Trade, Development, and Immigration

Open the borders for Ukrainian refugees

According to the UN Refugee Agency, over 3 million Ukrainians have fled their country. Neighbouring countries, including Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, have taken the overwhelming majority of desperate, hungry and traumatised people arriving from across the border every day. The EU has offered three years of residency to all Ukrainians. It could be months if not many years before people can safely return to their homeland.

The UK failed to rise to the occasion. The government initially would only allow individuals with a familial connection to enter the UK. Yet even then inept bureaucracy hampered their ability to actually do so. On the first weekend, the Home Office accepted just fifty visa applications out of over 17,000. The numbers have since risen. Ukrainians who travelled across the continent to Calais were initially informed that they would instead have to apply for a visa in Paris or Brussels, leaving hundreds unable to cross the border. This situation improved after public outcry. Ukrainians can now apply online using their passport.

The UK has also launched a ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme that allows individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to volunteer their home to host a Ukrainian refugee. Hosts will receive £350 per month from the Government while Ukrainian refugees will be given a three-year visa, the ability to work and access to healthcare and schools. However, this scheme remains significantly less generous and comes with much more friction and bureaucracy compared to the European response. It requires a potential host to name in advance a Ukrainian that they wish to host, and to go through checks. By comparison, the EU granted free movement to fleeing Ukrainians and matches refugees with locals on arrival at train stations.

The UK is opting for a significantly more bureaucratic, top-down approach to hosting Ukrainian refugees in comparison to the EU. The UK is requiring paperwork rather than welcoming fleeing Ukrainians with open arms. Ukrainians, who make up almost half of the UK’s temporary work visas, could make a huge contribution to the country. They could help fulfill the record-high 1.3 million job vacancies, thereby helping put downward pressure on inflation.

Our generosity should not stop with Ukrainians. We should welcome Russians and Belarusian seeking to escape. Western countries accepted escapees from Eastern bloc countries with open arms throughout the Cold War. It was a matter of pride that people risked their lives, crossing the Berlin Wall or defecting at a global sports event. When people had the opportunity, they chose liberal democracy over totalitarian socialism. The same principle should now be applied to any individual who wants to escape Russia and is willing to declare their opposition to Putin’s regime. This would help demonstrate the righteousness of the opposition to Russia and be beneficial to those countries that accepted talented and capable individuals. It would facilitate a brain drain, particularly of liberal, highly educated and younger Russians, that will further undermine the regime and its capacity to engage in military operations.


Matthew Lesh is the IEA's Director of Public Policy and Communications. He regularly appears on television and radio, and has written dozens of opinion and feature pieces for print and online publications such as The Times, The Telegraph and The Spectator. He has provided extensive commentary and written various papers and submissions about the Online Safety Bill. He is also a Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute and Institute of Public Affairs.

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