Homes for Ukraine Scheme: Potential Extension — [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall am 11:30 am ar 6 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

[Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]

[Relevant Documents: e-petition 642280, Provide Ukrainian refugees with settled status to enable a stable life in the UK; e-petition 632761, Give Ukrainians on humanitarian visas rights to extend stay and settle in the UK.]

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Ceidwadwyr, Mid Derbyshire 2:30, 6 Chwefror 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the potential merits of extending the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.

It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, I think, Mr Sharma. The United Kingdom established the Homes for Ukraine scheme in response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in March 2022—we are coming up to the second anniversary. We established three immigration routes to support Ukrainians wishing to come to or remain in the UK beyond their existing rights: the Ukraine sponsorship scheme, known as Homes for Ukraine, the Ukraine family scheme and the Ukraine extension scheme.

The Homes for Ukraine scheme allows refugees to join a UK-based sponsor willing to house them for at least six months. The Ukraine family scheme allows refugees to join UK-based family members already enjoying the right to remain in the UK. The Ukraine extension scheme allows Ukrainian nationals already in the UK and their immediate family members to apply for permission to reside in the UK if their current rights to remain are expiring. Each of the three routes provides temporary sanctuary for Ukrainians seeking refugee from the war in their home country.

The first visas issued under the schemes will expire in spring 2025, so we need to start thinking about what will happen next to those Ukrainians living in the UK, because they need security and certainty. It is not just the Ukrainians themselves who need that; employers, schools and others need to know whether the refugees can stay here for longer, especially as the war does not seem to be ending.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for eloquently outlining the schemes. The University of St Andrews in my constituency confirmed to me that it has 21 Ukrainian students currently studying there, and it is looking for certainty so that they can continue their studies. Does she agree that transferring to a student visa is not the right outcome for those students, and that the Minister should respond to that ask?

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Ceidwadwyr, Mid Derbyshire

The main thrust of my speech will be about continuing education for Ukrainians, so if the hon. Lady waits a moment, she will hear what I have to say about that.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for securing this important debate. Many of our Ukrainian guests are highly qualified, but they rarely get a job that matches their experience or exceptional qualifications. Surely an extension to the scheme would give employers certainty that they will not be there just for a few months or a year. That would allow them to get a job, and employers to get the skills they require.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Ceidwadwyr, Mid Derbyshire

It is important that we have certainty that Ukrainians will be staying, not just for them but for employers who either want to employ them or are employing them. They have jobs to do, and they need certainty.

I will talk about the three most important topics that the Government must consider as they plan for the future of the schemes: education, homelessness and the rebuilding of Ukraine. My greatest concern about the schemes is the provision of education. Let me set out a case study of a Ukrainian family in the UK. Masha is sitting her GCSEs this year. In the summer, she would like to stay on in the UK, living with her 24-year-old brother—she will be 16—but her mother wants to return to Ukraine to support her husband. She believes she can get work there again as a nuclear engineer. I am sure Rolls-Royce would snap her up, but she does not feel that her English is good enough, so she is working in a takeaway restaurant, in a position way below her qualifications.

Masha has settled in really well. She is fluent in English, is an excellent student in all her studies and has made good friends here. She really wants to be able to apply to the sixth form or to sixth-form college; after that, she would like to go to university here, but she cannot—rather, she can, but she may have to drop out and leave, which she really does not want to do. Pupils like Masha need to plan and apply to universities, but with their visas expiring any time from March 2025, they are unsure whether they will have the right to stay here for the duration of their course.

Many of these pupils from Ukraine are very bright and incredibly hard-working, and have done exceptionally well to study in a second language. Many have been continuing their Ukrainian studies online, too. They go to school and do their education in English, and then come home to their home in the UK and study online with their teachers in Ukraine, so they will have double the qualifications at the end.

These pupils came to the UK at such a significant time in their lives and will prove to be a valuable asset to this country in time, following the completion of their studies. They have a lot to offer us economically, socially and culturally. If they are allowed to stay on, I am sure our country will benefit greatly from the education experience they have gained here. But currently, Ukrainians with three years’ permission to reside here under the Ukraine schemes will be expected to leave the UK from March onwards, depending on when their permission began. A student applying to university and starting their course partway through their visa could be expected to leave the UK at the end of the three years unless they apply for another type of visa before then.

The Government have said that they are considering whether to extend leave to remain under the schemes beyond three years, but they have not said when they will decide. A potential student like Masha, whose study would extend beyond their three-year Ukrainian scheme visa, would need to apply for an international student visa to extend their leave for the duration of their course. That is all well and good, but the usual requirements and application fees would apply to Masha at present, and applying for leave to remain as a student on such a visa could make her liable to pay international tuition fees and lose her access to student loans.

On multiple occasions, Ministers have reaffirmed that the Government are keeping an extension of leave to remain under review, but they need to make some of those decisions now. Masha and her fellow Ukrainian friends need certainty to plan their future. They need to know whether they can remain in the UK for the duration of their degree course, whether they are eligible for home fee status for the entirety of their course, and whether they are eligible for student financing for the whole of their course. Masha and her friends are motivated, bright, hard-working students. They are determined to do well in life and to create a better and stronger Ukraine once the war is over. The Government cannot stand in their way by creating uncertainty over the future of their education.

Our country has done so much to support the continuing education of Ukrainians. The UK-Ukraine twinning initiative is assisting Ukrainians whose studies have been disrupted. UK universities are partnering directly with Ukrainian institutions for a minimum of five years to mutually recognise credits so that English-speaking Ukrainian students, wherever they are, can take online courses with UK universities that count towards their final degree. Furthermore, Student Finance England has already paid student support for the 2022-23 academic year to 617 students who were granted leave under the Ukraine sponsorship scheme. The net amount paid out is just over £9.1 million, which pales into insignificance compared with the £2.5 billion package recently announced to support the Ukrainian defence effort. If we strongly believe that Ukraine will come out of the war victorious, it makes sense to invest in the future of their country by educating their future citizens while they are over here in our care. It would be a shame to fail the Ukrainian nation at this final hurdle.

