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Ukrainian migration to the UK

08 Aug 2023

This briefing examines Ukrainian migration to the UK before and after the Russian invasion in 2022. It presents statistics on the number of Ukrainians who have come to the UK, where they have moved to, and their characteristics.

  1. Key Points
    • Around 174,000 people had moved to the UK under the Ukraine Family Scheme and Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme as of 9 May 2023.
    • Total weekly arrivals under the two main Ukraine visa schemes peaked at 10,000 in May 2022, and had fallen to 1,000 in March 2023.
    • London had received around 18,000 arrivals under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme as of 9 May 2023 – 10% of all arrivals.
    • As of 31 March 2023, 72% of adult arrivals under the Ukraine Family Scheme and Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme were women, and 29% of all arrivals were under 18.
    • • More than half (52%) of adults surveyed who entered the UK under the Ukraine schemes said they intend to live in the UK most of the time, even when they feel it is safe to return to Ukraine.
    • Of the roughly five million people who had left Ukraine for European countries as of 9 May 2023, 4% had gone to the UK.
    • In 2021 and 2022, Ukrainians were the most common recipients of Seasonal Worker visas, receiving 42%.
  1. Understanding the Policy

    The UK’s Ukraine visa schemes. ... Click to read more.

    The UK government created three visa schemes for people fleeing the war in Ukraine: the Ukraine Extension Scheme, the Ukraine Family Scheme, and the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, also known as Homes for Ukraine. Unlike most other visas, the visas are free to apply for, and applicants do not have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge. The government has not capped the number of people who can come under the Ukraine schemes, and the total number of people eligible for the schemes is not known.

    The Ukraine Extension Scheme, which opened on 3 May 2022, allows Ukrainians (or their close family members) who were in the UK on temporary visas on or before 18 March 2022 to apply to extend their stay for three years. The visa permits access to benefits, work, and study.

    The Ukraine Family Scheme, which opened for applications on 4 March 2022, is a visa scheme for people fleeing Ukraine who are the family members of either British citizens or people with settlement in the UK. Ukrainians on temporary visas are not eligible to bring family members under the Ukraine Family Scheme. This policy requires people to apply for a visa from outside of the UK.

    The Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, also known as Homes for Ukraine, opened for applications on 18 March 2022. This scheme allows any Ukrainian citizen fleeing the conflict, or the immediate family members of a Ukrainian citizen, to come to the UK if they can find a sponsor within the community. The Homes for Ukraine visa lasts for three years.

    The Sponsorship scheme has different arrangements for sponsorship in Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Wales and Scotland introduced ‘super sponsor’ schemes, where the governments of these nations act directly as sponsors, with local authorities finding accommodation rather than it being provided by individual sponsors. However, these super sponsor schemes have been temporarily paused, with the Welsh scheme closed to new applications from 10 June 2022 and the Scottish scheme closed to new applications from 13 July. As of 21 June 2023, they remain paused.

    For all three schemes, it is not clear whether visa holders will be able to extend their stay beyond three years or whether the visa will ever provide a pathway to settlement (permanent residence).

    UK policy has changed several times since the invasion of Ukraine. For updated information about the different schemes and details on who is eligible for them, see the guidance provided by the Home Office and the Ukraine Advice Project.

    How does the UK’s approach compare to that of other European countries?

    There are two key areas of difference between the UK approach and the approach taken by EU countries: the visa requirement and the eligibility criteria.

    On 4 March 2022, the EU rolled out a ‘temporary protection’ status for people who have been displaced. Under this scheme, those who have been displaced as a result of the war do not need to apply for asylum but can receive temporary migration status. This status is initially for one year but may be extended to three years, depending on how the situation in Ukraine evolves.

    Before the war began, Ukrainian citizens were already eligible to travel to the EU without applying in advance for a visa. Ireland previously required a visa for Ukrainians (its visa-free travel list has traditionally been coordinated with the UK as a result of the Common Travel Area) but lifted the requirement on 25 February 2022, the day after the Russian invasion, in order to enable people with family in Ireland to travel there quickly.

