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UK Home Office U-turns over visa process for Ukrainian refugees

LONDON — Ukrainians with passports will be able to apply for British visas online and give their biometric information once in the U.K. in a bid to simplify a process which has faced sustained criticism for its slow response to the humanitarian crisis.

Home Secretary Priti Patel made the announcement Thursday after being dragged to the House of Commons by an urgent question put forward by her Labour counterpart Yvette Cooper.

The changes, which will come into force Tuesday, means Ukrainian refugees will not need to visit U.K. visa application centers elsewhere in Europe, which struggled with staff shortages in recent weeks. This will allow staff at these centers to focus on the most complex cases.

Earlier this week, the Home Office refused to lift biometric requirements prior to arrival in the U.K. citing security concerns. The department gave in following widespread criticism of the Ukraine Family Scheme, which critics said was too bureaucratic and slow for a humanitarian crisis.

But Patel told the Commons she had received assurances that she would be able to introduce these changes to the scheme without putting Britain’s security at risk.

Cooper welcomed the changes but said the government’s response had been a “total disgrace.” She highlighted the case of a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor left in makeshift accommodation in Poland while her daughter struggled to get her to the U.K.

“This has just been shameful, making vulnerable people pushed from pillar to post in their hour of need. Week after week we have seen this happen. It is deeply wrong to leave people in this terrible state,” Cooper said.

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