“Who is a refugee?” – Understanding Terminology in the Homes for Ukraine Scheme

The Homes for Ukraine scheme uses different terminology to refer to the individuals who are part of the process. You may have also found that when talking about displaced or migrating people, terms are used interchangeably to mean the same thing, however, certain terms are appropriate depending on people’s experiences and circumstances. Below, you can find out more about what each term is, and when to use it.

Homes for Ukraine Terminology

Of course, once you find someone to sponsor and get to know them, it’s always better to refer to people by their first name, or the name they prefer.


In the Homes for Ukraine scheme, we refer to those welcoming Ukrainians into their homes as “hosts” or “sponsors”. This is of course because you are hosting someone in your home or property but you are also named as their sponsor on their visa application to the UK – you may see these terms used interchangeably as they mean the same thing.


Ukrainians arriving through the Homes for Ukraine scheme are referred to as guests by the UK Government as they will be staying in the homes of British hosts/sponsors across the UK. We do often refer to them as refugees as well. Although they will not have refugee status in the UK, they are refugees by definition.

Who is a refugee?

We see a lot of confusion about different words used when talking about refugees – and that’s normal. It’s confusing! We’ve made it as simple as possible to understand the different words used to define people migrating.


Refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country.

Refugees are protected by international law, which is why many governments follow the legal definition of a refugee according to the 1951 Refugee Convention: “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group [such as sexual orientation], or political opinion.”

Asylum Seeker

We use this term for people who have arrived in a safe country and are waiting for their paperwork, or “refugee claim”, to be processed.

Most governments do not formally recognise those fleeing persecution as refugees until they provide proof that they will experience harm if returned to their country, which can be a lengthy process because of bureaucratic procedures and the need to prove their fear of persecution. While they await formal recognition as a refugee, they are known as asylum seekers.


Migrant isn’t a legal term, but people us it to talk about individuals who have left their home country for many different reasons.

Economic Migrant

This is used when people leave their country to improve their standard of life. The reason can be things like accessing education or having better job opportunities.

Are Ukrainians in the UK refugees?

Ukrainians arriving through different UK visa schemes – Homes for Ukraine or the Family Visa Scheme – are not given refugee status in the UK, but three years leave to remain (this changed to 18 months of leave to remain for any applications made after 19th February 2024), even though they are refugees by definition (see above).