I turn to my second consideration: homelessness. We should consider how we will minimise the risk for Ukrainians who are threatened with homelessness as the Homes for Ukraine scheme comes to an end. Sponsorship for the earliest Ukrainians housed under the scheme is coming to an end this March. Even though the Homes for Ukraine visa is valid for three years, the optional thank you payments to the sponsors who have offered their spare rooms or properties to the refugees last for two years under the scheme’s current design. Many sponsors cannot afford to continue to house the refugees, and many Ukrainian families would like their own home in order to become independent. I know of sponsors who are desperately trying to find private accommodation for Ukrainians, which is very hard because it is in short supply. Without a guarantee of renewal, it will become increasingly difficult as the expiration date for the visas draws ever closer. Landlords need certainty.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Llafur, Cwm Cynon

The hon. Member is giving an excellent speech. In south Wales and Cynon Valley, many Ukrainians who arrived under the sponsorship scheme have thrown themselves into Welsh life, including by going to school and learning Welsh. They are very concerned at the moment about what the future holds, as she has so eloquently outlined. Given that the expiry date of the scheme is imminent, does she agree that we need confirmation about what will happen? What sort of reasonable notice is likely to be given? It would also be good if the Minister told us what discussions he is having with his Ukrainian counterpart on the deadline of the scheme.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Ceidwadwyr, Mid Derbyshire

Certainty is what is required—that is what I have been majoring on. Of course, when the scheme was first set up, everybody thought the war might be over quickly. It clearly will not be, which is why we now have to reassess things and look at how best we can help all Ukrainians who are here in the UK.

According to National Audit Office statistics, by August last year, 4,890 Ukrainian households had been assessed by local authorities as being homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in England alone. That represents 8% of the total number of Ukrainian families helped under the scheme. As if 8% is not a shocking enough figure, it is likely to be an underestimate, as a third of councils did not provide homelessness data to the Government. Charities such as Reset, other civil society organisations and local councils have been calling for concrete answers about the future of the scheme. What will happen to funding for hosts and guests this year?

Anyone who is following developments in Ukraine will know that the war is not coming to an end any time soon. It would be remiss of us not to take prudent measures to help stabilise the lives of Ukrainians in the UK. They have had to flee an unstable and unsettling conflict, and many have done so at a crucial time in their lives. We in the UK will breach our assumed duty of care towards individuals welcomed into our nation if we allow them to suffer the ignominy of homelessness.

I turn briefly to my third point: the rebuilding of Ukraine. I recognise that the Government wish to act in accordance with the will of the Ukrainian Government, who want citizens to return home and rebuild Ukraine when the war is won and over, and many Ukrainians in the UK want to do that. Ukraine remains home for the majority of them, so they will want to go back. It is a sensible attitude to adopt, and we should help them as much as we can, but the situation in Ukraine is getting worse and shows no sign of improving. The Government have said that the Ukrainian visa schemes are not routes for permanent relocation to the UK, but allow temporary protection until Ukrainians can return home to rebuild Ukraine. With that in mind, it has been and continues to be the Government’s objective to provide a proportionate period of leave to remain in the UK through the visas issued under the scheme. That policy position must be balanced with the needs of local authorities, sponsors, other resource providers and not least the needs of Ukrainian residents in the UK.

Local authorities need to know whether they must fund additional support services for Ukrainian speakers in local healthcare and educational settings. Local authorities, charities and sponsors need information now so they can begin to prepare for the future. They need to know whether they must provide emergency accommodation to Ukrainians who are threatened with homelessness, and they need to know whether additional support will be extended to local authorities, beyond initial tariff funding, to fund ongoing support for them. They need to know whether charities must stack up to co-ordinate any responses that local authorities or present sponsors cannot handle alone. While we can look forward to the day when we can assist the reconstruction of Ukrainian society, we must not discount the decisions stakeholders in the UK must make today. The least we can do is give them time to plan.

I call on the Government today to bear in mind Masha and so many other hard-working Ukrainian children in considering when and how to extend the Ukrainian visa schemes. I call on the Government to ensure that a Ukrainian on any visa scheme is guaranteed home fee status and access to student finance loans for the duration of any university course on which they are accepted. I urge the Government to consider extending the “thank you” payments for Ukrainian sponsors to prevent Ukrainian homelessness this year, and to consider how they may help local authorities to support Ukrainians who are already homeless. I urge the Government to publish their intentions for what will happen to the visa schemes when they start to expire in March 2025.

I am a huge admirer of the Ukrainian people in the UK for all that they have endured to get here, and I recognise that there is a big debate about the best and most effective way of continuing to assist those who fled and settled here. They have had to leave their home in very uncertain times, and we must start to give them certainty about their time here in the UK. The Ukrainians are hugely grateful to the UK for the assistance provided so far, and I hope the support will be ongoing for the foreseeable future. I welcome this opportunity to voice the concerns of those refugees whose future is uncertain, and I remain confident that, working together, the Ukrainian schemes can be developed in a way that will benefit all stakeholders and give greater certainty.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:48, 6 Chwefror 2024

It is pleasure to be called to speak in this debate so early, Mr Sharma. First, I congratulate Mrs Latham. I have enjoyed serving alongside her in debates since she came here in 2010, and I am very supportive of the debates that she introduces. She has been a stalwart advocate for the people of Ukraine and is deserving of the honour bestowed on her by that nation. In all sincerity and honesty, I have long admired her principled and compassionate stand, and I am very happy to stand alongside her and support her in this debate. I know that she is not running again at the coming election—she told me that one day in the voting Lobby—and personally I will miss her in this place. I thank her for her friendship over the years and the debates that we have done.

The clock has been ticking since the Ukrainian home scheme was due to close, and the Government advised that people would have a year to leave from the date of the letters, due to have been in spring. We are still in winter, but as the days lighten—and it is good to see that happen—it is clear that spring is on its way. For most of us, that is good news, yet for those Ukrainians involved in this scheme who have had to leave their homes, it will not feel like spring. It will feel like a decline into a long winter. The hon. Lady has outlined some of the cases in relation to that.

There are a number of Ukrainians in my constituency who are working. Their children are in school, and have settled into the semblance of a life with a home away from home. I am going to give some examples of their experiences, because I have seen their engagement in society. For them, the letter will not be as joyfully received as the end of the need for them to stay and the end of their pain, because the war is ongoing; their families are still fighting the Russian invasion and the munition fire continues. We all know of our Government and Ministers’ stalwart commitment to the people of Ukraine, and I put on record my thanks to them for that—nobody could doubt their intentions in that regard.

As my speech was being prepared, a notification came through that another four people had been killed by Russian artillery fire in the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine. The war is not over—why then is our help seemingly coming to an end? The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire is right: it is still needed. It will be needed for a longer time to give people the chance to progress their education at school and university, and it is needed by those who are making a significant contribution to society.

I could give myriad examples of such people in my constituency, where I have been very fortunate to have a very good working relationship as the MP for Strangford with people from Ukraine. I have sorted out lots of their passport and visa issues and their housing issues, and I have helped them to get placements in schools and employment. People from Ukraine work in the factories of companies in my constituency, especially in the agrifood sector, where their commitment, contribution and hard-working ethic ensures that they are an important part of the economic life of my constituency.

My heart aches for those young people in education who do not know whether their exam results will mean anything or whether they will have an opportunity to stay in education at university, which the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire outlined incredibly well. That is not a life; it is a temporary holding pattern. I am glad to see the Minister in his place, and I look forward to his contribution and his answers to what we have been saying. I ask him to consider very carefully those students whose lives are in limbo, which they find incredibly stressful and difficult.

