Immigration tips for employers: help for workers in the Ukraine crisis

Key immigration considerations for employers seeking to support their workers during the Ukraine crisis

The situation in Ukraine is shocking and many employers with workers in areas of conflict understandably want to help their people to find safety.

The UK is certainly an option, but it is one of many. Migration in these circumstances is a complicated and important issue that you have to get right, and this is further complicated by many and frequent policy changes. For instance, visa centres are closing, policy concessions are being created and refugee corridor routes (which are not covered here) will no doubt be opened.

The following sets out the main considerations as a basis for you to work from. You will want to move quickly, but please do seek independent legal advice on the rules in place at the point that you begin any conversations.

1.  Not everybody can leave Ukraine. Men aged 18–60 and women in strategically important jobs (for example, doctors) are required by the Ukrainian Government to stay and may be conscripted.

2.  Commercial flights from Ukraine were halted in February and most visa application centres are closed. Evacuation would probably need to be through a bordering country: Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Slovakia or Romania.  

3.  Travel to the border is difficult and may be dangerous. Queues are also long and people may be waiting more than 24 hours to reach border crossing points. Once there, people are expected to hold certain documents to cross the border. This table should help.

4.  Once they are in a neighbouring country, you will want to help them find an onward destination. There are complexities, but in essence: 

  • In most instances it will be easiest, from an immigration perspective, for people to travel to a European Union Member State. They are already able to enter without a visa and EU Member States have agreed that Ukrainians will be able to live and work in their countries for a year or more. It remains to be seen how that policy will be implemented in each member state but the initial signs are positive.

  • Immigration will not be the only consideration and you may wish to look outside of the EU. The quickest option is visa-free travel as a visitor. Visa-free options for Ukrainian nationals are shown on this list.  

  • Most employers can scan the list for visa-free countries where they already have an office and make a short list. Visit entry tends to be limited to 90–180 days so you should explore whether it will be possible for people to move straight into a work (or other) visa. Those policies are changing over time, so again, independent legal advice is essential.

  • If the visa-free list does not match with your list of locations (or even if where it does), you may want to look at nomad visa options that allow skilled people to work remotely, without employment sponsorship. The UAE is among the best, because it allows immediate entry and a switch to a nomad visa afterwards. Nomad visas do have requirements so you need to be sure that specific people will meet the criteria to be able to switch.

  • If Ukrainians need a visa to visit your preferred destination it may be best to move straight to a work permit application from that country. That would be true for the UK, where the work permit requires sponsorship, proof of English language, a minimum salary (likely upwards of £25,600) and several other criteria to be met.

5.  You may also want to consider arrangements for the Ukraine-based family members of your workers. There are different rules in different countries, but in the UK, new policy provisions published on 4 March will allow family members to enter where the individual(s):

  • are applying to join or accompany their UK-based family member;
  • are Ukrainian or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national who is applying to the scheme; and
  • have been residing in Ukraine prior to 1 January 2022 (including those who have now left Ukraine).

The UK-based family member must be:

  • a British national;
  • someone settled in the UK – for example, someone with indefinite leave to remain, settled status or proof of permanent residence;
  • someone who has pre-settled status and started living in the UK before 1 January 2021; or
  • someone with refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK.

Qualifying family members include spouses, long-term partners, children, parents, grandparents, grandchildren and siblings. The immediate family members of those family members can also qualify.

Other family members will be considered in exceptional (but undefined) circumstances.

They can make this application in any country.

Other UK applications (for instance, workers) need to be made in bordering countries or a country where the person has a long-term permission.

6.  You may also be asked about employees based in Russia. As at 4 March, visa services were operating in Russia, but some consulates have suspended visa issuance, and general banking sanctions mean they may struggle to pay for their applications. Flights are limited and could also pose problems. The UK authorities will bring forward legislation to slow down or prevent Russian visa applications, but it is not clear when that will happen.

7.  To come to the UK, the general rule is that Russian nationals would need work or educational sponsorship, a UK or settled spouse/ long-term partner or to be aged under 18 and entering as the child of a British or settled person. The policies are more complicated and there are some less common options so do seek advice before deciding.

As reiterated at several points above, it is essential to seek independent legal advice before taking any decisions. At the time of drafting, new announcements are swiftly being made or mooted with respect to arrangements for the UK, Europe and the UAE. The broad considerations listed above should remain current for some time, but the detail and most appropriate strategies will be likely to change. 

The CIPD will endeavour to keep readers apprised of the latest and most relevant updates.

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