Priti Patel faces legal action from Ukrainians stuck in visa backlog | Immigration and asylum

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel faces massive legal action over delays that have left thousands of Ukrainians at risk of trauma and Russian bombs, or in limbo in Eastern Europe.

A class action lawsuit is being prepared on behalf of hundreds of Ukrainians who applied to travel to the UK a few weeks ago but whose applications are stuck in a “chaotic” visa backlog, the Guardian has learned.

Charities including Save the Children and the Refugee Council said the Homes for Ukraine program needed an urgent overhaul because it put vulnerable children at risk and added ‘trauma on top of the existing trauma’ since the invasion of Russia.

Chronic delays have been compounded by the Home Office approving many visas but failing to notify successful applicants. The government admitted on Thursday it was aware of the problem after MPs on the other side of the House of Commons expressed concern that families were waiting up to five weeks to hear from them about their candidacies.

According to the latest government figures, 59,000 people have been granted visas but have not yet arrived in the UK. Only 15% of the 74,700 Ukrainians who applied through the sponsorship route have arrived in Britain.

Many of those who have not yet arrived will be people waiting for other family members to receive their visas before travelling; children’s applications generally take longer as the UK requires them to undergo security screening if they do not have their own international passport.

However, a significant proportion of the 59,000 Ukrainians will be people whose visas were approved but who were not notified of the approval.

Amanda Jones, an immigration and public law lawyer, has been tasked with taking legal action on behalf of ‘several hundred’ Ukrainians, in a litigation organized by members of the Vigil for Visas groups and Taking Action Over the Homes for Ukraine Visa Delays. This could include mounting a judicial review case against the Home Office.

Legal action is also being prepared on behalf of lone children who have been unable to access foster care placements set up for them in the UK due to visa delays.

Anaïs Crane, social worker at Wilsons Solicitors who works with Here for Good Project Ukraine and representing several unaccompanied Ukrainian children, said they had been waiting for more than a month for a decision and were beginning to lose hope. “Many of them are now considering returning to Ukraine because of their precarious situation in Europe,” she said.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, described the delay between visas being approved and dispatched as ‘unexplainable and shameful’ and urged the Home Office to release the number of people affected and the steps it was taking to resolve the issue.

She added: ‘For families who have already fled war zones, then being stuck in limbo even longer because the Home Office can’t even pull itself together to let people know when visas have been granted. , it is appalling. Long delays make families more vulnerable to exploitation.

Kirsty McNeill, executive director of Save the Children and a former Downing Street adviser, said bureaucracy was increasing the danger for some of the 1.5 million children who had fled Ukraine since the February 24 Russian invasion.

She said: “Part of [the government’s] the argument of bureaucracy and slowness is that it ensures people’s safety. But in reality, it’s a lack of rhythm that puts children in more danger than anything else.

Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon said the stories of women and children being stuck in a dangerous situation were the “terrible but inevitable consequence” of an approach “flawed from the start”.

He said: “Responding to what is clearly a serious humanitarian crisis with two visa routes… was always going to mean putting paper and bureaucracy before people and their needs. Tragically, we are now seeing the fallout from this approach.

The International Rescue Committee said the UK was “an exception” in Europe for requiring those fleeing war to apply for visas before arrival. Ireland, which does not require visas for arrivals, has taken in roughly the same number of Ukrainians as the UK, despite having a population one-thirteenth that of Britain.

A government spokesperson said: “In response to Putin’s barbaric invasion, we have launched one of the fastest and largest visa programs in UK history. Over 86,000 visas have been issued for Ukrainians to live and work in the UK.

“The changes made by the Home Office to streamline the visa system, including simplifying forms and increasing staff, are working and we are now processing visas as quickly as they arrive, allowing thousands of additional Ukrainians to travel through our uncapped routes.”