Two Years On, How Can We Best Provide ‘Homes for Ukraine’?

Published 29 February 2024 / By Domiziana Turcatti

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Two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and in light of the recent extension of Ukraine visa schemes and closure of the Ukraine Family Scheme, we discuss key points from the evidence submitted by the Global Exchange on Migration and Diversity (GEM) to the 2023 parliamentary inquiry on Homes for Ukraine (HfU), and the key challenges that remain to be addressed to promote the long-term inclusion of Ukrainians across visa schemes. 

HfU marked a dramatic shift in the ambition of community-led welcome (Broadhead, 2022) by means of initiatives and schemes where individuals and communities welcome and integrate refugees and newcomers (Reset, 2022). From 2016 to 2022, 815 refugees were welcomed by over 300 community groups under the UK Community Sponsorship Scheme (Reset, 2022). By contrast, more than 180,000 individuals fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine arrived in the UK as of February 2024 under HfU (Home Office, 2024). GEM’s response to the parliamentary inquiry (Turcatti, 2024), which was included in the report on HfU published by the Public Accounts Committee  (PAC) in February 2024, outlined that this was possible due to the scheme’s flexible requirements and swift procedure; limited responsibilities placed on sponsors; uncapped nature of the scheme; the ability for sponsors to ‘name’ refugees to welcome; and informal matching mechanisms. 

However, HfU created inequalities among Ukrainians in the UK. Arrivals under the Ukraine Family Scheme and Ukraine Extension Scheme do not benefit from the same support as HfU visa holders (Broadhead, 2022). This support includes rematching with a new sponsor when the local authority deems accommodation unsuitable, when safety checks fail, or in situations of placement breakdown; council tax discount and ‘thank you’ payments for sponsors; support from local authorities to find accommodation to ‘move-on’; one-off £200 payments for guests; and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes (Turcatti, 2024). 

GEM’s response to the parliamentary inquiry also highlighted the role of local authorities as key conveners and actors in the implementation of the scheme. Yet, local authorities faced several challenges in fulfilling and sustaining this role which included challenges related to conducting sponsor and accommodation checks, providing adequate and sufficient cultural orientation and training for hosts and guests, finding alternative accommodation when placements break down or to ‘move on’, and setting up economies of scale in procurement and commissioning to support the housing and labour market integration of Ukrainians and their broader long-term integration (Broadhead, 2022; Turcatti, 2024). 

Two years after the launch of HfU, providing clarity over visas extension remains a priority. Ukrainians across visa schemes were originally granted a 3-year visa, with many set to expire in March 2025. However, on the 18th of February 2024, the UK government announced that Ukrainians who came to the UK following the Russian invasion would be able to apply for an 18-month extension to their visas (Cooney, 2024). This measure provides only temporary relief, clashes with Ukrainians intentions to settle in the UK (Walsh and Sumption, 2023), and is unlikely to address the issue of prospective employers or landlords turning Ukrainians down due to visa uncertainty (Turcatti, 2024). Furthermore, the government also announced the closure of the Ukraine Family Scheme which allowed Ukrainians to join family members in the UK (Morton, 2024) via family reunification. This decision infringes refugees’ right to family life and is resulting in family separations for Ukrainians who were waiting to access housing and job opportunities before bringing their family members to the UK (Dathan, 2024).  

Two years on, there also remains a clear and urgent need to develop a long-term housing and labour market integration strategy to tackle rising homelessness and destitution among Ukrainians across visa schemes (Broadhead, 2022; Turcatti, 2024; PAC, 2024). The lack of a long-term strategy has resulted in ‘local fixes’ to support Ukrainians access housing and employment (Turcatti, 2024). For example, some local authorities partnered with voluntary sector organisations to support HfU visa holders to ‘move on’ from sponsors’ accommodation (Broadhead, 2022). Other local authorities engaged in tenancy brokerage or rent deposit schemes where they would provide the tenancy deposit and the first month’s rent to support Ukrainians access private accommodation (Vicol & Sehic, 2023; British Red Cross, 2023). Local authorities have also taken the lead to foster Ukrainians’ labour market integration through the provision of free language training, job coaches, and employment orientation via drop-ins or through contracting the voluntary sector (Broadhead, 2022).

These initiatives indicate that there is a fundamental need for a permanent infrastructure for community-led welcome (Broadhead, 2022). This infrastructure should be embedded within the long-term functioning of local authorities, complement but not replace government-led resettlement, be accessible to all Ukrainians and other refugee groups, be sustainable in the long term, and make provision for longer-term integration and inclusion outcomes (Broadhead, 2022). Such infrastructure would contribute towards a coherent government strategy on community-led welcome, resettlement and integration from which refugees and newcomers across schemes, resettlement routes, and regardless of nationality would benefit.