Priti Patel has authorised three year special visas to be granted allowing Ukrainian surrogates and their immediate families to come to the UK.
The UK’s first fertility law firm, NGA Law, and its founder Natalie Gamble worked with leading immigration lawyer Barry O’Leary to campaign on the issue and the move gives Ukrainian surrogates the option to enter the UK if they wish.
Ukraine is the second most popular surrogacy destination for foreign couples after the US, and the capital for surrogacy in Europe. It is estimated that between 2,000 and 2,500 babies are born via surrogacy in Ukraine each year, although there are no official statistics.
Ukrainian women are usually paid between £10,000 and £15,000 to carry a baby. The Russian invasion has upended the industry, with some surrogates reluctant or unable to flee, others fearing for their health, and biological parents abroad beset with worry.
In a letter to Gamble, the home secretary wrote: “I have asked my officials to make provision for this group, and their immediate family members, to be given permission to come to the UK on the basis of their exceptional circumstances by granting entry visas outside the Immigration Rules.
“The surrogate mother, where the child is not yet born, will be able to enter the UK for a period of up to 36 months and will have access to public funds and employment. They will not be subject to an application fee or the Immigration Health Surcharge.”
Previously there were no legal routes for surrogates and their families to resettle in the UK, with Ukrainians only allowed entry if they have family members already resident.
MPs including Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May and Yvette Cooper raised the needs of British Ukraine surrogacy parents and their surrogates last week in parliament.
NGA Law said last week: “We want the Home Office to grant visas to pregnant surrogates in the Ukraine carrying babies for British parents (and their families), to enable them to come to safety in the UK.
“We are very worried about surrogates’ safety, and about the risk of British babies being born alone and parentless in a warzone if their parents cannot reach them.”
The MP Kevin Brennan welcomed the Home Office’s decision, tweeting: “I raised this in the House last Thursday on behalf of my constituents – a step forward but we should be doing so much more to shelter all Ukrainian refugees.”
A new Homes for Ukraine scheme launched on Monday, offering members of the public £350 a month to house Ukrainian’s fleeing the Russian invasion – but the scheme has been criticised for not granting Ukrainians refugee status.
The government’s Nationality & Borders Bill is currently being pushed through parliament, and will criminalise Ukrainians and others who arrive in the UK without prior authorisation, with those arriving through anything other than resettlement set to receive a lesser form of protection.
Regarding the broader Ukrainian refugee crisis, O’Leary told The Big Issue that the UK’s visa system is quite simply not designed to deal with such “an urgent and desperate situation”.
He said: “The answer would be to remove the need for a visa, so that Ukrainian citizens can come to the UK if that is what they choose – for any reason – family, language, surrogacy. When here, we need to deal with them swiftly and compassionately.
“We also need to think about other nationalities. My asylum clients can be in limbo in the asylum system for years. The delays are appalling. The government talks of ‘safe and legal’ routes, but they so rarely exist. We had limited capacity for Syrians, and the Afghan scheme is not fully operational. For other nationalities, there are no ‘safe and legal’ routes.”
The Home Office says as well as its Homes for Ukraine scheme, it has made it easier for Ukrainians to come to the UK by changing the rules around its Ukrainian Family Scheme.
A spokesperson said: “Valid passport holders no longer have to attend in-person appointments to submit fingerprints or facial verification, and we have also expanded capacity at our Visa Application Centres to 13,000 appointments per week across Europe to help those without their documentation.
“This week, the Government’s sponsorship route will open to allow Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to come here and we will continue to work closely with our Ukrainian partners to deliver the measures we have put in place.”