I’m helping Ukrainians to get UK visas, but they can’t find out the decision

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I am acting on behalf of a family of four Ukrainians who are trying to apply for visas via the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme. Each family member has to apply individually and the visa decision is sent by email only. Unlike other nationalities, Ukrainians can’t track their applications via the government’s UK Visas and Immigration website. One has received their permission to travel letter, but the other three have had their email accounts blocked or suspended, possibly for security reasons because they have been accessed from different places in different countries over a short space of time. They are therefore unable to receive their visa decision. I’ve rung the helpline and was told that there is no alternative other than contacting the email providers, hoping they resume the service.
KK, Grays, Essex

This stumbling block in an already shambolic system has also been raised by Londoner, SH, who is sponsoring a Ukrainian mother and her eight-year-old son under the government scheme. “They applied for visas on the day that applications opened three weeks ago,” she writes. “Since then they have received no updates on the son’s status. The Home Office helpline told me there were problems with their email systems. Since decisions are communicated by email, individuals who have had visas approved may not even know.”

The Home Office confirmed to me that Ukrainians were unable to check the progress of their visa applications via the government website, although it would not give the reason. Instead, those who hold a valid passport must wait up to three weeks for emailed notification that their permission to travel letter has been issued. Since the government has warned them not to make travel arrangements to the UK until the letter arrives, thousands are in limbo with no information about when they can expect to hear.

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A spokesperson said that those unable to receive or print the letter should call the dedicated helpline, which both KK and SH did to no avail. The government has previously admitted that call centre staff have no access to the status of applications because Teleperformance, the French multinational contracted to run the helpline, has been barred from the government database for security reasons. KK’s sponsored family finally received its visas after she persuaded the chief executive of their email service provider to reinstate their accounts.

The Refugee Council told the Observer that it was deeply concerned by the bureaucratic hurdles that had delayed Ukrainians seeking sanctuary in the UK.

“We are hearing that visas for all members of a family who have applied together are not always processed together, causing significant delays to their ability to travel to the UK. We are also hearing that people are having real difficulties with receiving emails at all, or they are receiving emails at different times from others in their family, all of which is causing huge distress and delays,” said chief executive Enver Solomon. “It amounts to putting paperwork and bureaucracy before people who have no choice but to leave their homes.”

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