Sturgeon to ‘fast track’ refugees as firms offer help
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is proposing a scheme to help “fast track” thousands of Ukrainian refugees trying to enter the UK.
Ms Sturgeon and her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford want to become “super sponsors” to enable their governments to provide temporary accommodation.
They believe this will speed up the requirement laid down by the UK government for all those arriving to be matched with a sponsor. Westminster will this week launch a scheme whereby householders will be paid £350 a month to provide a room for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme will allow individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to offer safety to Ukrainians, including those with no family ties to the UK.
Sponsors will be asked to provide a home or spare room rent-free for a minimum of six months in what is thought to be one of the first schemes in the world to pay people to host refugees. The Ukrainians will be granted three years’ leave to remain. They will have the right to work and access to most benefits and all public services.
But Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford fear the scheme will be hampered by bureaucratic delays. By acting as super sponsors, the Scottish and Welsh government say they can find accommodation quickly while working with local partners to provide longer term accommodation.
The joint move by the Edinburgh and Cardiff governments coincides with talks between British businesses and Downing Street about arranging jobs and accommodation for thousands of Ukrainian refugees.
In a letter to Levelling Up minister Michael Gove Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford make it clear that no cap will be set by Scotland and Wales on the numbers of refugees they will welcome.
As an immediate commitment Scotland has offered to support 3,000 refugees in the initial wave, in line with the numbers that were resettled under the Syrian scheme.
Overall, the Scottish Government is committed to welcoming at least a proportionate share of the total number who come to the UK. The letter says it is essential all arrivals have access to public funds including welfare benefits, and are exempted from the Habitual Residence Test for accessing these.
In addition, the First Ministers’ letter calls for urgent clarity on funding arrangements to support local government and suggests a per head funding arrangement similar to the Syrian and Afghanistan schemes to support resettlement and integration costs.
While committed to doing everything possible to make the UK government’s proposed scheme a success, the First Ministers also renewed their call on the UK Government to waive all visa requirements for Ukrainian nationals.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I want Scotland to play our full part in welcoming Ukrainians seeking sanctuary from war. The UK response so far has been beset with bureaucracy and red tape, when what is needed is humanity and urgent refuge for as many as possible.
“We are still awaiting full details of the proposed community sponsorship scheme. If the UK government is still unwilling to waive visa requirements, it is essential that this scheme works efficiently and effectively and allows people to come to the UK as quickly as possible.
“However, I am very worried that if people have to be matched with an individual sponsor before even being allowed entry to the UK, it will prove slow and cumbersome.
“That is why the First Minister of Wales and I have made the ‘super sponsor’ proposal.
Meanwhile, more than 40 large businesses have told the government they have up to 10,000 jobs available for refugees from the country.
Only 1,305 Ukrainian refugees have been handed visas under the Home Office’s family migration scheme, while job recruiters and refugee agencies say Ukrainians could help fill the many thousands of vacancies across the UK.
The government is understood to be laying the groundwork to allow more to enter the country.
The consortium of businesses, which is being co-ordinated by entrepreneur Emma Sinclair, includes M&S, Morrisons, the brewer and pubs group Greene King, and recruitment giants Robert Walters and FDM. They are working to ensure Ukrainians secure visas, but also suitable accommodation and even language training. Large high street companies were this weekend in talks to join the coalition.
Number 10 has given Richard Harrington, minister for refugees, the job of co-ordinating the response.
Tesco has already made 1,400 roles available for refugees in its central European business, where it is establishing a Ukrainian language recruitment helpline and providing language training for successful applicants. Vodafone said it was offering job opportunities to Ukrainians across Europe, including help in obtaining visas.
Online fashion retailer Asos is examining whether it could recruit Ukrainian refugees for IT engineering roles in the UK.
Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of pub chain Greene King, said the company was in contact with the government over providing jobs for refugees whose “lives have been destroyed by the invasion”.