LONDON — The U.K. has awarded 2,700 visas under its flagship sponsorship program for people fleeing the war in Ukraine, just under 10 percent of total applications.
While the Home Office said Wednesday it had awarded a total of 25,500 visas to Ukrainians, out of 59,500 applications received as of Tuesday, the vast majority have been granted to applicants with relatives in Britain, according to data from the department.
As many as 22,800 of the visas issued went to Ukrainians applying under the Ukraine Family Scheme, after 31,200 people applied via this route. The family scheme, launched on March 4, requires applicants to prove they have at least one relative in Britain when they submit their application.
Just 2,700 visas were issued under the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, despite 28,300 applications. This scheme is open to everyone escaping the war in Ukraine, subject to security and identity checks if they have a sponsor in the U.K.
This route was opened for applications on March 18 after the U.K. government faced strong criticism for not being generous enough in its offer to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion of their country.
In contrast to the small numbers receiving U.K. visas, more than 200,000 British households have registered an interest in hosting people fleeing Ukraine by signing up via a government website.
More than 3.8 million people have fled Ukraine, with many more expected to follow in coming weeks, according to the UN refugee agency. The EU decided to waive visas for Ukrainians for three years, though several countries have asked people to register on arrival. Germany has recorded more than 270,000; France has received about 30,000; Spain, some 25,000, and Ireland about 13,500, among others.
In response to the U.K. visa numbers, MPs pressed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “cut Home Office red tape” to speed up the arrival of Ukrainians to the U.K. during prime ministers’ questions in the House of Commons.
Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said “paperwork is being put ahead of people,” citing the case of an elderly couple on the Polish-Ukrainian border who told him that it was “too complicated” to come to the U.K.
Johnson defended the government’s “overwhelmingly generous” record on taking refugees.
“Everybody I think is pulling together, the number of people who have come forward to offer their homes is incredible,” he said. “But I really don’t think that he [Davey] should deprecate what the U.K. is offering. We have already given 25,000 people … have already got visas, we are processing 1,000 a day, and there is no limit, no upper limit to the number that we can take.”
Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, a think tank focused on social inclusion, said the U.K. government needs to work “much faster” to reduce the processing times of visas to less than one week and to make sure logistics for welcoming Ukrainians are in place, warning there could be a cascade of arrivals.
He estimated that “more than 60,000 people will come in a month, and many more within a quarter.”
“I think this might be the largest single flow of people to the U.K. in one quarter for over half a century,” he added.