    The UK’s approach is thus more restrictive than the EU’s in two respects. First, not all Ukrainians are automatically eligible; they need either UK family connections or sponsorship. And second, they must apply for a visa in advance.

    How does UK policy towards people fleeing Ukraine compare with its policy towards other refugees?

    In requiring visas and either family connections in the UK or sponsors within the community, the UK’s approach to people fleeing war in Ukraine is more restrictive than that of the EU. But it is nonetheless, in certain respects, more liberal than the UK’s approach to other refugees.

    Shortly after the war started, Priti Patel, then Home Secretary, referred to the UK policies towards Ukrainians as a “bespoke humanitarian route”. The term ‘bespoke’ was also used to describe the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme announced in August 2021. It could also potentially be applied to other UK policies addressing specific conflicts, such as the resettlement programme for Syrian refugees and the scheme to provide visas for Hong Kong residents with British National Overseas (BNO) status. These ‘bespoke’ routes have provided more support and an easier process for specific groups of refugees compared to what they would receive if they applied through the ordinary asylum system. Of particular importance is the ability of people to access these routes without being physically present in the UK – as is required for applicants under the normal asylum process.

    The Ukrainian route illustrates a broader trend in recent UK asylum and refugee policy: the government selecting and differentiating between refugees from different conflicts or parts of the world.

    Each of these ‘bespoke routes’ has different terms and conditions and can be compared with the UK’s standard asylum system, in which people must reach the UK in order to apply for asylum (Table 1).

    The Ukraine schemes are free to apply for and effectively open to any Ukrainians with either a sponsor or family in the UK, so long as the family members are British citizens or settled residents. The visas are free to apply for and confer the right to work, study and claim benefits in the UK for up to three years but do not provide a path to permanent residence. The government has not yet said what approach it will take as the expiry of Ukraine scheme visas nears and whether new arrangements will be introduced to allow people to remain in the UK longer term.

    Table 1

    How do the Ukraine schemes compare with other asylum or resettlement routes?

     Standard asylum system, UKUK’s Ukraine schemesUK’s Afghan Citizens Resettlement SchemeUK’s Hong Kong BNO visaEU temporary protection
    EligibilityAnyone, but must apply in the UK. No visa for the specific purpose of coming to the UK to claim asylum, which incentivises irregular journeys.Family scheme: must have a UK-based family member with British citizenship or permanent residence.

    Community sponsorship: must have a UK-based sponsor.
    Must have been evacuated to the UK as part of Operation Pitting; or be selected for resettlement by the UN or in an NGO-led referral scheme; or apply as either British Council contractors, GardaWorld contractors, or Chevening alumni.Those with BNO status or the close family members (partner, child) of someone with BNO status.Non-EU citizens fleeing Ukraine.
    Numerical limitNo.No.Yes: 5,000 in first year up to a maximum of 20,000 in a few years.No. (5.4m people estimated to be eligible.)No.
    Entry visa requirementNo asylum visa exists.Visa required.Requires selection for resettlement.Visa required.No visa required for Ukrainians.
    Possible to apply (rather than being referred)Yes, but only in the UK.Yes.No.Yes.Yes.
    CostFree.Free.No application possible, though scheme is free.Yes: £3,370 for 5-year visa + Immigration Health Surcharge.Free.
    Right to workFor asylum applicants: Generally, no.

    For confirmed refugees: Yes.
    Access to mainstream benefitsFor asylum applicants: No (but receive financial ‘asylum support’ while waiting for decision).

    For confirmed refugees: Yes.
    Yes.Yes.No (but may apply to access benefits in certain circumstances).Yes.
    Path to settlementConfirmed refugees get five years’ permission to stay, after which settlement can be applied for without charge. No: gives 3 years permission to stay.Yes: settlement on arrival.Yes: after five years residence, can apply for settlement (fees apply).No.

    The regular asylum system

    Ukrainian refugees can also claim asylum in the UK. People who receive visas through the Ukraine Family Scheme are not officially designated as asylum seekers or refugees but receive a different temporary status. This status has some benefits over claiming asylum because it entitles those issued visas under the scheme to the right to work, study, and claim benefits.

