Ukraine visa numbers rise but volunteers still frustrated at process

Kim Balshaw, right, has been working with 'Ukraine 2 Felixstowe' to match Ukrainian refugees with sponsors

Kim Balshaw, right, has been working with 'Ukraine 2 Felixstowe' to match Ukrainian refugees with sponsors, but says the visa application process is hampering their progress. Nicky and Steve Bain are hosting Andrii, who arrived with his relatives last week. L-R Nicky Bain, Andrii Khomyshenko, Kateryna Rudnytska and Anhelina Postupalen, Steve Bain and Kim Balshaw. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The number of visas issued allowing Ukrainian refugees to come to Suffolk has more than doubled in a week - but volunteers say the process is still hindering those it intends to help. 

The Government says that 246 visas have now been issued - an increase of 131 from last week.

Of these, 86 were in West Suffolk, 70 in East Suffolk, 33 in Babergh, 36 in Mid Suffolk and 21 in Ipswich.  

Meanwhile, in Essex, 525 have now been issued, a rise of 285. Of these, 34 are for Braintree, 70 in Colchester, 22 in Maldon and 40 in Tendring.  

Communities though are still frustrated with the visa application process, which they say is hampering efforts to bring Ukrainian refugees to the UK, and finding accommodation for them once they arrive.  

Some sponsors are finding that, after matching with refugees, their homes can fail inspections carried out by district council workers, for reasons such as not offering refugees a room to themselves.  

This was the case for Laura Tanguay, from Needham Market. 

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Laura had matched with a woman and her adult daughter through one of the charities listed on the government's website. 

After spending time getting to know each other online Laura began the visa application. 

Earlier this week, she and her husband received a home inspection from Babergh and Mid Suffolk councils. 

“As soon as he walked into the room, he said, ‘Oh, have you not got another bedroom?’” said Laura. 

Government guidance on this states that: “Two people should not be in one room unless they are: adult cohabiting partners; a parent and child; two siblings of the same gender if aged over 10; two siblings regardless of gender if aged under 10.”  

Reading this, Laura had assumed that a parent and adult child would be permitted to share a room. 

However, the home inspector told her that this would not be possible, and the official report she later received confirmed this. 

Laura has nothing but praise for Babergh and Mid Suffolk councils, and says that those she has spoken with were helpful and sympathetic to her situation. 

However, she is frustrated at the confines of the government guidelines, which the council must follow. 

She said: “I feel like there's a difference between making sure that someone is safe, and that your gas boiler is not going to suffocate them in the night, and making a judgement call about the extent of comfort or privacy that they want.  

“If anyone had bothered to ask [the mother and daughter], they would have said that they were quite happy.” 

Babergh and Mid Suffolk said in a statement: “We always discuss the outcome of a visit with the sponsor and will support them where possible to find alternative solutions as we know many do want to help, however they can.”  

Kim Balshaw, a retired RAF wing commander who has been working to match refugees with sponsors, has described the visa application system as “less than optimal in terms of efficiency.” 

He explained that housing checks are carried out by borough and district councils, separate to the visa application process.  

“These checks can be done retrospectively, once the refugees have arrived in Britain,” he explained, meaning that homes can be found unsuitable after refugees have already moved in.  

He continued: “People have been very generous. Some will say, ‘I only have one room in my house, so it has to be shared facilities.’  

“But we've got families of four, five and six. So, we've got to split them up.   

“If we start putting constraints like this on where they can be accommodated, it's just not going to happen.” 

A Government spokesperson previously said they were continuing to process visas for the Homes for Ukraine scheme as quickly as possible.

“The Home Office has made changes to visa processing – the application form has been streamlined, Ukrainian passport holders can now apply online and do their biometrics checks once in the UK, and greater resource has gone into the system.

“A UK Visas and Immigration helpline can provide information on eligibility and applications, and in cases of concern can escalate to teams who can look at the full case history and establish any issues.”