A visa sponsor programme allowing Ukrainian nationals to escape the Russian invasion of their homeland to Scotland will be paused for three months while new accommodation is found.
Over 4,000 displaced people are now living in Scotland after fleeing the conflict under the “super sponsor” scheme, which allows those seeking refuge to name the Scottish Government as patron of their arrivals.
Councils across the country have repurposed existing homes and converted hotels into temporary housing in order to offer safe accommodations – including one chartering a passenger boat for more than 800 people.
However, a surge in applications means visa chiefs now need time to work through the backlog and find suitable longer-term habitations for those arriving in the country.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said submitted sponsor documentation increased by 21% in the week beginning July 4 – including a 20% rise in “super sponsor” applications.
The pause, which takes effect from 9am on Wednesday, July 13, will not affect active applications submitted before that point.
Neil Gray, minister with special responsibility for refugees from Ukraine, said: “As a nation Scotland has risen in solidarity with Ukrainians in their hour of need. I am proud that thanks in large part to our super sponsor scheme, we are now providing safe accommodation to the most Ukrainians per head of population in the UK.
“We have been able to ensure thousands of people displaced by Russia’s horrific and illegal war were able to travel immediately and receive support and a place to stay without the need to be matched with a private host first.
“The number of applications naming the Scottish Government as sponsor has increased considerably in recent weeks. For this reason we have taken the incredibly difficult decision to pause our scheme so we can continue to provide a high level of support and care to everyone who has already been granted a visa.”
He added “We will review our position in three months, but of course if circumstances change during that time we will bring that date forward.”
Scottish sponsors, which now exceed 21,000, make up around 20% of the UK total.
Wales introduced a similar moratorium on applications last month in an effort to “refine” arrangements for people arriving.
It comes after North Lanarkshire council announced plans to reinstate and refurbish high rise towers in Coatbridge and Wishaw as part of a £5m project to bring 200 empty homes back into use for refugees.
Meanwhile, the local authority in Edinburgh has chartered passenger vessel M/S Victoria to dock in the port of Leith and provide an additional 739 rooms where people can be temporarily accommodated.
Gray is due to meet with the UK Government minister for refugees, Lord Harrington, over a new funding arrangement to support the increase in applications.
He added: “Our absolute priority has been to respond quickly to support those forced to flee their homeland and I thank all local authorities, third sector organisations, the private sector and the public, who have all mobilised in a major effort to help – together we have coordinated accommodation and delivered essential services at a large scale and in a very short space of time.
“We are taking significant action to increase the capacity of our temporary accommodation and are also boosting our matching system to maximise the number of displaced people placed with volunteer hosts who have completed the necessary safeguarding checks.”