    By contrast, asylum seekers are not generally permitted to work while their claim is pending. People fleeing Ukraine may apply for asylum in the UK if they are not eligible for the Ukraine schemes, for example, if they do not have qualifying family members in the UK or cannot find a sponsor. However, to apply for asylum in the UK, a person must be in the UK; it is not possible to apply from outside the country.

    More background on the UK asylum system is available in the Migration Observatory briefing, Asylum and Refugee Resettlement in the UK.

  1. Understanding the Evidence

    The UN provides data on both the border crossings of people leaving Ukraine, and registrations of Ukrainian refugees in European countries. ... Click to read more.

    The data presented in Figure 1 below are of the number of refugees from Ukraine (who are not necessarily Ukrainian citizens) who have been registered across Europe and are currently residing there. The figures include refugees from Ukraine who were granted refugee status, temporary asylum status, temporary protection, or statuses through similar national protection schemes, as well as those recorded in the country under other types of routes. The true number of refugees present in these countries will be different because not everyone who has left Ukraine will have registered or otherwise been recorded in the country to which they have moved. Nevertheless, these figures help show which countries have been the major destinations for people who have left Ukraine.

    Other data in this briefing come from the UK government and Office for National Statistics. The government has published demographic statistics on people who have applied for, been issued, and arrived in the UK on visas under the Ukraine Family Scheme and Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme. The statistics are based on the information provided in visa application forms and comprise gender and age breakdowns for applicants, visa holders, and arrivals for the Sponsorship Scheme, but only arrivals for the Family Scheme.

    The Office for National Statistics has also published statistics on Visa holders entering the UK under the Ukraine Humanitarian Schemes.

Around 174,000 people had moved to the UK under the Ukraine Family Scheme and Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme as of 9 May 2023

The government releases regular statistics on applications and visa issuances for the family and sponsorship schemes. These show that as of 9 May 2023, the Ukraine Family Scheme, which opened for applications on 4 March 2022, had received 95,400 applications (with one application required per person), with 68,200 visas issued. The Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme (Homes for Ukraine), which opened on 18 March 2022, had received 193,900 applications as of 9 May 2023, with 160,100 visas issued (Figure 1). This means that as of 9 May 2023, a total of 289,400 applications had been submitted across both schemes, with 228,300 visas issued.

However, only 173,500 of these visa holders had actually arrived in the UK as of 8 May 2023: 51,500 under the Family Scheme and 122,400 under the Sponsorship Scheme. Notably, these figures do not take into account those who applied for visas, received them, entered the UK – but have now returned to Ukraine. The Office for National Statistics reports that in 2022, around 39,000 arrivals under the Ukraine schemes had left the UK for at least eight weeks and not returned.

Statistics are also published on the Extension Scheme, which show that as of 8 May 2023, 21,700 applications had been received, with 17,500 applications granted and 1,900 awaiting a decision.

Figure 1

Total weekly arrivals under the two main Ukraine visa schemes peaked at 10,000 in May 2022, and had fallen to 1,000 in March 2023

The Ukraine visa schemes opened in March 2022, with total weekly arrivals peaking at 10,000 in May 2022. Since then, numbers have decreased gradually, and in March 2023, the average total number of weekly arrivals was around 1,000 (Figure 2).

Figure 2

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London had received around 18,000 arrivals under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme as of 9 May 2023 – 10% of all arrivals

The Home Office regularly publishes data on the number of visas issued and arrivals under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme by the local authority of the individual sponsor’s nominated property (i.e., the property in which the refugee(s) will be hosted). This does not include the Scottish or Welsh governments, which have sponsored some visa applicants.

The data as of 9 May 2023 show that at least one person has been sponsored to live in properties in each of the UK’s 374 local authorities. The average local authority has 326 Homes for Ukraine visa holders connected to nominated properties there – and 266 arrivals (Figure 3, UK map). The local authority with the most arrivals under the Home for Ukraine Scheme was Buckinghamshire, with 1,619 arrivals. London is a particular hotspot for arrivals, with 17,990 recorded as of 9 May 2023 (Figure 3, London map). This gives an average of 545 Homes for Ukraine arrivals across London’s 33 local authorities (its 32 boroughs, plus the City of London), which is 219 more than the local authority average for the whole of the UK.

