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Ukrainian refugees to be allowed to stay in the UK a further 18 months

Ukrainian refugees will be allowed to stay in the UK for an additional 18 months, as the Home Office extends its landmark visa scheme.

More than 200,000 Ukrainians have come to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which allowed them to be hosted by a British family, and the Family Reunion Scheme, which allowed them to live with relatives already in the UK.

The visas lasted three years, meaning that for those who arrived shortly after the war began in February 2022, they were due to expire in 2025.

Under new plans, Ukrainians in the UK on either scheme will be able to apply to stay for an additional 18 months from early 2025.

The first tranche of visas were due to expire in March 2025, but will now be available for extension until September 2026.

They continue to have the same rights to access work, benefits, healthcare, and education, and can make their applications within the last three months of an existing visa. It is not clear what the application process for extension will be.

The Government also encouraged more Britons to offer to host Ukrainians, as more families flee the war.

Minister for Housing and Communities, Felicity Buchan, noted that ‘thank you’ payments would continue for hosts and said: “As more families arrive, we will need more sponsors to come forward. I encourage anyone interested in hosting to check their eligibility and apply as soon as they can.”

i revealed in August that ministers were in talks to extend the Ukraine visa schemes as they approached their halfway mark, after refugees said they were living in limbo.

There was uncertainty over how long the scheme would be extended for, with sources saying that while ministers understand the need for Ukrainians living here to have clarity on their future, the country’s embassy wants people to return home after the war.

Refugees living in the UK told i previously they were fearful for their future and struggling to make plans on jobs, education and housing.

Some were undergoing medical treatment in the UK and fear they will lose access to their care if the scheme is not renewed long term.

Oleksandra* arrived in the UK with her teenage son under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, and said she feared her son will be conscripted if he is forced to return to Ukraine. He wanted to enrol in university in the UK but their present visa would not cover the duration of his study.

Oleksandra had also been diagnosed with cancer and feared that leaving the UK would jeopardise her care.

The British Red Cross said that the announcement would “provide some relief” to Ukrainians living in the UK who had been grappling with uncertainty, but also argued that “another 18 months does not provide the long-term protection they really need.”

It said in a statement: “We work with people who are receiving cancer treatment, trying to find homes to rent and with children preparing for exams at school. They need reassurance that they can stay longer in the UK so they can live without fear,” he said.

“A more robust, long-term plan is essential to help Ukrainians reunite with family members, integrate into communities and make informed choices about their futures.”

Minister for Legal Migration and the Border, Tom Pursglove MP, said that the extension to the scheme “provides certainty and reassurance for Ukrainians in the UK on their future as this war continues, and we will continue to provide a safe haven for those fleeing the conflict.”

Mr Pursglove praised British families across the country who had “opened their homes and their hearts to the people of Ukraine, showing extraordinary generosity, including offering shelter to those fleeing from the horrors of war.”

Charge d’Affaires at the Embassy of Ukraine to the UK, Eduard Fesko, welcomed the announcement as a “clear signal of the continuous support” by the UK to Ukrainians.

However, he made it clear that the scheme was “a temporary protection status in the UK until they can return home.”

During a speech at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also thanked the international community for the hosting of refugees, but expressed his hope they would return to Ukraine after the end of the war.

It came as British Foreign Secretary David Cameron called on Ukraine’s allies to “do more” to assist its response to Russia’s invasion and “outmatch” Vladimir Putin.

While the visa schemes have been praised for their generosity, an i investigation last year revealed that more than 1,800 Ukrainians – including children – who arrived under UK visa schemes were receiving homelessness support from local councils.

One Ukrainian mother said she had ended up in a temporary hostel with drug users and sleeping in one room with her son, after her Homes for Ukraine sponsorship broke down.

And a young Ukrainian woman also said she had resorted to finding a guarantor on Facebook to enable her to access a private rental, when she could no longer stay with her relative under the Ukraine Family Scheme.

A report from the British Red Cross last year also warned that some Ukrainian refugees were being exploited through forced labour and “debt bondage” by the British hosts.

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