Hosting guide

Homes for Ukraine scheme

A lot of people are asking about how I have matched with a Ukrainian refugee to come to our home. She will be joining us perhaps as soon as 2 weeks, visa pending. I thought I’d put together the key information and some tips, having been through this process and visa application over the last week.

TL:DR: I found a match online and we did a visa application together. It’s not perfect but it’s good if you take due care and do your research. Some important information is still tbc. I recommend the Opora site and their sponsors FB group.

I want to start by saying that it is far from an ideal scheme by any means. By having no oversight of the matching process, there are real safety risks for the refugees and to an extent the hosts. The unmanaged matching process, and visa hurdles mean that the most vulnerable people are least likely to get help. It’s also so jarringly different from our national responses to refugees from Africa and the Middle East that it’s shameful.

However, as someone said, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and the need is absolutely urgent, so here’s what we have got. Given the sheer numbers of people fleeing Ukraine right now, I hope that this ‘Phase One’ DIY process can at least help with some of that quantity of people who can manage the process ok, leaving charities to focus on those who need most support. (Phase two of the scheme will enable charities and community groups to sponsor groups in a more organised fashion).

It also feels good, having felt so helpless about so much bad news in the world, to actually be able to take real action to help someone directly, and have a bit of control over the process. People power!

Disclaimer: I am no expert, and the latest info keeps on changing, but this has played very nicely into my special skills of ‘looking at things on the internet’ and ‘giving it a go’ so I am sharing what I have figured out in the course of many many hours.

So, here goes:

Context

In response to the war in Ukraine, the government has launched a brand new type of visa scheme for Ukrainian refugees. Numbers are not capped, and they are using the homes and kindness of people in Britain rather than hostels/hotels etc. Currently you can apply if you have a named Ukrainian you want to sponsor to live in your home. I’m sure you are all well aware of the situation in Ukraine and why this response is needed.

Key facts
  • Sponsors must commit to housing someone safely for at least 6 months, you can do longer. It can be in your own home, or in an empty property you own.
  • You cannot charge rent or require childcare or work in return
  • The govt give an allowance of £350 per month per sponsor household for up to 12 months (how I don’t know yet)
  • Guests must be Ukrainian nationals with proof of residence in Ukraine prior to 1 January this year
  • There is no charge for the visa. Guests get 3 year visa and can work and claim benefits – it’s not asylum seeker status, it’s a proper visa. They get £200 from the council when they arrive
Step 1

Register here just to show your interest: homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk

Step 2

Find someone to sponsor – see below for more detail on how to do this.

Step 3

Complete visa application with both your and your guest’s details and await a response – I’ll add more info on this tomorrow.

Step 4

Security checks happen

  • I think some of these may happen before visa and others soon after they arrive – it’s not clear yet
  • Enhanced DBS checks for all adults in your house. Security checks on the guest too, not sure of the details but they are quite thorough I am told, it has increased from the ‘light touch’ first mentioned
  • A visit from council to check safety/suitability of your home
Step 5

They get sent documents giving the right to travel to UK – help arrange transport and collect from airport/point of arrival if possible.

Step 6

Welcome them to your home and help them settle in to life here

  • Prepare beforehand gathering information with practical info like how to get bank accounts, apply for schools, benefits etc
  • Form a community support network. There are loads of people who want to help but can’t host someone
Finding someone to sponsor

Just registering on the government site, for now, doesn’t get you any further than getting some email updates. They are leaving the actual matching of individuals and sponsors up to others – a chaotic mix of charities, individuals posting on social media sites. More are being set up and developing as the days go by.


Opora

Opora main siteOpora’s matching platform

I used Opora, and would recommend it. They have a matching platform with a database for both sponsors and guests/sponsees (3.5k users at present). You can upload your own profile offering accommodation (or don’t) and browse profiles of Ukrainians looking for homes. You can filter by various things including size of group. They have teams in UK and Ukraine/Czech Republic, and have been super helpful and proactive with advice. I’ve been on a zoom drop in Q&A and the UK sponsors facebook group and felt so much more confident due to the advice and information there. Opora are supporting anyone with issues, looking into any profiles or situations that are worrying. They are committed to helping long term too, supporting sponsors, helping with employment opportunities. I’ve been impressed with their team and what they have achieved so quickly.

