The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has expressed concern over reports of “chaos and confusion” facing refugees trying to apply for a British visa to escape the devastating impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
UK MPs have told the media they are hearing stories from their constituents that relatives are being turned away from visa centres in Poland, centres are closed in Brussels, and the only available appointments are weeks from now. There have also been reports about lack of clear information over where visa processing centres are located, personal details being lost and visa applications being delayed.
Complaints about the Home Office and recommendations
These reports echo the failings the Ombudsman sees in complaints received about the Home Office – processing delays, poor communication, inadequate signposting, and loss of personal information.
They support calls from MPs across the political spectrum for the Home Office to take immediate action so that those in desperate need get their cases dealt with swiftly. The recommendations are to:
- remove unnecessary delays and bureaucracy in the visa application process
- improve the resourcing, efficiency, and transparency of the process.
Ombudsman Rob Behrens said:
“Millions of refugees from Ukraine have faced long and harrowing journeys to get to places of safety in Poland, Belgium, France and other countries. They want to be safe and reunited with their family members in the UK as soon as possible. It is vital the Home Office acts to correct failings in its handling of visa applications, especially failings we have previously reported and which we are seeing repeated here. In this horrendous situation swift action is needed to make sure the process of getting a visa is simple, accessible and quick. Lives depend on it.”
Priti Patel has announced today that Ukranians will be able to apply for visas online. This should ease the situation somewhat. However, Labour has called for normal visa conditions to be lifted as this will enable the UK to take its fair share of refugees.
Poland has already accepted 1.3 million and the EU as a whole has waived visas for three years.