them. To qualify, the applicant must:

  • be Ukrainian, or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian citizen also applying under the scheme;
  • have been residing in Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2022; and
  • have a UK-based sponsor who can provide accommodation for at least six months.

Sponsors can be anyone in the UK, regardless of nationality and immigration status, provided that they have at least six months' permission to stay in the UK.

The Government has created a process to match applicants with UK sponsors, which includes individuals and organisations (charities, businesses and community groups). Where there is no direct relationship with a Ukrainian citizen, individuals and organisations can register their interest to participate in the scheme.

Successful applicants under the schemes

Under both schemes, successful applicants are issued with a permission letter from the Home Office, which allows them to travel to the UK. They are given a six-month entry stamp on their passport when they arrive in the UK, which can be used for a right-to-work check and allows the individual access to UK benefits.

Ukrainian citizens must submit biometrics within six months of arriving in the UK and will be issued with a biometric residence permit, which lasts for up to three years.

The schemes have no salary or language requirements and applicants are exempt from paying any application fees and the immigration health surcharge.

An individual can submit their application from within the UK or from any country, without the need to have residency rights.

To date, the Home Office has not provided guidance on the extension or switching options under the schemes, nor has it confirmed whether time under the routes leads to settlement in the UK.

Employment considerations

Employers seeking to welcome Ukrainian citizens into their workforce need to bear in mind the following:

Did you know?

Most males aged 18 to 60 are restricted from leaving Ukraine, in anticipation that they may be called up to fight.

  • Employment rights: Ukrainian citizens who secure status under one of the new schemes are afforded employment rights in the UK. Right-to-work checks can be performed in line with current Home Office guidance.
  • Documentary evidence concessions for Ukrainians: The Home Office has introduced several documentary evidence concessions for Ukrainian citizens who are fleeing/have fled to other countries. Where an applicant cannot provide a required document for the visa category for which they are applying, they must set out their reasons for being unable to obtain it and submit the reasons alongside their application. Accepted reasons include an inability to:
    • obtain the document due to closures in Ukraine; and
    • travel to Ukraine to collect the document.
  • Where a reasonable explanation for a failure to provide a required document has not been provided, it is likely that the applicant will be contacted for this information before the application is processed. The Home Office's decision to waive document requirements is taken on a case-by-case basis. These concessions apply under the new schemes and to the usual family, work and study routes.
  • Switching visa categories: Ukrainian citizens who are in the UK with temporary leave (eg visitors) are permitted to switch to a different visa category from within the UK, where they would usually be expected to return to their country of residence and apply for entry clearance. The applicant must be unable to return to Ukraine and they will need to meet the requirements of the immigration route for which they are applying.
  • Delays to other entry clearance applications: Employers should expect delays with entry clearance applications for individuals who are not applying under one of the new schemes - applicants to the Ukrainian schemes are being prioritised.
  • Risk of positive discrimination: UK employers that are considering prioritising Ukrainian citizens during the recruitment process must ensure that they avoid inadvertent discrimination and should seek employment advice in relation to this.

Visa extensions for Ukrainian citizens already employed in the UK

Ukrainian citizens and their dependants who are already lawfully in the UK can continue their stay for the full length of their current visa permission, assuming that they remain eligible under the category.

These individuals may be able to apply to extend their current visa, or they may apply to switch to a different visa category from within the UK. They will need to meet the visa requirements for the application.

Ukraine extension scheme

From 3 May 2022, Ukrainian citizens and their dependants will be able to apply under the Ukraine extension scheme if they had permission to stay in the UK on or before 18 March 2022.

Those with permission to stay in the UK that expired on or after 1 January 2022 will also be eligible to apply. Fourteen days after an extension application has been submitted, employers should use the employer checking service to request a positive verification notice to secure evidence of right to work while the application is pending.

Seasonal workers

There is a concession available to individuals on a seasonal worker visa, including HGV drivers and pork butchers under the seasonal worker route. These individuals can extend their visas to 31 December 2022, if they are unable to return to Ukraine. In most cases, they would need to continue working in their current occupation with the same sponsor.

Global considerations for employing Ukrainian citizens

Did you know?

The tuberculosis testing requirement for Ukrainian citizens and their dependants to enter the UK for an extended period has been waived.

In the European Union, the Temporary Protection Directive (2001/55/EC) has been activated. Member states are implementing the Directive to provide an expedited stay for Ukrainian citizens of up to one year (renewable for up to two years), which includes labour market access and healthcare rights.

As with UK concessions, this represents an alternative to the asylum process and normal family, work and study routes. The practicalities of applying for a residence permit and access to the labour market are determined on a country-by-country basis.

The EU has also implemented a temporary relaxation of border controls at the Ukrainian border to the EU to allow Ukrainian citizens to enter on humanitarian grounds. Many other countries have responded to the crisis with concessions for Ukrainian citizens.

Additional guidance and potential expansion of routes available to Ukrainian citizens continue to be subject to change and are under regular review. Employers should keep up-to-date with any changes and consider each employee's situation on a case-by-case basis to identify their best route to employment in the UK, or globally.

Fragomen has developed country-specific information sheets for Ukrainian citizens through its Knowledge Centre, which offers clients up-to-date immigration updates for 100+ jurisdictions. Employers should contact Fragomen LLP for further information about this tool. The firm's Insights page provides details of the entry requirements of EU member states. Fragomen has also created a reference document detailing land border crossing requirements for entry into neighbouring countries from Ukraine.