Homes for Ukraine: How can UK businesses help?
22nd March 2022
The war in Ukraine has caused unimaginable hardship for Ukrainians forced to leave their country, with many urgently seeking refuge across Europe. Not surprisingly, there has been an increase in UK businesses seeking information on how they can help provide support for Ukrainians fleeing the war, as well as some suggestions that the acute skills shortages faced by many sectors across the UK could provide welcome work opportunities for Ukrainian refugees.
In this article, experts from Walker Morris’ Employment and Business Immigration Team explore the options currently available and the initiatives that have recently been introduced. Given how fast paced this situation is and the fact that government updates are being published regularly however, we recommend that the most up-to-date position is checked by businesses before any action is taken. Get in touch with one of the Team below if you require any advice or assistance.
Various schemes have been launched to welcome Ukrainians to the UK, which may be of interest to businesses. These are summarised below.
Homes for Ukraine
The most prominent and widely publicised scheme is the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme, which is a local sponsorship scheme for Ukrainian nationals:
- The scheme is open to Ukrainians and their immediate family members who were resident in Ukraine prior to 1 January 2022.
- Community groups, individuals, charities, businesses and local authorities will be able to sponsor Ukrainians to come to the UK and provide accommodation to them. However, currently only information on how individuals can provide sponsorship has been released by the government; details of how organisations, including businesses, will be able to act as sponsors are still awaited. Businesses with employees who are keen to act as sponsors may wish to support them to become individual sponsors by highlighting the schemes in this article and directing them to matching services (described below), by providing (paid or unpaid) time off work to help Ukrainian nationals they are sponsoring settle into their new homes initially and/or over time as they need assistance with accessing services in the UK, or by offering to assist with some of the costs incurred in the sponsorship process not covered by the government contribution.
- Ukrainian nationals will be required to meet standard security checks against the police national computer database and antiterrorism checks as part of the visa process. Sponsors (and all adults in the household if relevant) will also be subject to standard security checks. It is envisaged that local councils will visit and check the accommodation is suitable, and will conduct a Disclosure and Barring Service check on all adults in the household, including an enhanced check where a sponsored Ukrainian family includes children or vulnerable adults.
- Successful applicants can come to the UK for up to 3 years to work and access public services such as healthcare, employment support, education and English language tuition. It’s not yet clear what checks employers will need to undertake to satisfy right to work requirements when employing individuals who have come to the UK under this scheme.
- Sponsors must be able to offer accommodation for at least 6 months (but are being encouraged to do so for longer) and can claim a payment of £350 a month for a maximum of 12 months. This is limited to one payment per address, regardless of the number of people being sponsored.
- The Sponsor is only required to provide accommodation and is not expected to cover the costs of food or living expenses, although can do so if they wish.
- Phase One of the scheme, which went live on Friday 18 March, will only be available for specific named Ukrainians, so individual details of people being sponsored are required. Therefore if anyone within a business is interested in acting as a sponsor in an individual capacity and has the name of a person they wish to sponsor, they should get in contact with them directly to prepare and submit a visa application. Alternatively, individuals without such contacts can be matched for sponsorship through charities or other organisations. For example, EU4UA.org helps British hosts and sponsors find and connect with Ukrainians escaping the war. More information on how to sign up to this service can be found here. The government is also considering the introduction of a “matching” programme for the second phase of the sponsorship scheme which will apply to organisations looking to become sponsors, and further details are awaited.
- People or organisations wanting to be sponsors who do not know anyone personally fleeing Ukraine can register their interest in being a sponsor. They will then be kept updated as the scheme develops.
- For businesses looking to sponsor Ukrainian individuals directly, it’s not currently clear how this will work and what obligations will come with this, for example whether the accommodation provisions will mirror those that currently apply to individual sponsors, or whether government funding will be available.
Summary of the individual sponsorship process
- Sponsor and guest find each other and agree to a match.
- Either the sponsor or the guest fills out the single visa application form online using both parties’ details.
- Passport numbers (alongside completion of eligibility questions and other personal details) for both guests and sponsors will be required to complete the application online. The guest will also need to upload a scan of their passport. If the guest does not possess a passport, they will be required to travel to a visa application centre to process their biometrics.
- After the application is submitted, security checks will be done on both the sponsor and the guest.
- Once both sponsor and guest have passed the checks, the Home Office will issue the guest with a permit to travel.
- The guest can then travel to the UK and coordinate their arrival with the sponsor.
Consortium of employers
Recent press reports have described a consortium of employers who have come together to offer employment to Ukrainian refugees, including M&S, Tesco, Vodafone, ASOS and Lush (over 45 companies have joined so far). The intention is for the consortium to connect Ukrainian refugees with job opportunities in the UK:
- Reports suggest that the consortium envisages making approximately 10,000 jobs available.
- At the moment this consortium appears to be in the early stages of developing its employment scheme and there isn’t much information on how to join or visibility on what the employment process will look like, and what checks will be required prior to employment. This is something interested businesses are advised to keep an eye on.
Ukraine Family Scheme
For Ukrainian nationals with family in the UK, there is also the ‘Ukraine Family Scheme’:
- This route is aimed at Ukrainian nationals with an immediate family member (e.g. a spouse or civil partner, an unmarried partner they have lived with in a relationship for 2 years, a fiancé, a parent or a child under 18), an extended family member (e.g. a parent of someone over 18, or child over 18, a sibling, grandparent, aunt or uncle) or an immediate family member of an extended family member in the UK. It enables the Ukrainian national to join their family member in the UK or accompany them to the UK, or to extend their stay in the UK if they are already here.
- Applicants must be Ukrainian nationals or the immediate family members of Ukrainian nationals who are applying to the scheme, and must have been residing in Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2022.
- Applications can be made from within or outside the UK. Permission to stay in the UK under this route will be granted for 3 years, during which time work will be permitted.
Ukrainians in the UK
The government has made certain concessions to Ukrainians already in the UK, such as extending the periods for which they can remain under the Seasonal Worker, HGV driver or pig butcher visa categories. They have also made it easier for Ukrainians already in the UK as visitors to switch into work categories within the UK, which may be relevant to job applicants who would not ordinarily be eligible to work. Businesses with sponsor licences may therefore use these to sponsor Ukrainian nationals to work for them in appropriately skilled and paid roles under the Skilled Worker route (or Intra-Company Transfer route where there is a group company in Ukraine from which the workers are transferring).
The future and how we can help
The situation is constantly changing and more information is becoming available almost daily. In particular, more detailed guidance is expected to be released shortly on the following:
- The Homes for Ukraine scheme at the moment only involves named individual contacts. In the future it is expected that the government will announce the introduction of a “matching” programme for the second phase of the sponsorship scheme.
- Whether time spent in the UK with immigration permission under the Homes for Ukraine scheme will lead to settlement, either on its own, or whether it will be counted towards the continuous residence period under existing settlement routes.
- Further details on the specific arrangements expected to be put in place, including expected accommodation standards.
One point which businesses who are interested in assisting through the employment of Ukrainian nationals should bear in mind is that unlike in other refugee situations where we often see men coming over in the first instance and then bringing their families with them once they are settled, in this case, it is predominantly women and children who are coming to the UK as males of working age have been required to remain in Ukraine to help the war effort. It may, therefore, be difficult for women with young children to enter the workforce immediately, with their initial focus likely to be on settling children into education, and so on. However, as time moves on, this will no doubt evolve.
This is a fast moving situation and new information is becoming available frequently. Our Employment and Business Immigration Team is available to assist any employers seeking further guidance on the above initiatives. Please contact one of our experts below.