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UK expands visa scheme for Ukrainian refugees amid criticism

LONDON — Britain could welcome more than 200,000 refugees fleeing the Ukrainian war after easing its visa requirements amid anger over its response to date.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told the House of Commons Tuesday that people already settled in Britain will be able to bring a wider range of relatives to the U.K. from Ukraine, and announced a new visa scheme for those without family links.

Ministers have faced criticism from MPs for not being as generous as the EU in its own offer to Ukrainian people fleeing Russian violence. The 27-nation bloc has announced it will not cap numbers for those fleeing Ukraine and will allow stays for one to three years.

The U.K. government said Tuesday that people settled in the U.K. will now be able to bring their parents, grandparents, children over 18 and siblings, in addition to the most immediate relatives already eligible for visas.

Patel said this could boost the number of Ukrainian refugees moving to Britain under its family migration route to about 200,000 people, double the government’s previous estimate.

There will also be a new humanitarian sponsorship visa route for Ukrainians without family links in Britain. Ukrainians applying for these visas will need to match with charities, businesses and community groups, and there will be no cap on numbers coming through this scheme.

All Ukrainians coming through these schemes will be given leave for at least one year, be allowed to work and have access to public services, she added. Leveling Up Secretary Michael Gove will be placed in charge of the scheme.

“We are doing right by the courageous people of Ukraine,” Patel said.

However, the U.K. will not suspend any security or biometric visa requirements, which Downing Street said remain a “fundamental part” of Britain’s visa approval process. Patel echoed those security concerns, saying there are “extremists on the ground” in Ukraine and that the government must also take into account Vladimir Putin’s “willingness to do violence on British soil.”

“We have collective duty to keep the British people safe and this approach is based on the strongest security advice,” she said.

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