Home Secretary Priti Patel could face legal action over delays in awarding visas to fleeing Ukrainian refugees.
Potential sponsors under the Homes for Ukraine scheme are threatening the government with a class action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of Ukrainian refugees who have spent weeks waiting to come to the UK.
They say there has been “inordinate and unreasonable delays” in processing visa applications made in March.
Figures compiled by would-be-hosts and shared with the PA news agency last week show there were at least 800 Ukrainian refugees still waiting for visas after applying within the first two weeks of the scheme opening.
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Visa delays ‘unreasonable’
Vigil 4 Visas and Taking Action Over the Homes for Ukraine Visa Delays, the groups behind the action, say the delays have put those in Ukraine at risk and put “considerable pressure and strain” on UK hosts.
Lawyers for the groups are planning to send a pre-action protocol letter to the Home Office this week asking it to “sort out the endless muddles and tangles” and could then apply for a judicial review of the government’s visa processing policy.
It comes as Boris Johnson admitted the UK could have perhaps processed visas to fleeing Ukrainian refugees faster.
“Well, we have done a huge amount to help Ukrainian women and children in the area but we’re now seeing large numbers come to the UK,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“So far 86,000 visas have been issued and 27,000 are already here and I want to say ‘thank you’ – 27,000 is a lot and it’s growing fast and I want to pay tribute to all those who are helping to look after Ukrainians.
“Could we have done it faster? Yes, perhaps we could.”
‘Potentially catastrophic situation’
The groups looking at taking action against the government on the matter are due to launch an online Crowdfunder on Tuesday morning to raise up to £15,000 to help pay for the legal costs.
When it goes live, the page will read: “If the Home Office does not get a grip on this urgent and potentially catastrophic situation, we will bring our action for judicial review and ask that it is considered urgently in light of the vulnerability of so many of the March applicants.”
The legal letter will highlight 10 cases of Ukrainians who are still waiting for their visas after applying during the days after the Homes for Ukraine scheme first opened on 18 March.
These include the case of a Ukrainian mother and her daughter, aged under 10, who applied for their visas around five weeks ago.
The mother received her visa on 18 April but the little girl is still waiting.
The legal action is being prepared by Amanda Jones, an immigration and public law barrister.
Ms Jones said the judicial review would be brought on the grounds that the system is “so chaotic and unstable” that it is unreasonable.
Small boat crossings piling pressure on Patel
A government spokesperson told PA: “In response to Putin’s barbaric invasion we launched one of the fastest and biggest visa schemes in UK history. Over 86,000 visas have been issued so Ukrainians can live and work in the UK.
“The changes the Home Office has made to streamline the visa system, including simplifying the forms and boosting staff numbers, are working and we are now processing visas as quickly as they come in – enabling thousands more Ukrainians to come through our uncapped routes.”
It comes as the home secretary also faces mounting pressure on the increasing number of Channel crossings.
A further 293 migrants were detected crossing the English Channel yesterday, according to the latest update from the Ministry of Defence – while 254 were detected on Sunday.
It means 7,240 people have reached the UK since the start of the year – more than three times the amount in the same period in 2021.
The continued efforts of migrants to reach the UK via small boats has raised questions over whether the government’s new policy of deporting migrants to Rwanda will be effective as a deterrent.