We are of course all fully aware of the tragic goings on in Ukraine, the loss of lives and the ongoing desperation in Ukrainians trying to flee their country with their families in tow.

Last week, the government announced a new package of measures that will allow Ukrainian refugees to live and work in the UK for up to three years.

Already, a number of large businesses have pledged to support this effort by offering to create jobs for refugees who come over on the new ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme – the same scheme that is encouraging individuals and families with spare rooms to open up their homes and host refugees.

How the scheme works

This bespoke scheme will offer a route to those who want to come to the UK who have someone here willing to provide them with a home. It will enable individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to volunteer accommodation and provide a route to safety for Ukrainians, and their immediate family members, forced to escape their homeland.

Sponsors should provide accommodation for as long as they are able, but the scheme has a minimum expectation of 6 months.

Someone is eligible for the scheme if they are a Ukrainian national or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national and were resident in Ukraine prior to 1 January 2022.

People arriving under this scheme will be able to:

  • Live and work in the UK for up to three years; and
  • Access healthcare, benefits, employment support, education, and English language tuition.

How to register

The scheme opened on Friday 18 March for visa applications from Ukrainians and immediate family members who already have named people willing to sponsor them.

People wanting to be sponsors who do not know anyone personally fleeing Ukraine, can also record their interest in being a sponsor.

You can record your interest as an individual or as an organisation (for example charity, business, community group).

What does the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme mean for businesses?

Now is the time when businesses can step up to support refugees. The first step to helping, is to recognise the variety of expertise and skills refugees have. In practice, this may mean revising recruitment practices to better recognise qualifications and experience gained outside the UK.

It is of course vital that you should handle the situation with care and empathy, as refugees may face barriers including low confidence and past trauma. But by stepping up to train and employ refugees, you really could change lives for the better while addressing a business-critical issue in a very tight labour market.

Can employers’ favour Ukrainian refugees when hiring?

Favouring applicants from Ukraine would mean treating applicants from elsewhere less favourably and so on the face of it would be discriminatory. There are exceptions where certain “positive action” is allowed; however, these rules can be difficult to comply with.

Whilst the risk of a claim is low, thinking about these issues up front and planning accordingly, is better than winging it.

With a new visa route, how should you approach onboarding?

The Homes for Ukraine scheme will allow individuals from Ukraine the opportunity to work in the UK for three years. This means businesses will need to think ahead. If an individual’s immigration status time is limited, you will need to conduct follow-up checks shortly before the visa expires.

You will still need to conduct right to work checks as you would with any other employee, otherwise you could face civil and criminal penalties.

As things are moving quickly, with different visa routes being announced, we may see the Home Office update its right to work guidance and checklist for employers to reflect the new and amended routes for Ukrainians coming to the UK. Watch this space!

How can you create a supportive environment for potential Ukrainian recruits?

We would urge you to think about how you are going to fully support any refugees you employ. Businesses need to be proactive in providing help, and not wait for people to ask.

If you have an employee assistance programme, great, but perhaps check whether it covers the support that individuals who have faced trauma from events such as war might need. If it doesn’t, you might need to consider what can be given in its place and make sure employees know it is there.

It’s important that you and your managers don’t try to be counsellors yourselves, but that refugees are signposted to qualified counsellors who are equipped to deal with the experiences the refugees have potentially been through.

You can help refugees integrate into the workplace; assigning a work buddy can help individuals quickly understand a job function, while offering flexible working can support them back into work. For some, just being at work and having everyday conversations with colleagues could be beneficial to their wellbeing, taking some of the focus away from what’s happening at home.

What about support for existing employees who want to help?

It is also important to think about how employees should be treated if they choose to take refugees into their home and participate in the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme.

Could you offer greater leniency? For example, working from home/flexibility/time off to sort things out.

Obviously, there is no obligation to pay for hours not worked, but it could certainly be seen as a way of supporting your employees who want to give something back and help where they can.

How Hallidays HR can help

If you would like to discuss any of the above in more detail, then please do not hesitate to contact us.