I didn’t post a profile myself, I just looked through the listings and contacted a couple of single women I thought would fit our home. The woman I matched with mentioned she likes making crochet characters and has an etsy store – it turns out we have lots in common and have been bonding over a love of cosplay and ramen. She is from Kharkiv and said this is the second time she has had to flee her home due to war – she had to leave east Ukraine in 2014. It felt a bit wrong browsing for people like an ebay app, but they are all people with a real need, and it will be good for her also.

Each profile has contact details – whatsapp/email – so you can contact people directly or be contacted. Get in touch, explain what you have to offer and why it might suit them from their profile. You can send photos of your room, information about your family. I did a little video tour of our house. Ask them questions and figure out if you’re a good fit for each other. We then went on to have a video call, and eventually together agreed to sponsor her, and went on to sort the visa out.

Points to note:

  • Be aware of the risks – there’s a lot of trust involved in this and risks on both sides (though much less for us of course). There’s various ways to help make sure people are as they seem. Watch out for red flags (and report to Opora), share social media profiles including Linkedin, share a screenshot of google maps showing the blue dot to confirm current location, video calls, sharing documents and proof of ID. Satisfy yourself that they are trustworthy, whilst also being realistic of the crazy situation they are in.
  • Currently there are about 60% sponsors to 40% sponsees on the platform, so many have a choice of sponsors, which is good really. More are joining as it gets better known.
  • Be patient – some people are in touch with several sponsors, or are in a dangerous or unpredictable situation that makes it tricky.
  • Most groups are women, women with children, women with grandparents and children, but there is a mixture.
  • A lot of Ukrainians intend to go back as soon as it is safe to do so, they don’t want to move for good, so many are hoping to stay closer. Add the fact we have a visa requirement the EU doesn’t, we may not get nearly as many refugees in the UK as other EU countries
  • A lot seem to specify London, because if you don’t know the UK at all it seems like a good bet. People are also worried about finding jobs here and looking for somewhere with opportunities.
  • In Ukraine ‘rural’ is really rural, it can mean 2 hours bicycle ride to a bus route, so perhaps tick ‘suburban’ and mention distances to towns and cities and what’s on offer
  • Levels of English vary, you might use google translate to help
  • Respect their right to choice and agency, don’t be put out if someone doesn’t take up your offer.

Also try:

Reset – these are a big charity with lots of experience of well organised community sponsorship programmes. They have built a matching platform and are also doing manual matching. It is going a bit slower than Opora just now but is likely to be good and the support in place should be good too. I think they have partnered with gov to help.

Visa application

The Visa application form is meant to be a ‘simplified’ one. I’d hate to see what the normal one is like. I didn’t complete this myself, my guest did it herself, so I haven’t seen the whole process.

I can’t cover the full range of detail and scenarios here, but some key points to give you an idea what is involved:

  • The questions are only in English at present
  • Some sponsors are completing the form on behalf of the sponsee, some sponsees are doing it themselves, others are doing it together on a zoom call. Any is fine, depends on level of English etc. In any scenario, be prepared that you are having to share ID and all your personal identity details. Another safeguarding flaw in this system.
  • The form includes the details of both the guest and their sponsor – there is not a separate form for each side
  • In a group, every person, including children, has to complete a separate application form, which names the other people in their group
  • Those without a valid international passport will need to make an appointment at a Visa Application Centre, which can be booked when prompted during the application process (none are open in Ukraine, but they have them in neighbouring countries)
  • The form requires these:
    1. Sponsee’s passport scan as a pdf
    2. Proof that they were in Ukraine on or shortly before 1 January 2011
    3. For a single named sponsor: contact details, address, how long at that address, name, previous/maiden name, passport details, local authority
    4. Passport scan or official ID of every adult in the sponsor household as pdf
  • It’s best to upload all this in one go if possible, for speed, but if you submit it with a document missing they should contact you for it
  • Biometric data – those with a valid international passport will be able to submit this within 6 months of arrival. Those without will have to do so at the Visa Application Centre first

Not sure yet how quickly these are getting processed but they are being prioritised

Application guidance: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-a-visa-under-the-ukraine-sponsorship-scheme

Apply: https://apply.visas-immigration.service.gov.uk/has-international-ukrainian-passport

Helpline: 0808 164 8810 If you cannot contact UK 0808 numbers, use +44 (0)175 390 7510.

If you register with Opora, their UK sponsors facebook group and video calls have loads of help with this from the Opora team and others who have completed theirs. Their Telegram channel offers the same in Ukrainian.

More information

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/homes-for-ukraine-scheme-frequently-asked-questions

https://www.opora.uk/faqs-3

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/homes-for-ukraine-guidance-for-councils