Immigration from Ukraine since 1991 – the arrival and settlement in the United Kingdom of citizens of Ukraine since the establishment of Ukraine as an independent state and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Although the latest wave of immigration of Ukrainians to the UK began as early as the second half of the 1980s, and intensified after 1991 (see Ukrainians in the United Kingdom), published statistics on the admission of citizens of Ukraine to the UK are available only from 1998 (in annual Control of Immigration statistical reports for years up to 2009, and subsequently on the UK government website https://www.gov.uk). For previous years data is available only for the whole of the former Soviet Union, or for the former Soviet Union excluding Russia, so numbers of Ukrainians entering the UK at that time can only be estimated.

By far the largest numbers of Ukrainian citizens arriving in the UK between the early 1990s and 2015 were those with visitors’ visas (allowing entry to the UK for up to six months). The annual number of visitors grew from about 5,000 in 1991 to almost 60,000 in 2013, before declining to 49,000 in 2015. Almost 70% of all the visitors over this period were classified as ordinary visitors (mainly family visitors and tourists), the remainder entering the country on various kinds of business.

The next largest category of Ukrainians entering the UK (excluding individuals returning after a temporary absence abroad and those in transit through the UK) was that of persons with student visas. The number arriving each year has fluctuated considerably: after rising to about 4,000 in 1996 it declined to 1,500 in 2005, rose again to 5,000 in 2013 and fell below 2,000 in 2015. A large proportion of the students came to take English language courses.

The number of Ukrainians arriving in the UK each year on work visas increased from several hundred in the early 1990s to a peak of over 7,000 in 2004, then declined to about 5,000 in 2007. Most of these workers (about 75% between 1998 and 2007) obtained visas valid for up to six months under the UK’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS). Others were admitted for periods up to 5 years. At the end of 2007 the SAWS was closed to nationals of all countries except Bulgaria and Romania, and this led to a major reduction in the number of Ukrainians arriving on work visas. Between 2008 and 2015 this number did not exceed 1,000 in any year. The overall decline since 2004 can also be partly attributed to the 2004 and 2007 enlargements of the European Union (EU), which increased the number of EU nationals with a right to work in the UK, thereby reducing opportunities for workers from non-EU countries, such as Ukraine.

The number of Ukrainians entering the UK for family reasons increased from less than a hundred per annum in the early 1990s to over 500 in 2006, then fell to 175 in 2015. This category covers persons arriving to join family members who are British citizens or permanently settled in the UK, in most cases spouses or fiancé(e)s.

After a qualifying period of continuous lawful residence in the UK (subject to allowable absences), a person may apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the country. The qualifying period, which varies according to his/her type of visa, is five years in most cases, and may include extensions of the validity of initial entry visas. Between 1991 and 2015, ILR in the UK was granted to almost 14,000 Ukrainian citizens. The largest categories comprised 6,300 wives of British citizens or permanent residents, 2,650 children (under 18 years of age) of parents with ILR, and 1,750 individuals with at least five years of work-related residence.

Non-UK citizens who have lived in the UK for at least five years or who are married to British citizens, and who have ILR, may (subject to additional conditions) apply for naturalisation as British citizens. Children under the age of 18 may, subject to various rules, become British citizens by registration. Official statistics on Ukrainian citizens granted British citizenship are available from 1991 (in annual Home Office Statistical Bulletins on Citizenship Statistics for years up to 2009, and subsequently on the UK government website https://www.gov.uk). Between then and 2015 almost 13,900 Ukrainians acquired British citizenship. This total includes 6,600 adults naturalised on the basis of five years’ residence, 4,750 on the basis of marriage, and 2,550 children registered as British citizens. It should be borne in mind that most of the Ukrainians granted citizenship will also have been included in the ILR statistics, since persons applying for naturalisation must have previously been granted ILR.

In the 2001 UK population census, 11,913 persons who were present in the country on the day of the census gave Ukraine as the current name of their country of birth. A further 483 stated that they were born in the USSR, and it can be assumed that some of these were born in Ukraine. The corresponding figures from the 2011 census are 21,783 for Ukraine and 2,189 for the USSR. The numbers of persons in different parts of the UK who gave Ukraine as their country of birth were as follows: England – 20,320, Scotland – 838, Wales – 380, Northern Ireland – 245. Although most of the individuals covered by this census data are likely to have come to the UK in recent decades, the figures most likely also include some people born in present-day Ukraine who settled in the UK in the years immediately after the Second World War.

The above census figures almost certainly understate the actual numbers of Ukrainians in the UK in 2001 and 2011, since many Ukrainians among the UK’s undocumented immigrant population may have failed to complete census returns. Such undocumented immigrants consist mainly of individuals who remain in the UK for various lengths of time after their visas expire, but may also include persons who entered the country without appropriate documents. Unofficially it has been estimated that in the mid-2000s there were over 100,000 Ukrainians living in the UK, although the reliability of such estimates cannot be gauged.

Roman Krawec