There are lots of Ukrainian students in schools right across my constituency, including Ballynahinch High School. I visited before Christmas and am very friendly with the principal, who has just been appointed to a permanent post. When I went to see him and congratulate him, he said, “Jim, did you know we have got a great class of Ukrainians here?” I said, “Have you?” He said, “We have 12 in one class.” He took me to meet the 12 Ukrainians; most of them had a good grasp of the English language, and the others were learning.

The students had a classroom assistant, who was part of the teaching for that class of 12, and a teacher who was Ukrainian but who had a grasp of the teaching capacity in that school. The school had domestic staff who were from Ukraine. That school was quite clearly providing job opportunities, including an opportunity for the teacher to teach and for a classroom assistant to be a part of that teaching, as well as opportunities for those 12 students. It is for those 12 students, for that Ukrainian teacher, for that Ukrainian classroom assistant, and for those domestic staff that I make my plea.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful speech. Perhaps we should think about offering solutions to the Government on what they could possibly do to assist the cohort that the hon. Gentleman is so aptly describing. There is an extension scheme available, but it is only available for those who are already here on work visas. They can get the three-year benefits that those newly arriving in the UK have already secured. Why do the UK Government not just offer the same entitlement to those who are already here, as an extension of that scheme? The extension scheme is in place—we should make it available to everybody who is here now in the UK.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank my colleague for that. That is exactly what I wish to see, and I think all of us here today wish to see that too. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: this is about solutions. We can always highlight the negatives, but what we should do is highlight the positives and the solutions, and the solution the hon. Gentleman suggested is one I wish to see. I will say a little more and highlight that.

I say to the Minister that we have the opportunity to do this right. Let us make sure that those who are here on the three-year scheme have another three-year extension so they can get by in their education at school and university, and so they can make a contribution to all the businesses in my constituency that need them. I understand the pressure that the Home Office is under regarding asylum seekers. I admit to a sense of despair as we see what appear to be healthy, single young men coming over by the boatload.

It is clear that the scheme we are referring to, which was referred to by the hon. Gentleman, has been used massively by women and children. In Northern Ireland, there were three times as many adult women as men. I am going to speak for all those women and children and for the adult males who make a contribution. That is almost replicated throughout the United Kingdom. To me, that shows that this is not about taking an opportunity to come to the UK to live. It is about fleeing from danger at home, and I believe we need to continue to offer that lifeline.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is important that the hon. Gentleman stresses the point about mothers and children, who are the primary group of people coming to this country. In Newport West, we have a number of families. I would make the plea he has already made. Does he agree that we need certainty for the children in education and the mums who want to work? Would that certainty not help them in a difficult situation?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Yes, it certainly would. What does someone need when their visa is coming to an end? Continuity and the ability to say, “I am going to be here for my A-levels, or to finish my degree at university, or to make my contribution by teaching in this school, or at the factories where the opportunities are.” What we need and ask of the Minister today is reassurance and, if we get that, we will be happy.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and apologise for not being here at the beginning of his contribution. He was at the same event as me. The point about education is really important. I have many people from Ukraine in my constituency, and they are now part of our community. One of them interned in my office. The parents of a young Ukrainian in my constituency are very concerned about dual education. The uncertainty means they have to maintain two levels of education, and they need to understand what the future holds.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

That is another case that I hope the Minister will add to the concrete case we are trying to make on behalf of the continuity of the scheme. I understand, accept and welcome the fact that the United Kingdom Government have been incredibly generous, but we need a wee bit of an extra hand at this point.

I note that the online scheme guidance points to an update due on 8 February. I look to the Minister to add my thoughts and those of others, through interventions and speeches. The Ukrainian people are under attack and we stepped in to say, “We have a place for you to send your women and children until it is safe.” That was the right thing to do, as every one of us here believes to be the case. It is still not safe; the war is ongoing. Quite simply, the scheme must be ongoing for another three years, as Pete Wishart indicated.

I conclude with these comments. I support the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire in asking for an extension of the scheme. By all means review; I understand if that has to be done. Give certainty to those children and mothers, and those who are making incredible contributions to society. Give certainty to those children studying, so that their education will not be in vain. They can achieve their qualifications, I genuinely and sincerely believe, because of the compassionate nation we are. We can help them reach their qualifications and goals, to be in a better position to rebuild the Ukrainian nation. When that despot Putin is finally defeated and dispatched from this world, it will be a better day for us all.

Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Ceidwadwyr, North Norfolk 2:59, 6 Chwefror 2024

I thank my hon. Friend Mrs Latham for bringing this important debate to Westminster Hall. This is all about certainty: certainty for the Ukrainians who are in the United Kingdom, certainty for local authorities so that they can plan for the future and, to a large degree, certainty for families like mine that are still involved in the hosting process.

There have been some wonderful speeches today, but I want to speak about a personal journey. I want to say to the Minister, “This is what I have gone through,” and say why it is so important that we make sure we look after these people until the very end. I will apologise now, because this will probably be quite a difficult speech for me.

As many hon. Members will know, I was the first MP in the country to bring Ukrainians into the United Kingdom. They came to live with me in North Norfolk on 3 April 2022. I could not be there on that day, unfortunately, because I had covid. My little six-year-old made it to Luton airport with my wife to pick up Anna, a Ukrainian mother—I always get her age wrong, and she gets very cross, so I shall not even try—and little Sviatik, who was six. He was just a couple of months younger than my little daughter. They bunk-bedded together for many months and formed a real bond.

Anna and Sviatik came from Kyiv and, like so many refugees—I hate that word, and I will come on to that in a moment—they came with the most terrible story. Little Sviatik was separated from his parents. He was in Melitopol with his granny and grandad when the war broke out. His father had to make a heroic journey behind Russian lines to extract him. There was then a 10-hour queue through Ukraine to get him into the United Kingdom. That was back in April 2022.

It was absolutely harrowing. They turned up with just a couple of rucksacks. The little boy had just one toy to his name. The mother did not even have a hairdryer or a pair of walking boots, which is something you need when living in my constituency. The outpouring of love from my constituents over 48 hours supplied them with everything they needed, as well as a box of toys that that little boy has had ever since.

Of course, they left behind their family. They left behind Vitali, who has become a friend. He is a botanist at the University of Kyiv. Luckily, he is not fighting, and hopefully he will not get called up to fight, but I see the pain in that woman’s face every time I see her, which is every other weekend, and I can see how hard it is to be separated. They have not seen each other for the best part of a year now.