Figure 3

The Office for National Statistics estimates that in 2019 that there was a relatively small population of Ukrainian-born residents in the UK, around 38,000 – putting Ukraine in 52nd place in the league table of the most common foreign countries of birth among people in the UK. (Note that these are pre-pandemic figures, which are more reliable than 2020 estimates.)

The Office for National Statistics also published an early release of data from the 2021 England and Wales Census, which has not yet been adjusted upwards to account for people who did not respond. (The final Census data release does not have a category for the Ukrainian-born). The early release data suggested that there were 38,000 Ukrainian-born people in England and Wales in March 2021. Just under 19,000, or half, of the Ukrainian-born population lived in London, and all of the top ten local authorities that were home to Ukrainian migrants were in London. The largest numbers at the local level were found in Newham (1,340), Ealing (1,140), Hounslow (1,120), and Waltham Forest (1,070) (Figure 4). These figures suggest that the existence of diaspora is a good predictor of where Ukrainian refugees will move to in the UK.

Figure 4

Data on National Insurance Number (NINo) registrations show where Ukrainians live in the UK. These data show that from 1 January 2002 to 31 March 2023, around 155,000 Ukrainians had received NINos. Around three-quarters of these registrations – 74% (around 115,000) – happened in 2022 and Q1 2023. A National Insurance Number is a unique identifying number given to all people born in the UK and to non-UK nationals over 16 who are planning to work or claim benefits in the UK. These data are broken down by the local authority of the registrant’s address. They show a particularly high concentration of NINo registrations in London.

Figure 5

The UK government also publishes homelessness statistics on Ukrainians who moved to the UK under one of the three Ukraine schemes and are either at risk of becoming homeless or are homeless. The statistics are management information and provisional. At the end of May 2023, 5,995 Ukrainian households had been recorded by local authorities in England as being homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. A household can be a couple or more adults without children or couples with children. The data are submitted voluntarily by councils, and 101 councils (33% of all LAs) did not submit any data. This means that the data cover only 67% of England’s local authorities.

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As of 31 March 2023, 72% of adult arrivals under the Ukraine Family Scheme and Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme were women, and 29% of all arrivals were under 18

Demographic statistics compiled by the government show that, as of 31 March 2023, 72% (88,000 out of 121,400) of adult arrivals were women (men aged 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine), 66% of all arrivals were aged 18 to 64, and 29% (49,200) of arrivals were under 18 (Figure 6).

Figure 6

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More than half (52%) of adults surveyed who entered the UK under the Ukraine schemes said they intend to live in the UK most of the time, even when they feel it is safe to return to Ukraine

The Office for National Statistics publishes statistics on Visa holders entering the UK under the Ukraine Humanitarian Schemes. The initial published statistics were based on a sample of over 9,000 people who entered the UK by 15 June 2022 under the Ukraine Family Scheme and Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme. Of all respondents:

  • 83% lived in England and 20% in London. This compares with 17% of dispersed asylum seekers who live in the capital and 5% of resettled refugees.
  • 56% said that their preferred language when accessing information in the UK was Ukrainian, and 44% said they could speak a fair amount or are fluent in English.

follow-up survey published in April 2023 and based on around 3,500 respondents showed that:

  • 61% were either employed or self-employed in the UK. Of this 61%, 68% said they did not work in the same sector as they had done in Ukraine;
  • The most common sectors of work were hospitality (23%), information technology and communication (10%), and manufacturing (9%). However, these percentages did not align with their preferred sectors;
  • among adults with their highest level of qualification gained outside of the UK, 60% said that getting their qualification recognised would help in their job search, with 24% citing its lack of recognition in the UK as being a major reason for having to work in a different sector;
  • other major barriers to employment were reported to be respondents’ English language skills not meeting the job requirements (54%) and not being able to find a job that suited their skills (37%).
  • 75% of respondents said that their English had “significantly or moderately” improved since coming to the UK over eight months ago.

