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War in Ukraine: practical guidance for employers

According to UN statistics, more than two million people have fled Ukraine because of the Russian invasion. Earlier this week, Filippo Grandi, the UN high Commissioner for Refugees, called it the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War Two. The ramifications of the conflict are being felt far and wide: on every continent and in every nation. As the humanitarian crisis unfolds, many people in the UK are looking for ways in which they can help #StandWithUkraine

One question we have been asked is how can you, as an employer, support your staff who may be affected by the crisis in Ukraine? There are estimated to be almost 40,000 Ukrainian nationals living in the UK who will all be impacted, either because they are Ukrainian themselves, or because they have family, friends and/or connections with the country. Moreover, let’s not forget the 70,000 Russians living in the UK who may be facing persecution and, further, the impact the war is having on our workforce as a whole.

Yesterday, it was reported that the number of Ukrainian citizens granted visas to come to the UK under the new Ukraine Family Scheme (see below) had risen from 50 to just 300, leading to criticism in the media that this stat is “shockingly low”.

Ukraine Family Scheme

The Ukraine Family Scheme opened for online applications on 4 March 2022. It allows applicants to join family members or extend their stay in the UK and it is free to apply. To apply, the individual(s) must be applying to join or accompany their UK-based family member; and be Ukrainian or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national who is apply to the Scheme; and have been residing in Ukraine prior to 1 January 2022 (even though they might now have left Ukraine).

The family member must be a British national, someone with settled or pre-settled status in the UK or someone with refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK.

The application can be made from outside the UK and the individual(s) can attend a Visa Application Centre (“VAC”) in any country (there is a temporary and dedicated VAC in Rzeszow, Poland).

For Ukrainian citizens, there is a special UK Government immigration helpline: call +44 808 164 9910 and select option 1 (or 0808 164 9910 if you’re in the UK). Further information is also available here:


Ukrainian nationals already living in the UK

Ukrainian employees living in the UK may also have concerns if their visa is due for renewal because, under UK Immigration Rules, many visa holders would ordinarily be required to leave the country to extend or switch their UK visa. However, the UK Government has made concessions which make it easier for Ukrainian citizens already in the UK to remain in the UK. For example: Ukrainian Visitor Visa holders in the UK can now apply to switch into a different route; Ukrainian nationals who have a Skilled Worker Visa that is due to expire can apply to extend their leave or, if eligible, apply for indefinite leave to remain; and Seasonal Workers who cannot return to the UK can extend their Visas to 31 December 2022, provided they continue to work for the same sponsor in a job permitted by the route.


Supporting your employees in other ways

It goes without saying that employees who are Ukrainian nationals working in your business will be feeling the impact of the events. It may well be the case that these individuals still have ties to home and, as such, the turmoil is directly impacting upon their lives, as well as the lives of their friends and family. This may also extend to your wider workforce, who may have direct links to the conflict.

Jenny Heyes, Head of People Projects, suggests that, as a business, you should actively seek to find out if your employees do have ties with the Ukraine, so that you can understand how best to support them during this time. By conducting regular 121 conversations with your colleagues, you can find out if/how they are coping and what support they may need from you. This might manifest itself as an increase in flexibility to make calls to loved ones, and understanding that productively may drop temporarily as they are concerned and distracted by the ongoing events.

In the event that employees are working for UK-based businesses that are Russian owned, we should not underestimate the impact that the conflict is having on these individuals either. Employees will benefit from increased communication from the business to ease concerns over job security and how to respond to requests for information from the media or even simply friends and family.

In summary, the key to supporting our employees at this time (whether they are directly or indirectly impacted) is to not make assumptions, but to be open and transparent with our interaction with them. 

Ukrainian refugees crossing into Poland