Man slams Home Office for Ukrainian mother-in-law's visa wait

Tom Kirkup with his family and mother-in-law Oleksandra Kolesnyk at Brancaster beach in Norfolk.

Tom Kirkup pictured with his family and mother-in-law Oleksandra Kolesnyk at Brancaster beach in Norfolk during a previous holiday. - Credit: Tom Kirkup

A Norfolk man has slammed the Home Office for putting his Ukrainian mother-in-law "in limbo" after news her visa had been approved took 10 days to reach her.

Tom Kirkup, 36, from Attleborough, has expressed his anger over the government department's delay in processing the application, branding the situation "absolutely appalling".

But a government spokesperson said it is "moving as quickly as possible to ensure that those fleeing Ukraine can find safety in the UK through the Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine".

Mr Kirkup's 77-year-old mother-in-law - Oleksandra Kolesnyk - was living in Odesa and managed to flee the Ukrainian city before it was hit with airstrikes and shelling.

A woman holds Ukrainian passports as she waits to register for a bus which will take refugees to Ger

A woman holds Ukrainian passports as she waits to register in Poland. - Credit: AP

She was transported to safety in Munich in Germany after her son managed to get her the last seat in a car that was travelling there.

"She had a few hours to pack a bag and leave", Mr Kirkup said.

"We then had to organise for my wife to fly out to Germany to meet her. She would've really struggled on her own in a foreign country without support."

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The head of communications said the family had applied for a visa under the Ukraine Scheme on March 15.

Despite approval being given on March 18th, Ms Kolesnyk was kept in the dark until the Home Office (HO) finally got in touch on March 28.

Ms Kolesnyk, who previously visited Norfolk on a family visa in 2018, had to provide a utility bill to prove she was living in Ukraine.

Mr Kirkup said: "The email states that the visa was granted on March 18 and that notification wasn't sent until the 28th.

"They made a refugee continue to wait in limbo for 10 days without informing us of the decision. It is absolutely appalling."

The family, who contacted MP George Freeman and MP Richard Bacon for help, only discovered the "huge delay" after being sent an email from the HO with the dates on.

Mr Kirkup said: "Those extra 10 days were a real kick in the teeth.

"It was an extremely emotionally, draining and stressful time for all of us.

"In addition to this, the delay cost us at least an extra £1,000 in expenses.

"We realise that the situation would be much worse for many other people."

His mother-in-law has since joined the family in Attleborough after flying out on Thursday, March 31.

UK Power Networks is carrying out works to give people in Attleborough a more reliable electricity network.

UK Power Networks is carrying out works to give people in Attleborough a more reliable electricity network. - Credit: UK Power Networks

But Mr Kirkup has criticised the HO for its "huge inefficiency" in the visa process and questioned why notification of it being granted was not automatic.

"I don't understand why there wasn't a system in place in advance", he said.

"Surely people who had already travelled to the UK as family members could've been allowed to travel again on that basis, rather than wait for yet another visa to be processed to prove the same thing that the Home Office already had documentation of? 

"We all see refugees sleeping in tents in sub-zero conditions in Poland, or sleeping in churches and school gym floors.

"People will be in bad conditions while their family here have space for them and, in our experience, the process is being dragged out for no good reason."

The passage in Poland.

The passage in Poland. - Credit: Dave Powles

A government spokesperson said: “We have streamlined the process so valid passport holders do not have to attend in-person appointments before arriving in the UK, simplified our forms and boosted caseworker numbers, while ensuring vital security checks are carried out.

“We continue to speed up visa processing across both schemes, with almost 30,000 visas issued in the last three weeks alone and thousands more expected to come through these uncapped routes.”

And Mr Freeman said he and his team have been "working day and night" in Mid Norfolk to support around 60 visa applications since "Russia’s appalling aggression began".

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman - Credit: Richard Townshend Photography

He added they have been working to raise all cases with the Home Office Westminster Help Hub, ministers and officials as "a matter of the greatest possible urgency".

Mr Freeman said: "I am pleased to report that a number of those applications have already been processed.

"But I very much appreciate the continued concerns around delays. That's why I've been in constant contact with the Home Secretary and her officials at the Home Office.

"My team and I are continuing that work during the Recess period, with prioritisation being given to the most serious and urgent cases that involve Ukrainians still trying to flee the shelling and violence in their homeland.”

Mr Bacon was also contacted for comment.