More visas have been approved for Ukrainian refugees to stay with sponsors in Ards and North Down under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, according to new figures.
They come amid criticism that the UK Government is not granting visas fast enough, leaving families and sponsors in limbo.
The Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, also known as Homes for Ukraine, allows citizens to volunteer to house refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.
Sponsors agree to offer accommodation for at least six months, with those receiving sponsorship allowed to live, work and study in the UK for up to three years.
Home Office data shows as of Tuesday (April 26), the number of visas issued for sponsors based in Ards and North Down stood at 53 – up from 12 as of April 6, when local figures on the scheme were first published.
Across the UK as a whole, 51,300 visas had been issued by April 27, equating to around 69% of the 74,700 applications made to that date.
The proportion of people waiting has dropped since April 7, when just 12,500 applications had been issued from 43,600 applications.
But the number of Ukrainians that have come to the UK through the scheme remains low, with the latest national figures showing just 11,100 had arrived by April 25.
The Government cautioned the data is likely to contain some duplicate records, while around 2% of sponsors could not be assigned to a local area.
Some warn that delays in processing are impacting the number of refugees able to arrive in the UK, with reports of families unable to travel due to individual members not having visas granted.
Stephen Kinnock, shadow minister for immigration, said it was “truly inspiring” to see so many British households open their doors to fleeing refugees.
But he also criticised the UK Government’s handling of the scheme, saying issues with processing visas had created a “bureaucratic nightmare.”
Refugees have also been arriving through the Ukraine Family Scheme, which allows Ukrainian nationals to join family members in the UK.
As of April 27, 34,900 visas have been provided under the scheme nationally, of which 16,000 people had arrived by April 25.
Local data on this scheme has not yet been made available.
A spokesperson for the UK Government said: “The changes the Home Office has made to streamline the visa system, including simplifying the forms and boosting staff numbers, are working and we are now processing visas as quickly as they come in – enabling thousands more Ukrainians to come through our uncapped routes.”