People say that we are lucky because we have had a really good experience, and they say that we have changed their lives. Well, we are not “lucky”; they have changed our lives. Two thirds of people who went through the hosting process, as I have, have had the most wonderful experience. I would never change it. We have holidayed together. We spend every celebration, birthday and Christmas together. We have lunch together every weekend, if we can—

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his deeply emotional and personal contribution, which highlights the real scale of compassion and generosity of people across these isles. I hope he agrees that we are all keen to see that compassion and generosity extended for a longer period. Does he agree that it is vital that we can all continue to host Ukrainian people? Not only are they welcome, but they make a hugely welcome contribution.

Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Ceidwadwyr, North Norfolk

I thank the hon. Lady for being so kind as to help me in that way. I totally agree with her.

I have been to Ukraine twice: in November 2022 and in February 2023. I remember meeting Vitali for the first time in November 2022. Handing another man his child, who he had not seen in nine months, was probably one of the most emotional things I will ever do. We went back in February 2024 and took 122 generators, donated by the people of North Norfolk, in three vans— I still cannot believe that we managed that. We could not take Sviatik that time, so he has not seen his dad for nearly a year. That was the time the Russians started to bomb energy infrastructure, so people did not have enough power to turn on a light or cook food. We decided to provide generators, because it was the right thing to do.

What pains me the most about this war—of course, there are many things that we find painful—is that I should not be the one teaching that little boy to ride his bicycle, taking him to his first day at school and taking him fishing. On Christmas day when he gets a football, I should not be the one he asks, “Will you play with me?” It should be his father.

If there is one thing this Government can do, it is to damn well help these people to the end. We owe it to them. We owe it to a nation to carry on. These people have problems of their own to deal with, including the trauma of being separated from their families for this length of time. They do not need more worry about whether the British Government will send them back home when it is not safe—and it is not safe. I know that the Minister is a good man and will follow this through to the end.

In February 2023, when I stood on the side of a road in Lviv, which was the safest part to go to, I made a promise to Sviatik’s father. I said, “I’ll look after your boy till it’s time to come home.” Please don’t break that promise.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West 3:06, 6 Chwefror 2024

I thank Mrs Latham for securing this debate, for all her work on behalf of Ukraine—we travelled there together last year—and particularly for the hugely important work that she does on recognising the holodomor as a genocide. I also thank Duncan Baker, whom I know well from my time on the Environmental Audit Committee, for his absolute and utter commitment not just to the family he is hosting, but to the Ukrainian people in general, particularly through the work he has done in bringing generators to Ukraine.

As we have heard, this is a time of utter crisis for the people of Ukraine. They will soon have been at war for two years. I went twice last year and visited many places that had been under Russian occupation. I saw the devastation that has been wreaked in Kherson region and Kharkiv, which is twinned with my city of Leeds. I saw destroyed apartment buildings, schools and hospitals, and devastated towns and villages along the road. None of the people who live in those places can realistically return, so it is our country’s responsibility to host them until there is peace and the Russian invader has been expelled.

I am really pleased that we have welcomed more than 140,000 Ukrainians into this country, but we are coming to a crunch point. Last September, at a local community centre, I hosted an event for Ukrainians and their host families in my constituency. It was absolutely full, and the two biggest questions that I was asked were, “What is going to happen when my visa runs out?”—some of them had visas dated until March 2025—and “My time is running out with my host. What will happen to me? What help can I get?”

I have also spoken to hosts who, understandably, have families or individuals—usually young women—who want to move into their own accommodation, but there are significant obstacles to that. I hope the Minister will address the postcode lottery. I praise the Government for giving councils the flexibility to use the local authority tariff to help Ukrainians to access housing, but the biggest issue is having money for a deposit, which Ukrainians clearly do not have. I do not know about other places, but in Leeds landlords sometimes demand six months’ or a year’s deposit before allowing somebody to move into a house. Who has that sort of money?

It is a little different when the local authority stumps up. There is also help to find the first month’s rent and help through providing furniture, covering moving costs, speaking to landlords and supporting crowdfunding arrangements and top-up payments to sponsors to prevent the homelessness that would be inevitable if these arrangements were not in place. Understandably, some local authorities have been able to do that, while others have not, or have been able to offer only part of that support. Even then, there are areas in which private rented housing is in shorter supply than it might be in my own city, where there has been demand for guarantors. I think it is unfair to ask hosts, who have already given so much, to then act as a guarantor for a Ukrainian for a second household.

These are really important issues. Perhaps not all of them are within the Minister’s purview, but I hope he can address them, because they are exactly the issues that Ukrainians are dealing with day in, day out. I do not think we can be at all critical of anybody hosting Ukrainians in their home, even if it is for six months, because they have opened up their home and taken people in, and everybody’s circumstances are different. The state needs to step in where they may not be able to continue doing that or where the Ukrainians want to live independently, which is absolutely understandable. Who wants to live in somebody else’s home indefinitely? I certainly would not if I were in their situation.

We also have hosts who want to carry on hosting, who are generous, just like the hon. Member for North Norfolk. Retention of hosts is also important, so there needs to be more Government support for hosts, including more training and financial support. There needs to be work with hosts to support their guests in finding jobs and school places and dealing with the social security system—things that put a strain on normal family relations, never mind relations with people who have been hosted for only a short time. In Leeds we set up a welcome hub, which has helped to provide some of the wraparound services, but not every local authority can do that.

The data is incomplete, but the figures I have say that until 31 August 2023, 4,890 households—8% of the total estimated households that had arrived on the scheme in England at that time—had been assessed by a local authority as being at risk of homelessness or as being homeless. That is not really acceptable, considering that we have been put in a position of trust for these people in a time of war. It might be far worse, because one third of local authorities are not providing homelessness data to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. We should perhaps press those local authorities for data, because that might give a clue as to how they are operating. As we are now seeing a much larger number of host sponsorships coming to an end, the risk of homelessness is likely to ramp up. That is why we need the Government to step in to extend the scheme, to provide additional support for hosts and to provide additional support for the Ukrainians.

Although the expiry of the visas might seem like a long time away, it is causing incredible stress for people who were already suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues. They have anxiety about their visas ending and a lot of them feel fear, although it might be unfair, that they will have to return to Ukraine in March, April or May 2025 as their visas expire. I want the Minister to give some reassurance to those people. I do not think anybody in this Chamber or in this place thinks that that is acceptable, but they have a real fear that it is going to happen. Hearing a Minister of the Crown reassure them that it will not would put so many minds at rest and would give such comfort.

My mailbox is filling up with requests relating to the Homes for Ukraine scheme and the visa scheme. It is so important that people feel that we are still as supportive of them as we were on 24 February 2022 when the invasion happened, and that we are not in any way walking back a centimetre our support for Ukraine and its people in this or any other regard. That is vital for so many people, both here and in Ukraine.

