Unaccompanied Ukraine children can come to UK: Gove

Thursday, Jun 23, 2022

LONDON: Ukrainian children will be able to come to the UK without a parent or guardian under the Homes for Ukraine visa scheme, the government has said.

Unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 will be able to apply for a visa to come to the UK under the sponsorship scheme if they have parental consent.

The new policy will initially apply to more than a thousand unaccompanied minors who have already applied under the scheme. The PA news agency understands this cohort will be written to this week by the Home Office, but additional security checks may mean it is a few weeks before visas are issued.

So far, children under 18 have been unable to get to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme unless they are with, or joining, a parent or guardian.

But, for some weeks after the scheme opened in March, there was no mention of under-18s needing to do this in government guidance, leading to confusion.

The change in position was set out in a written statement by Communities Secretary Michael Gove on Wednesday.

He said: “This policy will initially apply to the 1,000 children who have already applied to the Home Office but are unable to travel as they are not travelling or reuniting with a parent or guardian.

“After working closely with the Ukrainian government, the changes will enable a child to apply for a visa if they have proof of parental consent.”

Parental consent must be certified by an authority approved by the Ukrainian government, which includes Ukrainian consulates abroad.

Gove said the sponsor should be someone who is “personally known” to the parents, except in “exceptional circumstances”.

Extensive checks will be carried out by local authorities on the sponsor before a visa is granted, he added, with councils able to veto matches they deem unsuitable.

Kitty Hamilton, from the group Vigil for Visas, which is seeking a judicial review of the government’s policies in processing visas under the scheme, said: “While we welcome the change in UK law, we now need to see it swiftly implemented.

“Many of the children are known to the Home Office because the sponsors have been lobbying hard on their behalf. “Most of the children do have notarised authority and were cleared to leave by the Ukrainian government months ago and should not be made to go through the process again.

“These cases now need to be fast tracked as they remain most at risk in the period before they reach their thoroughly vetted sponsor.”

The Local government Association (LGA) said, while it supports plans to make it easier for children to seek sanctuary in the UK, its priority is keeping children safe.

LGA chairman, Councillor James Jamieson, said: “We do have real concerns about the potential for children to come to stay with adults they don’t know or don’t know well, and we want to ensure there are effective checks in place given there will always be people who abuse these systems and who pose a significant threat to children travelling on their own.

“Any system must include appropriate vetting of the people they will be staying with in advance of travel, the right support for everyone involved, and ongoing checks of children’s safety and wellbeing.”