Emily Fielder is the Head of Communications for the Adam Smith Institute.
The stories emanating from Ukraine of Russian attacks on civilians has been nothing short of horrific. In Mariupol alone, children have been killed in a strike on a maternity hospital; a theatre sheltering over 1,000 civilians has been attacked, and hundreds of people are sheltering in basements underneath the besieged city where they are running out of food and are in desperate need of medical attention.
It is no wonder, then, that the majority of the British public feel a sense of moral duty towards Ukrainian refugees. A recent poll by YouGov found that over two thirds of Britons believe the UK has a moral obligation to offer asylum, and 73% of Conservative voters support resettling Ukrainian refugees. Already, more than 130,000 Britons have registered for the Homes for Ukrainian scheme.
This spirit of altruism feels at odd with current Home Office policy, which is still subjecting those fleeing this conflict to the full might of the government paper-pushers. It should not be a matter of pride that Ukrainian refugees, most of whom are women and children, are still expected to locate electricity bills while their home is being decimated. It is unlikely that the Home Office will be able to keep pace with visa applications either. Yesterday, around 40,000 visas were still waiting to be processed- and this is before the new scheme opens on Friday.
It is also worth pointing out that many Ukrainians will prefer to stay in countries closer to the border where they share a common language and culture. However, countries such as Poland will not be appropriate places of refuge for sexual minorities. The UK should proudly welcome these refugees onto our shores.
All of this is why the Adam Smith Institute is calling on the Government to temporarily waive visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees in a new paper. Whilst security checks, which the Home Office has cited as a principal concern, remain important, they should happen after Ukrainians have arrived in the UK to speed up the process as much as possible. It also recommends that temporary protection should last for at least five years. The UK’s exit from the EU means that it can forge its own path in such matters- and so we can, and should, be more generous to those fleeing conflict.
It is right that much of the discourse surrounding the war in Ukraine has focused on the moral case for welcoming Ukrainians. We should not, however, ignore the suffering of innocent Russians and Belarusians, particularly the younger generations, that has been caused by their authoritarian governments. Economic sanctions imposed on these countries will force many into poverty, and those who display any form of political dissent, including simply holding up a blank sheet of paper, are being imprisoned and possibly tortured.
In a speech yesterday, Putin condemned, in no uncertain terms, Russian citizens who are anti-war and pro-West as a ‘fifth column of national traitors.’ Rather than pushing them back into the arms of the Russian Government, we should encourage them to sever ties with Putin’s regime.
Equally compelling are the economic and strategic cases for welcoming highly-skilled Russians and Belarusians to the UK. Despite having a comparative advantage in sectors such as Artificial Intelligence, engineering and advanced manufacturing, advancements which have the potential to bring huge economic growth to the UK, there is currently a shortage of people working and studying in STEM in the UK to the tune of 173,000. Filling this gap with migrants from Ukraine and Belarus would both boost economic growth in the UK, whilst undermining support for Putin’s regime. Belarus and Russia would lose some of their most productive workers, causing a short term shock to the economy, and precipitating a decrease in tax revenue and a decline in competitiveness. It may also further hamper their ability to wage war in Ukraine, by occasioning an outflow of scientists and researchers, who may have otherwise lent their talents to the research-intensive military industries.
To this effect, the Adam Smith Institute’s paper recommends that a ‘Target Nation Status’ characteristic, worth 20 points, should be added to the UK’s points-based immigration system to make it far easier for skilled Russians and Belarusians, and their close relatives, to come to the UK. In order to have the maximum impact on the Russian and Belarusian governments, remittances should be banned. This would also mean that the economic benefits are concentrated in the UK.
We should also create a ‘Liberty Pass,’ which would apply similar criteria to the Global Talent Visa, in that they must be a leader or potential leader in academia, arts and culture, or digital technology. This would provide a fast-tracked £1,875 for three months to attract these highly-skilled migrants to come to the UK.
The current situation in Ukraine feels bleak, but enacting these steps will help us to look to the future with optimism; further economic shocks to Putin’s regime can only serve to hasten its downfall. Whilst we are right to feel anger and contempt towards Putin’s actions, we should welcome, rather than villainise Russians and Belarusians who feel just as strongly as we do. Doing so will encourage them to play important roles in the world as part of a liberal international rules-based order, of which the UK will have shown itself to be a leader.