Lesia Vasylenko, the chair of the British group in the Rada, spoke to me only last week about the real need to put people’s minds at rest. There is an active debate in the Rada that goes as high up as the President’s office about the importance of the UK coming forward and supporting people through Homes for Ukraine and the visa scheme. I hope we can hear some reassurance from the Minister today.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Llafur, Ealing, Southall

Order. I will call the Front Benchers at 3.28 pm.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Ceidwadwyr, Poole 3:15, 6 Chwefror 2024

I welcome my hon. Friend Mrs Latham raising some important questions, which I know the Government are starting to think about because we all have constituents starting to ask us what will happen.

I was touched by the comments made by my hon. Friend Duncan Baker. All the families that have come to this country have a story to tell, and all in their own way are different, but they all need a little certainty about what will happen over the hill. Most families in this country are always planning ahead for what is going to happen with their kids—university, jobs, houses, cars and everything else—but if someone is on a limited, fixed scheme, it is clearly difficult to plan or feel secure.

My first question to the Minister is, what sort of information do we have? The Office for National Statistics did a survey a while back of Ukrainian families who had arrived and to assess the number getting into work. There were particular problems with finding flats—not necessarily because of the deposit, but because most people need sponsors or guarantors on a flat, and they were not necessarily available to Ukrainians. We also have email addresses for a lot of people, because they had to fill out forms to come here. I wonder whether the Home Office or, indeed, the ONS might survey some of the families on who wants to go back and who, because of family reasons, wishes to stay, because that might provide some hard information about the intentions of these 100,000-plus people, who are perhaps all going in different directions.

The original intention, of course, was for those coming to this country to be a temporary thing and for them to return to Ukraine, and one can understand that the Ukrainian Government clearly want the asset of their people to return. If we can get beyond the war, with the bravery the Ukrainians are showing fighting for their independence, Ukraine will probably be one of the boom areas of Europe in the medium term. It has an educated population. It will need to rebuild a substantial part of the country. It will no doubt get large amounts of international aid. About a million Ukrainians were working in Poland before the war. There will probably be jobs and opportunities for many of those people to return to Ukraine and rebuild it. It will be interesting for Ukraine, and a lot of Ukrainians will want to return, but real life means that not every Ukrainian will want to, because people form relationships, get better jobs and get used to living in another country. In the short term, we need first to extend some of the schemes so that people can start to plan their lives, but we also have to turn our minds to the fact that quite a few people may not go back, because they have jobs or have taken the opportunities this country has afforded them.

I can perceive that there may be a slight problem if one member of a family gets a well-paid job and migrates, but the others—because their English or their qualifications are not as good—have to go back while the breadwinner of the family stays in the UK. We will need a sensitive and rather permissive regime in dealing with those families; otherwise, we will end up with families breaking up.

I have great confidence in the Minister. I have had a few conversations with him privately about this matter, and I know discussions are going on, which I presume involve the Foreign Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and, as always, the Treasury. The message of the debate is that we need an early decision to assist these families to plan their immediate future, so that they can get on with their lives, educate their children, pursue jobs and pursue their interests. If a decision is not taken, we will create quite a lot of problems for these people and, indeed, the families that host them. I hope that we will deal with this matter sensitively—I am sure we will—but we need decisions sooner rather than later.

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Llafur, Sheffield, Hallam 3:19, 6 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship today, Mr Sharma. I congratulate Mrs Latham on securing this important debate on the schemes the UK introduced in response to the war in Ukraine. I point Members to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests for the help I receive from the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy Project on this issue. I am also co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on migration.

It has been almost two years since the war in Ukraine broke out, and since then thousands of households across the UK, including many in my constituency, have opened their homes and welcomed Ukrainian refugees who have sought sanctuary here. Two years on, sadly, it is clear that the war is not coming to an end anytime soon, so why is there still so much uncertainty about the future of the scheme we are debating? That uncertainty needs to be addressed urgently, and the Government must act swiftly to provide longer-term leave to remain and to ensure that lasting protection of Homes for Ukraine is accompanied by free access to family reunification. Without longer-term plans to protect the scheme or a route to settlement, Ukrainians face integration challenges and mental health problems.

The risk of homelessness for Ukrainian refugees, which has been discussed in the debate already, remains particularly concerning. According to the Local Government Association, 8,900 Ukrainian households have presented themselves as homeless across England, and recent research by the British Red Cross found that Ukrainians are around four times more likely than the general population to face homelessness—a staggering figure.

With cost of living pressures continuing, it is imperative that the “thank you” payments to new or rematched sponsors are increased in order to widen the pool of new sponsors and to prevent the further escalation of homelessness. As the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire rightly highlighted, the importance of home status and student loans for those who need them should not be forgotten in this debate.

One of the key lessons from the Homes for Ukraine scheme is that, when given the opportunity, communities up and down the land open their arms, because we are a very welcoming country. However, as we sit here discussing the future of the scheme, I am dismayed by the continued lack of safe routes available for the majority of refugees fleeing war and persecution around the world. There are more lessons to be learned from the benefits of the scheme.

Last month, the Government released their “Safe and Legal Routes” report as part of their commitment under the Illegal Migration Act 2023. Despite its title, I was dismayed to find that the 37 pages of the report did not offer a single new safe or legal route for refugees to reach the UK, nor any real suggestions about how to improve the few resettlement schemes we have in place, including this one. While we discuss the merits of the Ukraine scheme, I would like the Minister to explain why such schemes have not been made available to other people, why we are not learning the good lessons from it and why we are still struggling with family reunion and resettlement, which has massively declined in recent years and is at the lowest level that it has been in the UK for a decade.

We are a proud country with a proud history of welcoming refugees, and I am proud to say that many people have decided to open their homes to support refugees fleeing Ukraine, but Ministers are not doing their part in continuing that tradition if they do not extend the scheme. Through the introduction of a lot of new legislation recently, they have made it their mission to openly attack that principle, and we need to be prouder of what we can do with this scheme. We must make sure that the Ukrainian people know we are on their side and will continue to be on their side while it is needed.

We need to step up and assure Ukrainians that they will have long-term protection in the UK. We need an urgent recommitment to introduce more safe and legal routes, so that refugees fleeing war and persecution can reach the UK safely. No Ukrainian should have to enter our asylum and refugee system as a result of the failure to increase the length of stay that people are allowed here.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:24, 6 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Sharma. I congratulate Mrs Latham, who is my in-laws’ MP, on securing this afternoon’s debate. It is certainly very welcome and timely, judging by my own casework and the uncertainty that many people are facing over their future. Ukrainians who came here would have hoped very much that they could have returned to their homes in Ukraine by now, but it is certainly not looking like that, so the Government must prepare for all eventualities and give people some certainty. The position of the SNP is certainly to support that aim.