The latest iteration of this survey, published 7 July 2023, found that:

  • more than half of adults (52%) intend to live in the UK most of the time, even when they feel it is safe to return to Ukraine, mainly because there are “more opportunities for work here” (60%);
  • most adults (70%) described their personal connection to the UK as being “somewhat strong” or “very strong”;
  • about a third (34%) of adults have changed address since coming to the UK, most commonly because they can now afford to live in their own accommodation without being hosted (25%).

Separate data from HMRC show that as of March 2023, around 42,000 Ukrainian citizens were in employment. This count excludes those who are self-employed.

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Of the roughly five million people who had left Ukraine for European countries as of 9 May 2023, 4% had gone to the UK

Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine has led to the large-scale displacement of people. As of ­­­9 May 2023, more than a year after the beginning of the war, around 18 million border crossings from Ukraine had been recorded, and over eight million individual refugees from Ukraine had been registered across Europe, according to UN estimates. Central and Eastern European countries remain at the front lines of this crisis—particularly Poland, but also Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova, and Romania.

UN data show that the UK has registered a substantial number of Ukrainian refugees, although it is not the most common destination. Of the roughly 8.2 million people who had left Ukraine for European countries as of 9 May 2023 (or the latest available data for each country), around 2% (204,000) went to the UK (Figure 7).

If we focus solely on the 27 EU countries and the UK, as of 9 May 2023 (or the latest available date for which there are data), there were 5.1 million people registered in these 28 countries. Of these, 4% were registered in the UK, 19% in Poland, 18% in Germany, and 10% in Czechia, with all other EU countries recording percentages between 0 and 4% of the total.

Figure 7

One important factor that shapes refugees’ choice of destination is the presence of family and friends. As expected, people have left Ukraine for places where they know people who can support them. Several EU countries have large Ukrainian diasporas and have thus become primary destinations. On 1 January 2022, before the war, there were more than 100,000 Ukrainian residents in each of Italy, Czechia, Germany, and Spain (Figure 8).

Figure 8

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In 2021 and 2022, Ukrainians were the most common recipients of Seasonal Worker visas, receiving 42%

Ukraine has not traditionally been a large country of origin for migrants to the UK, as the data above illustrate. However, there is one recent exception to this trend, which is the Seasonal Worker scheme.

After the Brexit referendum, UK farmers began reporting labour shortages as fewer workers – who previously entered under free movement – came for seasonal agricultural roles from EU countries like Poland and Romania. In response—and anticipation of the end of free movement—the government re-introduced a work visa scheme for seasonal workers. The scheme initially covered work in horticulture and, in late 2021, was expanded temporarily also to include poultry workers, pork butchers, and lorry drivers. The policy, now running until 2024, is currently limited to workers in the horticulture and poultry sectors.

Ukrainians have been the most common users of this route, receiving 42% of the roughly 64,000 Seasonal Worker visas issued in 2021 and 2022 (Figure 8).

In theory, Ukrainians who are in the UK under one of the Ukraine scheme visas can now conduct seasonal work without requiring sponsorship by an employer, although there are no statistics on the extent to which this has happened. Many Ukrainians in the UK are women with caring responsibilities, which can be expected to reduce their ability to work in rural areas that may not be within easy reach.

Figure 9

In the seven years from 2012 to 2018, visa issuances to Ukrainian citizens were fairly stable, at around 5,000 per year, excluding tourist visas (Figure 9). From 2019 onwards, the number of work visas issued to Ukrainian nationals rose substantially, reaching over 20,000 in 2021, with 99% of these being issuances of temporary, seasonal worker visas. These numbers have since fallen, with only around 8,300 work visas being issued to Ukrainian nationals in 2022 (main applicants only, excluding dependants). These numbers exclude Ukrainians issued visas under the special Ukraine visa schemes introduced in response to the war.

Figure 10



With thanks to CJ McKinney for valuable comments on drafts of this commentary. Special thanks are owed to Roshan Melwani and Mihnea Cuibus for research assistance. This research was made possible thanks to the support of Oak Foundation.


Peter William Walsh
Madeleine Sumption

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