Chartered accountants across the country are dealing with the Russian invasion of Ukraine in a number of ways.
While all are adapting to the economic sanctions imposed on Russia in some form or another, many have colleagues with family ties to Ukraine, or have family and friends in the country themselves.
Chris Harber is Head of Immigration for the law firm Boyes Turner. He is also involved with the Ukraine Advice Project, a group of legal experts offering pro bono advice and support to people looking to get friends and loved ones out of Ukraine.
“A lot of our clients are multinational firms,” he says. “Many of them are tech vendors and, generally speaking, Ukraine is quite a hub for tech. There’s a lot of capability and a lot of skill there. Many of our clients have colleagues, teams and departments in Ukraine, in various areas. We’ve done a fair bit of work for our existing clients just trying to get their staff in a position where they can come to the UK.”
Initially the UK Home Office’s response was to point people towards existing routes into the country, which was not well received. Since then, they have put in place more admissions to allow people to come to the UK.
If the person looking to enter the UK is the family member of a British citizen, whether it’s immediate or extended family, they can come into the UK under family immigration routes. The usual eligibility criteria for this has been dropped. In a typical family immigration case, the British relative would need a certain level of income and the applicant would need a certain level of English, among other things, in order to qualify. That is not the case for Ukrainian citizens at the moment.
“As long as you pass the basic security checks, you will be granted a visa to come to the UK for 12 months. Then the Home Office will take a view in 12 months as to how they extend that or how they switch them on to a more permanent route.”
In some cases, the individual might have a visitor visa, which allows anyone to come to the UK and stay for up to six months, with some restrictions around work, marriage and civil partnerships, and claiming benefits.
“Depending on what your personal situation is and what your intentions are, a visitor visa can potentially facilitate the individual to come to the UK and claim asylum as refugee protection. That’s probably the more extreme end of the route; not many people that we’ve assisted so far have needed to rely on that.”
For employers looking to help employees or employees’ families to get out of Ukraine, the first step is to identify where your individuals are within the country – security, protection and safety is the priority, says Harber. Get them out of immediate harm’s way.
“If they’re in the key cities that have been targeted, encourage them to move west as fast as they possibly can. If they can get across the border into a safe neighbouring country, they should do so. This makes no difference in terms of a visa application process – the Home Office has dropped all restrictions around that as well.”
Once that colleague or family member is in a safe place, figure out what the long-term intention for coming to the UK is. If they are in a safe location, you have time to figure this out. Harber advises not to make knee-jerk decisions.
“If they just want to come here for a period of a few months while things normalise – you’ve got your colleagues here, you might have friends and family here – there are going to be options for you. If your employees have brothers, sisters, mother, parents, children living in the UK, they can qualify under the family route.”
If your colleagues don’t have family in the UK, consider the standard sponsorship route. For this, they must be eligible for either a skilled worker or intercompany transfer visa. There have been no changes to eligibility criteria in those cases.
“There’s a salary threshold and a skills threshold, and the business needs to have what’s called a sponsor licence,” says Harber. “If you haven't got the licence in place, it's probably not worth considering this route, because it takes a long time. An awful lot of businesses, especially tech businesses, already have a licence, so it’s something to consider, depending on what their long-term plans are.
If neither of those fit your scenario, the Home Office has announced a slightly different route, called the Humanitarian Sponsorship Pathway, which is going to be established for Ukrainians who don’t have any family ties in the UK, but who are able to be matched with either an individual, a charity, a business or a particular community group in the UK.
“It will allow them to come to the UK for probably about 12 months. They will be allowed to work and to access public funds. The Home Office hasn’t actually given any details around how that will work operationally, but I suspect it will be led by organisations, people and charities within the UK.”
For example, a community organisation could put themselves forward and say, we will take in a certain number of people and ask the Home Office to allocate those people to them. They will be able to sponsor the visa application to bring the person over.
This will probably involve a vetting procedure to ensure that no one’s being unduly trafficked or people are trying to use it for nefarious intentions. “There are scales and there are escalations, depending on what your scenario is. Again, you’ve really got to think about what their long-term intention is; if they want to leave Ukraine behind or if they never want to go back there again.”
Being a Ukrainian citizen is now a credible claim to ask for humanitarian protection, which is important in allowing people to claim asylum. However, once you claim asylum, you cannot return to your home country while under humanitarian protection.
“That’s fine for a lot of other scenarios, but with Ukraine, we could realistically be in a position in a year’s time when it’s safe to return. Fundamentally, if no other options apply, and you just need to leave, it’s there as a last resort.”
The Home Office telephone number for any Ukrainian citizens looking to apply for a visa as a family member of a British citizen is +44 300 3032785.
The government also has a web page offering support for family members of British nationals in Ukraine.
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Support for members during the Ukraine crisis
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Guides to affected countries
ICAEW's Library and Information Service produces guides for members who are considering doing business in overseas countries. There are separate guides for Ukraine and its neighbours, all of which include updates on the latest sanctions and restrictions.
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