As pointed out in the House of Commons Library briefing, and as I have seen in casework I have dealt with, some of the confusion here is because many Ukrainians in the UK are likely to have biometric residence permits with an expiry date of 31 December 2024, but that does not necessarily mean that that is when their visa expires; it is just when the BRP expires. Homelessness services in Glasgow have been quite concerned about this issue and have raised it with me in recent days. They worry that there will suddenly be a whole load of people who have no status.

I understand that the Home Office’s aim is to move to a digital biometric status. I have a lot of concerns about that due to errors I have seen with the Home Office systems for producing physical BRPs, and I do not have great confidence that digital BRPs are going to be any more accurate. Can the Minister confirm how exactly he intends to send out information to all who will be affected by this, including agencies that currently expect to see a physical BRP when they interact with those who hold one? They deserve more clarity on that.

In Scotland, we have done our bit in welcoming people from Ukraine. Our super sponsor scheme was incredibly successful and brought over 20,000 people to Scotland and to safety. That has been gratefully received by many, and people from Ukraine have put down roots in Scotland as a result. I pay tribute to the community of Ukrainians in my own constituency in Glasgow, who have done a great deal to ensure that Ukrainians feel supported in Scotland.

I agree with other Members about the need for support with accommodation and for those who are hosting people in their homes. As generous as people are, they are seeing increases in their own bills and pressures due to the cost of living crisis. Government support to help make ends meet was very valuable, allowing people to act as hosts without feeling any financial detriment, because there is only so long people can live like that. Given the pressures on housing in the UK more generally and the number of people facing homelessness in all our constituencies, the UK Government need to give greater consideration to how this issue is going to be managed. We cannot have a situation where people, from wherever they have fled, end up on the streets. That would be a complete failure in our duty to everybody we wish to support.

Scotland has invested in properties to try to help. The Ukraine longer-term resettlement fund has brought over 1,200 homes into use across Scotland and has approved 16 capital projects. As of January this year, 906 homes have been completed. People have moved into many of those, and that has made a huge difference. Should those Ukrainians wish to return to Ukraine, those houses can go back into the pool of housing stock in Scotland and be of long-term benefit to everybody.

Of the Ukrainians surveyed in spring 2023 who had been in the UK for between eight months and just under 12 months, 45% were still in accommodation with their initial host. Points have been made by various Members about what happens next and what happens with deposits. Alex Sobel talked about the issue of deposits in his constituency, and there is real concern, because people cannot move on if they need a significant deposit to do so. What support have the UK Government given to rent deposit schemes, which have been operational in Scotland and have helped people in the meantime to get the accommodation they require, without being impossibly out of pocket? Further, what are they doing to ensure that there is complete data on the impact of homelessness on this group? It sounds very much as though the data that is there is pretty patchy and needs to be better understood before the Government go forward with it.

Olivia Blake correctly spoke about the lessons to be learned from this scheme and about the benefits of safe and legal routes, which this Government do not yet have in mind for many other groups who are not Ukrainians. It is certainly true that we are not going to find Ukrainians in small boats, because they have a safe and legal route by which to travel to the UK.

Jim Shannon made the point that it is primarily women and children who are coming to the UK. The reality of that, sadly, is that men are not allowed by their Government to leave Ukraine at all in case they are called up to fight. So there is a real reason why that is happening, but they should be supported regardless of their status. Duncan Baker spoke incredibly emotionally about his experience hosting a family, and I am grateful to him and to all the people across these islands who have been in a position to do that. It is an incredible act of kindness and generosity, and I know the support given will be greatly welcomed by those who have been hosted.

It strikes me that in many of the immigration debates that we have in this House, we often fail to recognise the individual cases of the people we are talking about. Every single person who comes here, whether they are from Ukraine, Eritrea or Afghanistan, does so for a particular reason. We must recognise the issues of separation, real pain and trauma. When we put ourselves in the shoes of those people, when we understand their plights, when we listen to their stories, when we recognise their situation, we must all commit to helping these people. Their stories all matter, they are all important, and we have an obligation and a duty to try to support them as best we can.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 3:31, 6 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Sharma, and I thank Mrs Latham for securing this vital debate. I pay tribute to her excellent work in this area and the very powerful way in which she made the case to the Minister—I am sure he was listening carefully to her words and exhortations.

I thank all the Members who have spoken in this debate. It has been excellent, and many of the contributions were very moving, particularly that of Duncan Baker, who really put over the human side of this issue. These are people and families who have loved and lost so much through this terrible conflict, and he put those points across very movingly. I also thank and pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake), who made their cases with such passion and conviction.

Everybody in this debate has made it clear that we all stand ready to support the Ukrainian people in any way that we can. I am very proud to stand here today and reaffirm Labour’s unwavering commitment to that cause. The Ukrainian people are on the frontline in our battle for liberty and democracy, and we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to President Zelensky and the bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people in the face of Putin’s barbaric and illegal invasion. Our commitment to Ukraine, both on the Opposition Benches and across the House, will not waver. If Labour is fortunate enough to form a Government after the general election, we will be honoured to continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine in its fight for freedom.

The Labour party has always supported the resettlement schemes for Ukrainians, which is the topic of our debate, and we will certainly continue to do so. We are immensely proud of the generosity and warmth of the British people in opening their doors to Ukrainians, and we are very proud of Members across this House who have hosted Ukrainians in their homes. It has been truly inspiring to see 200,000 households offering to host Ukrainians, largely women and children, fleeing from the Russian invasion. The initial three-year visa offer comes to an end for the first of those Ukrainian refugees just over a year from now. Although we hold firm to our belief that the Ukrainian people will triumph and win the war, we are realistic that it might not be safe for Ukrainians to return to their homes as early as 2025. We therefore fully expect and urge the Government to extend the Ukrainian visa schemes well in advance of the general election, because, as every speaker in this debate has stated, families require certainty and need to be able to plan for their futures.

Many parents have children at school here in the UK and they need to be able to make appropriate plans. Children have been working hard to learn English and stay in school, and mothers have been working hard to ensure some stability in their children’s education. Other parents will need to address uncertainty about their jobs, but there are still challenges for them in the lack of co-ordination between the Ukrainian and British education systems.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I agree with every single point that the hon. Gentleman makes. Would it not be a remarkable and extraordinarily fantastic gesture, given that on Saturday 24 February, it is two years since the invasion of Ukraine took place, if the Government turned round and said, “We are now prepared to offer an extension to all those who have come to the UK”, along the same lines as that which they offered to those on the work scheme? Does he agree that that is what the Government should do?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that excellent point. It had not occurred to me, in all the thinking about this, that 24 February is indeed the anniversary of that dark day in Europe’s history when the invasion took place. It would be appropriate and fitting if the UK Government confirmed what we are asking for on 24 February, unless, of course, the Minister is prepared to do that here today.

