Home secretary claims previous figures are ‘completely inaccurate’
Credit: DFID/CC BY-SA 2.0
Priti Patel has pledged to publish data on the exact number of Ukrainians coming to the UK under the new visa schemes following claims that only a small number had been approved.
It had been reported that only 50 visas had been issued under the Ukraine family scheme as of Sunday, but the home secretary insisted that these figures were “completely inaccurate”. She added that around 14,000 Ukrainians had applied to the scheme since it opened last week, and that details of a second scheme allowing companies to sponsor visas would be coming shortly.
“It’s important for all colleagues in the House to know that the first quality assurance figures on the Ukrainian family scheme will come this evening and they’re going to be published this evening,” she told MPs in the Commons on Monday. “The figures that are public are absolutely inaccurate, and they have not been assured by the Home Office.”
There has been considerable confusion over the full extent of the government’s visa schemes after ministers were forced to deny a third route was being opened.
Patel told The Sun on Monday Patel said she was “investigating the legal options to create a humanitarian route” for refugees to come to the UK, which would be on top of two existing routes.
But asked if the government was considering a third route, similar to a scheme in place in the EU, prime minister Boris Johnson avoided committing to Patel’s suggestion.
He also earlier dismissed the claims that only 50 visas had been approved, telling reporters that he was “not sure” that those claims “are right”, adding that the government was processing “thousands” of applications.
“Clearly, this crisis is evolving the whole time and I’ve said before that the UK will be as generous as we possibly can be, and we intend to do that,” he said.
He added that Britain will have “a system that is very, very generous as the situation in Ukraine deteriorates”, but defended maintaining immigration controls on those fleeing the Russian invasion.
In her statement, Patel went on to dismiss earlier reports that there were no visa processing facilities in Calais, forcing many refugees from Ukraine to travel hundreds of miles to other centres in France.
Asked about sending additional support to those arriving at the French port, Patel said: “We’ve already had people in Calais. Let me again clarify, I’ve said this over the weekend, we have staff in Calais. We have support on the ground. It is wrong to say that we are just turning people back. We are absolutely not. We are supporting those that have been coming to Calais”
The prime minister’s spokesperson had earlier suggested that there was not a visa centre in Calais, claiming that the government was “looking at the support we need to have on the ground in France”.
Immigration minister Kevin Foster previously attracted sharp criticism when he suggested that Ukrainians fleeing war might like to apply for a seasonal worker visa – typically awarded to those who come to UK to work as fruit or vegetable pickers.
In parliamentary questions, Home Office ministers have also admitted that the Home Office cannot say how many asylum interviews it conducts per year, and that various information on its immigration operations is recorded only on paper or in internal notes systems from which it cannot be extracted for publication.
The new Atlas caseworking system – the rollout of which was due to be completed by the end of last year – was intended to digitise processes and eradicate the need for paper files, for newly created information at first, and then historical data. Asked by PublicTechnology last week, the Home Office declined to provide an update on the implementation of the new system.
Meanwhile, the backlog of those waiting for an decision on their asylum claim has doubled since the beginning of 2020 to 85,257. There were almost 50,000 new applications made in 2021 – the highest number in almost 20 years.