Thursday, 07 July 2022

Host angry at visa hold-ups

Host angry at visa hold-ups

A MAN who waited weeks to get a Ukrainian family to Britain has dubbed the visa system an “embarrassment”.

Will Rowson, of High Street, Wargrave, applied for visas for the family of three under the Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme in March but it took six weeks for these to come through.

He said that waiting that length of time increased the risk to refugees waiting to leave Ukraine and placed an unnecessary financial burden on others who had been able to escape the country.

Mr Rowson, 58, said: “We now have the first Ukrainian family in Wargrave living with us but the visa process took way too long and is embarrassing for our country.

“Some people are waiting four or five weeks to get a visa and that is just ludicrous. It just drags on for so long. The Government goes on about how kind people are in this country to offer support but the numbers of people getting here is low because the process is taking so long.

“It is no wonder the Ukrainians are going to other countries within the EU, where the process is so much simpler there.

“It is almost as if the Government has put a process in place to dissuade families from coming.”

Mr Rowson, who is married to Megan, 56, and has two grown-up children, has given the use of a former coach house in their back garden to a husband and wife and her 16-year-old brother whom they care for.

It has one bedroom but a living space which doubles up as a second sleeping area, a kitchen and bathroom. The family arrived last week but their route here was not very straightforward.

Mr Rowson said: “They had been living in Lviv but when the war started the husband and wife were on holiday in Spain and couldn’t go back home.

“Eventually the other family member went to Spain to meet them but the lengthy visa process presented such a financial burden to them because they had to pay for somewhere to stay so it was tough for them.

“But if they were still in Ukraine the wait could have been very
dangerous.”

Mr Rowson was put in touch with the family by Mark Williams, from Crazies Hill, who is a director of David Lloyd and has contacts in Ukraine. He said: “Just like other people, I was horrified by what was going on in Ukraine and we are in the fortunate situation of having a separate building in the back garden that would fit a family.

“We didn’t know how to do that so I got in touch with Mark because since the war started he had been asking for donations of goods such as camp beds and duvets and sleeping bags.

“He also set up a system through his contacts where he could match Ukrainians with local families and set up a WhatsApp group for possible hosts to put their hands up.

“Mark knew the family and we were put in touch with them more than a month ago and the first thing we did was set about doing the visa applications.

“We did it together one evening and it took three hours — it was a nightmare — but, fortunately, their English is fantastic. We then didn’t hear a thing for at least two weeks and then eventually we knew that the visas were on their way but they didn’t arrive until Thursday last week.

“Mark and a few others are waiting for visa clearance for other families to arrive, which has taken weeks. I think there are a lot of people out there who have found it difficult to get families out of there.

“Thankfully, Wokingham Borough Council has been good in immediate support once our guests arrived. We have had visits and I have to say they have been very caring and while the people haven’t been consistent, they all know what is needed.”

Both Mr Rowson and Mr Williams have taken a van with critical supplies to Przemysl and Krakow in Poland and the people of Wargrave and Crazies Hill raised £26,000 in 10 days. Mr Rowson said: “Mark has been to eastern Poland with critical supplies and I came back from a similar trip with two old college friends last week after taking a large van with very specific medical supplies to Przemysl.

“We are still raising funds to buy cars to allow our Ukrainian contacts to keep the supply lines open.

“The frustration is the process that we have just been through and how Mark and I did joint trips to Poland over the last couple of weeks and seeing the reaction of other countries, particularly in Poland, getting visas for people has been unbelievable.

“We are a caring community in Wargrave and Henley and this just shows it again despite the blockages the Government has put in the way.”

The Home Office has said the Ukraine Family Scheme and Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme combined are one of the fastest and biggest visa programmes in British history.

About 500 people are processing visa applications from Ukrainians and improvements including a simplified application form and extra training for case workers were “considerably helping” to speed up decision-making and improving the system, while ensuring “vital security checks” were carried out.

A Government spokesman said: “In just six weeks, almost 72,000 visas have been issued so Ukrainians can live and work in the UK.

“The changes the Home Office has made to streamline the visa system, including simplifying the forms and boosting staff numbers, are working and we are now processing visas as quickly as they come in, enabling thousands more Ukrainians to come through our uncapped routes.”

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