To make another point about education, the Ukrainian teenagers who are now in year 10 will have exams next year. If their Homes for Ukraine visa runs out two months before they are due to take their GCSE exams, what will they do? They must be allowed to complete those qualifications. What about an 18-year-old Ukrainian taking A-levels this year who wants to train to be a doctor? Can they apply to university in the UK, or will their visa and the university support be taken away after six months? For the sake of children who have already faced a huge amount of disruption, I urge the Government to give them early reassurance by announcing plans for visa extensions and for what happens at the end of the three-year visa as soon as possible.

Labour Members and Ukrainians across the length and breadth of our country fervently hope that the Minister will give that reassurance—if not today, in the very near future, and perhaps, as Pete Wishart suggested, by 24 February at the latest.

Unfortunately, the generosity and adaptability shown by the British people were not always matched by the performance of the UK Government. Initially, Tory Ministers managed to turn that story of generosity into a bureaucratic challenge for many of the Ukrainians who came here. In my role as a shadow Immigration Minister, I was alerted to the case of a family who were told that their visas were ready, but when they went to collect them, the one for their three-year-old child was not there. There were a number of other deeply troubling cases.

Members from all parties have told me how they were frustrated at the time by the speed at which the Home Office responded on casework. For too many, the so-called hotline went cold. On one occasion the queue for the MPs’ query desk in Portcullis House, which I am sure many colleagues will remember, was more than three hours long. Even though Ministers had taken caseworkers off the dysfunctional Afghan scheme, they were still struggling to organise a system for Ukrainians who sought refuge here from Putin’s barbarity. More recently there has been the deeply troubling report of 6,000 homeless Ukrainian families. It was always going to be the case that many British households would not be able to continue hosting indefinitely, yet the Government had no plan for what would be done in such cases.

I wrote to the then Refugees Minister, the noble Lord Harrington of Watford, in September 2022 to warn him of the emerging homelessness crisis. At the time, 1,300 Ukrainian families were already facing homelessness. I asked why more was not being done to match the huge surplus of hosts with the families who were becoming homeless, and I set out a number of other questions. Unfortunately, as has been the story of the last few years, the Minister promptly resigned, and I did not receive a reply. The ministerial merry-go-round continued, and a total of 6,000 Ukrainian families were later reported to be homeless.

It would therefore be extremely helpful if the Minister set out what he plans to do right now for those homeless Ukrainians. Perhaps he could answer the following specific questions. Does he know how many Ukrainians are homeless? What additional funding and support are central Government giving to local authorities to end all homelessness, including rapidly increasing refugee homelessness and, specifically, Ukrainian homelessness? What work is being done to increase the number of hosts on the Homes for Ukraine scheme and to raise awareness of the need for Britain to continue to play its part in supporting the Ukrainian people? Above all, could the Minister please be clear on when we can expect confirmation that the Government will do the right thing and extend the Ukrainian visa schemes? Thank you, and Slava Ukraini.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery) 3:41, 6 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I thank my hon. Friend Mrs Latham for securing the debate, for the enormous passion with which she speaks about the issues, and for the thoroughgoing way in which she raises them with Ministers. She knows that I am very fond of her; I have many brilliant colleagues, but she is undoubtedly one of them who gets stuck into an issue, sees it through to the end and speaks with great passion when going about that work. She has shone a light on an issue that I know Members across the House are very keen to debate, and she speaks for a lot of people in the country on the issue of certainty. I thank colleagues from across the House for coming along in good numbers to debate it; I think it represents the strength of feeling across the United Kingdom about the future.

The United Kingdom stands in absolute solidarity with the Ukrainian people. We are almost two years on from the beginning of the conflict, but the implications and consequences of Russia’s barbaric war waged on Ukraine are felt every single day. The Government’s commitment to doing the right thing by Ukraine is as strong now as it was on day one. We have a responsibility to do what is right in the face of that unjustified and appalling aggression.

The three schemes that we have touched on today have welcomed or extended sanctuary to more than 230,000 Ukrainians, and remain open to new applications. The largest scheme, Homes for Ukraine, relied on the generosity and support of the British public, who welcomed more than 140,000 Ukrainians and their families into their homes. I thank officials across Government for the work that they have done to help to bring those schemes together and to operationalise them. That includes officials not just in the Home Office, but across Whitehall and beyond—officials out there in the country, on the ground, helping to make this happen and working with local authority partners and other statutory partners who have played such a big role.

The enormous pride we all have in our respective communities has been reflected in the debate. Certainly, as the Member of Parliament for Corby and east Northamptonshire, I am enormously proud of the voluntary work and the work done by the local authority and others to help make this a reality. It speaks to the very best of our national traditions. We can all think of remarkable people who have opened their homes, opened their community buildings, and stood up and been counted as part of the response to this most terrible of crises. As a country, we should be enormously proud of that generosity of spirit; it has been reflected not just in words, but in deeds at so many levels. On behalf of the Government, I would like to say a huge thank you on the record to everybody who has been involved in that response.

The comments of my hon. Friend Duncan Baker were enormously moving, and really got to the heart of the depth of feeling across the country about the support that we are providing, the importance of that sanctuary and the very personal stories that underpin it. It is impossible not to be moved when we hear those stories, and about his experiences and the difference made to that remarkable family that he has been supporting, at a time in their lives that is virtually unimaginable for any of us.

Through our sponsorship efforts, Ukrainians have been integrated into our communities across the UK. The British public have welcomed new Ukrainian colleagues to their workplaces and classmates to their schools. That is one factor that we have tried to reflect in the “thank you” payments, which we are providing monthly to do exactly that: say thank you. We all look forward to the end of the fighting in Ukraine and for the Ukrainian people to be victorious, but while the conflict continues, we will do all that we can to support Ukraine and its people. That is why our Ukraine schemes remain open and free to apply for. The offer of sanctuary very much remains.

I will get through as many of the points raised during the debate as I can in the time available. On the substantive issue of visa extensions, I am cognisant—as are my officials and Ministers elsewhere in Government—that the first of those visas will begin to expire in March 2025, which is 13 months from now. I am very much alive to the need and desire for certainty, not only for sponsors and the Ukrainian people who are directly affected by this, but for the many services that come together to help provide a response.

