software worker has described the Government’s Ukraine family visa application process as “a shambles” after spending the past fortnight trying to get his wife’s family to the UK.
Callum Clarke, 27, and his wife Vitalina, 23, from Reading in Berkshire, said they first applied for UK visas for six members of Mrs Clarke’s family as they fled Cherkasy, on the banks of the Dnieper river in central Ukraine, after the war broke out last month.
However he said they were “pushed to the back of the queue” when the visa centre in Rzeszow, southern Poland, changed from being a walk-in centre to appointment-only after the couple flew out from the UK to aid them in the process last week.
Mr Clarke said he was concerned about the capacity at the visa centre and claimed there was only one biometrics machine to help process the refugees who are arriving there.
Those who arrive at the pop-up centre in Rzeszow – which is located inside a closed cafe – are assisted by Home Office workers and translators, who offer families bottles of water and biscuits while helping them with their applications.
Toys and sweets are also available for children to keep them entertained during the process.
Mr Clarke told the PA news agency: “I really can’t stress just how difficult the process has been made so far. I really, really would hope that the UK Government would see this and would listen to what I’m about to say about how difficult it’s been.
“As soon as it (the Ukraine family visa scheme) was announced we started our application. By the time we picked them (the family) up on March 9, the rules had changed and this had become an appointment-only centre. So then suddenly we were at the back of the queue again.”
Mr Clarke said the earliest appointment they could get was on March 24 and they only managed to get an earlier appointment after he repeatedly contacted the office of his MP and Cop26 president Alok Sharma.
“I’ve been screaming at my MP, they can probably attest to that,” he said.
“I’ve been really unpleasant to my MP’s office, and they’ve managed to directly arrange with the Home Office to have a special dispensation for this family to come in and take the biometrics now.
“You can’t do that for the tens of thousands of people who need to come.”
On Tuesday new measures were brought in, meaning Ukrainians with passports will no longer have to go to a visa application centre to give their biometrics before they come to the UK.
Instead, once their application has been considered and appropriate checks completed, they will receive direct notification that they are eligible.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was able to change the visa regime following security agencies’ fresh advice.
It’s just an impossibility at the minute that the UK Government has put in front of the Ukrainian people… We have to call it a shambles, because otherwise you have to believe that it’s a wilful, wilful ignorance of the Ukrainians
Mr Clarke’s family are currently waiting to see if their visas have been approved.
He criticised the new measures, as refugees without Ukrainian international passports still have to face the same hurdles his wife’s family have experienced over the past two weeks.
Mr Clarke added: “The scheme announced by Priti Patel does not work, because it only works for those with international passports, who were rich, who’ve already managed to do these kinds of things.
“We’re obviously relatively rich because we’re living in the UK. But we’ve had to extensively use our resources to help out these people.
“Bear a thought for the people who are still in the refugee centres, they’ve got no way even to get to this, let alone try and book an appointment.
“It’s just an impossibility at the minute that the UK Government has put in front of the Ukrainian people… We have to call it a shambles, because otherwise you have to believe that it’s a wilful, wilful ignorance of the Ukrainians.”
The Government has been contacted for comment.