Russia/Ukraine conflict: immigration rule changes

09 March 2022

The refugee exodus from Ukraine as a consequence of the Russian invasion has prompted rapid changes to immigration rules across Europe.

Before the conflict, Ukrainian nationals were able to travel across the Schengen area without a visa for up to 90 days thanks to the country’s 2017 Association Agreement with the EU.

In the UK and Ireland, not parties to the Schengen area, Ukrainian nationals were required to apply for visitor visas before they travelled.

In all cases, Ukrainian nationals required visas if they intended to work, study or live in the EU, UK or Ireland.

Russian nationals required, and still require, visas to visit, work, study or live in the EU, UK or Ireland.

Some European countries have issued temporary bans on the issuance of new visas to Russian nationals, but this is not an EU wide initiative and current visas issued to Russian nationals remain valid.

There is no suggestion that the UK would cancel current visas or disallow extensions for Russian nationals.

Emergency EU law passed in favour of Ukrainians

As a result of the refugee crisis, the EU has adopted the Temporary Protection Directive (2001/55/EC) to allow Ukrainian nationals - and third country nationals permanently resident in Ukraine - full residence rights in the bloc for at least a year without a visa.

This effectively grants freedom of movement to Ukrainian nationals for a year with the possibility to extend further if the situation remains dangerous.

Each Member State can choose how to implement the Directive and many may extend existing basic registration requirements to new arrivals. Member States may also adopt more generous concessions and there are already proposals to extend the right to three years or longer.

The existing 90 day visa-waiver gives each EU Member State some time to pass the required domestic legislation.

UK’s response

The UK requires Ukrainian nationals to apply for visas to enter the UK and this will not be changed.

Ukrainian visitors currently in the UK have been granted a concession to extend their stay and switch into other routes from within the UK.

The UK is opening two new routes:

  • Ukraine Family Scheme - allows family members of British nationals, UK settled persons and certain others to come to or stay in the UK for three years.
  • Ukraine Sponsorship Schemeallows sponsors, such as communities, private sponsors or local authorities, to bring those forced to flee Ukraine to the UK. Those who are interested in sponsoring should register their interest here.

The Ukraine Family Scheme is free and open to:

  1. Ukrainian nationals or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national;
  2. who were residing in Ukraine before 1 January 2022 (including those who have now left); and
  3. who will join a UK-based family member (immediate or extended family member).

This means that the scheme does not apply to third-country nationals who were resident in Ukraine unless they are the family member of a Ukrainian national.

The UK-based family member must be one of the following:

  • a British national;
  • holder of indefinite leave to remain or settled status;
  • an EEA/Swiss national with pre-settled status; or
  • someone with refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK.

This mean that the scheme does not extend to those with limited leave to remain in the UK such as Skilled Workers, Investors or Students etc.

The Home Office defines immediate family members as:

  • a spouse or civil partner;
  • an unmarried partner (you must have been living together in a relationship for at least two years);
  • a child who is under 18;
  • a parent (if you are under 18); and/or
  • a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner.

The Home Office defines extended family members as the following plus the immediate family members of:

  • a parent;
  • a child who is over 18;
  • a grandparent;
  • a grandchild or your partner’s grandchild;
  • a brother or sister;
  • aunt or uncle;
  • niece or nephew;
  • cousin;
  • mother-in-law or father in-law;
  • grandparent-in-law; and
  • brother or sister-in-law.

Other family members will be considered where there are exceptional circumstances.

Application process

An application form must be completed online and the visa will be granted online without the need to attend an application centre.

There is no application fee.

Applicants will need to show, where possible, proof of their UK based family member and the relationship to that family member – for example with birth certificates, marriage certificates, passport ID pages and proof of UK residence.