I want to provide absolute assurance that we are actively working through this issue. I also assure hon. Members that all Ukrainians in the UK under the Ukraine schemes will be informed of the options available to them, well in advance of their visas expiring. However, I am keen that our approach takes into account all the many and varied factors that have been talked about today. There are a lot of issues that need to be properly thought through, with proper delivery attached. There are often real complexities that need to be thought through carefully before making policy announcements, not least because I do not want there to be confusion or uncertainty. I want people to be very clear-sighted about what the future holds for all the reasons that have been articulated.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I have a lot to get through, but I will gladly give way briefly.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

The Minister is coming really close. I encourage him to take that further step and say that those who are here in one of the schemes will have the opportunity to remain in the UK if that is what they desire. Is that what he is edging towards? Can we go away from this debate and tell our constituents that the UK Government understand and are working with them, and that they will do everything possible to ensure that they get to remain in the UK if that is what they want?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Government have to go through processes before making definitive policy announcements. However, what I can say is that we are committed to letting everybody know, at least 12 months ahead, what the future holds in terms of the arrangements for any extension of these visas. I really do appreciate the real interest in this matter. The timeliness point has been well made time and again during the debate, and there is a desire to get that certainty as early as possible both from parliamentarians and further afield. I ask colleagues to take those comments in the spirit in which they are intended. It is fair to say that there is no disagreement in the Chamber this afternoon about that need for certainty; we speak with one voice on that point.

Beth Winter asked about the steps we have been taking on engagement. My hon. Friend Alicia Kearns recently asked me to meet with Ukrainian parliamentarians to discuss this issue. I have said that I am very happy to do that, and we will facilitate that meeting as quickly as possible. My officials are in regular contact with their Ukrainian counterparts, and Ministers regularly engage with their Ukrainian counterparts, and there has long been a recognition—a real appreciation—of the role that the United Kingdom has played on so many fronts in responding to this crisis. My understanding is that remains the case.

There is undoubtedly a desire for certainty, as we have highlighted this afternoon. However, there is also a clear message that speaks to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire at the start of the debate about what the longer-term future looks like for Ukraine. All of us are clear that Ukraine will win this war, and it has our backing and support in ensuring that that endeavour comes to pass. But it is also critical for the steps we take, and the support we provide, to lead to people being able to return to Ukraine to help to rebuild their country, recognising that Ukraine needs skilled people and wants a viable society with people of all generations. We will respect those wishes as we move forward with the steps we are taking.

On education, I am proud that, under our schemes, Ukrainian children and young people have been able to benefit from our brilliant education system. Whether it be starting out in school learning English and the fundamentals of education or studying for GCSEs and A-levels, our offer has always been to ensure that Ukrainians displaced by the conflict can continue their education where possible. That is also true for Ukrainians entering higher education and studying or looking to study at university in the UK. That is why we extended higher education support and home fee status to those here under the Ukraine schemes. Student support is crucial in enabling Ukrainians to attend education to improve their skills and enhance their ability to contribute to the UK or to assist in rebuilding their home country.

However, I recognise the concern of Ukrainians who have started a university course about whether they will be able to complete it. We of course want bright and motivated students across our schools and universities to continue their hard work focusing on their education. That is why, where a person’s Ukraine scheme leave expires during their course and they are granted further leave to remain under one of the standard immigration routes, they will continue to be eligible to access student support in order to complete their studies. We would expect providers to set their fees for such students accordingly. For those whose Ukraine scheme leave expires while they are at university and are granted further leave to remain under one of the standard immigration routes, we would expect home fees to be charged for the remainder of their course. By that, I mean that the starting position for a course and the associated fee status should be applied throughout the duration in any event. However, I hear the point and refer hon. Members to my earlier remarks.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I am conscious that I have a lot to get through. If I get the chance, I will take the intervention.

On housing, this is a cross-Government effort, and colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities lead on the housing side of it. A number of points have been raised during this debate that I will gladly flag up to colleagues in DLUHC. They will perhaps be able to help to provide some additional responses to those points. We recognise that many Ukrainians here in the UK want to live independently. That is an ambition we fully support, while appreciating the difficulties some face in finding private rental accommodation. That is why we have provided tariff funding to councils and established English language support to help Ukrainians into independent living.

On homelessness, councils across the UK have been provided with £1.1 billion in tariff funding to support Ukrainians in their area. In addition, the Government have allocated a further £150 million as a top-up to the homelessness prevention grant. I can also confirm that an additional £120 million will be available across the UK next year. For those unable to find new accommodation, we have re-matching services available to help Ukrainians who have moved out of their sponsor accommodation to find a new sponsor. For obvious and important reasons, tackling homelessness and rough sleeping in all their guises remains a priority for the Government, and we are spending £2 billion over three years on that. Local councils have a responsibility to support Ukrainians who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, including by providing temporary accommodation where required to ensure that no family is without a roof over their head.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I am afraid I have too much to get through.

I want to reflect on the important point about rebuilding Ukraine. We are under no illusions about the situation in that country, but ensuring it emerges from the conflict with a modernised, reformed and inclusive economy, resilient to Russian threats, is as important as tanks on the frontline. Since February 2022, the UK has committed more than £4.7 billion in non-military support, including fiscal support for Ukraine’s vital public services and bilateral assistance. We are also working with the private sector and international partners to create conditions in Ukraine that will drive private investment at scale in support of its reconstruction. That includes initiatives on reforms, good governance, financial markets, insurance, business expertise, infrastructure and energy. The Ukraine Recovery Conference, held in London in June 2023, was widely welcomed as a success, and engaged partners across the international community and the private sector in support of Ukraine. I am delighted that the conference announced £60 billion in support of Ukraine’s recovery. Winning the peace is a long-term project that cannot wait until the end of the conflict.

Alison Thewliss spoke about BRPs whose end date is the end of the year. I assure her that we will contact people from March to provide additional guidance on registering for digital status to ensure they understand what they need to do and what that means in practice.

In closing—I recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire needs to wind up—I reiterate my thanks to her and all other colleagues who participated in the debate. This has been a very powerful reminder of our national unity of purpose in supporting and providing sanctuary to our Ukrainian friends. We have supported 230,000 Ukrainians, but the mission is not complete, either in Ukraine or here in the UK through the sanctuary we are providing. I could not be clearer that the United Kingdom should always play a leading role in responding to such crises. The House has spoken this afternoon with one voice, and we will continue to play a leading role. Put simply, we will do what is right.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Ceidwadwyr, Mid Derbyshire 3:58, 6 Chwefror 2024

I will be very brief. I thank all those who have come to this truly cross-party debate. We have all spoken with one voice. My hon. Friend Duncan Baker gave such a powerful speech about what he experienced. That is happening all over the country: many families are experiencing exactly the same thing.

I thank the Minister for his very thoughtful response. I look forward to working with him to ensure we come up with a good scheme that gives certainty to Ukrainian families and to employers and housing providers. In the end, it is important that we help to rebuild Ukraine. Ukrainians are fighting this war on behalf of all of us, so we need to support those children and mothers—it is mainly women who are over here—to the hilt. It is important that we support those children—the future of Ukraine—and help Ukrainians rebuild their country.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered the potential merits of extending the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.