Thousands of Ukrainians who live in and contribute to British society have been excluded from the government’s Ukraine Family Scheme. Powerless to help relatives fleeing the war, they are turning to charities to help advocate for their cause.

The Scheme, introduced on 4th March 2022, prevents thousands of Seasonal Agricultural Workers from bringing their family to safety in the UK. Workers’ rights charities are speaking out against the decision, which risks sending the message that Britain sees those toiling to keep its agricultural sector alive as disposable.

According to the visa conditions of the Family Scheme, the relative sponsoring a Ukrainian family member must be settled in the UK. In practice, this means they must either be a British national, have status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), or hold another form of Indefinite Leave to Remain or refugee status. This excludes throngs of Ukrainians on temporary work visas, as well as students and visitors from reuniting with their children, spouses, and loved ones in the UK.

Home Office statistics indicated that in 2021 almost 20,000 Ukrainians had been issued seasonal worker visas in the UK, with a six month validity. Earlier this month, the Home Secretary promised to extend their visas until 31 December 2022. However, this leaves them under the control of operators, with no ability to seek work outside of farms, no right to claim public funds, and no ability to bring their loved ones to safety.

Dr. Dora-Olivia Vicol, CEO of the employment rights charity Work Rights Centre, remarked that the conditions of the family scheme reproduce a long trend of taking seasonal workers for granted. “Seasonal agricultural workers experience some of the harshest conditions, and have the highest rate of workplace fatality of any industry in the UK. Confining them to the same precarious positions until the end of 2022 is not a concession. It is a slap in the face to everyone who is worried sick about their family.”

Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s representative in London, recently expressed frustration at the scheme’s limitations. Although a Whitehall source told The Guardian that new plans were being considered, the government’s bureaucratic visa-based approach is hampering refugees’ ability to escape a perilous situation where every second counts.

Andrei Savitski, a Ukrainian-speaking caseworker at the charity Work Rights Centre, regularly assists Ukrainian migrants on seasonal worker visas. “Migrant workers are the backbone of the UK’s agricultural sector, but are treated as second-class citizens,” he commented. “The majority of these visa-holders are Ukrainian. The UK’s agricultural sector is reliant on them, but we’re refusing them this basic level of humanity.”