If you want to stay in the UK as a refugee, you must apply for asylum.
The processing of asylum claims is currently being disrupted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. There may be delays in processing claims and you may find it harder to access support.
Asylum law is complicated, so we recommend that you get good legal advice and someone to put forward your case.
We recommend that you find a solicitor as soon as possible. There are very short deadlines for providing the evidence needed to support your claim for asylum.
Find a solicitor
Visit our Find a Solicitor website and use the quick search option "Immigration and changing countries" to find your nearest solicitor.
To find a solicitor in Scotland visit the Law Society of Scotland’s website.
How your solicitor can help
Your solicitor can:
- help you make an appointment to claim for asylum
- help write formal statements for you
- give you advice on how strong your case is
- apply for you to be released if you’re detained
- prepare your case and represent you if you appeal
- give you advice on what will happen to your case
- get any further information you might need to explain your claim, such as a medical report or a report from an expert about circumstances in your home country
What your solicitor will need to know
You should tell your solicitor:
- when you left your home country and arrived in the UK
- how you got to the UK
- why you left your home country
- whether you’re afraid to return to your home country and, if so, why
- your family circumstances
- what documents you’ve given to UK Visas and Immigration
- whether you’ve been given any documents to fill in and return and, if so, the date they must be returned
If you have little or no money, you could be entitled to free legal advice to help with your asylum claim. This is called legal aid.
Your solicitor will explain this, and what they can do for you under legal aid. If they do not have a legal aid contract they should refer you to a firm who does.
If you cannot get free advice, your solicitor will tell you how much they’ll charge.
Applying for asylum
To be recognised as a refugee, you’ll need to show that you’re unable to live safely in your own country because you fear persecution there.
This must be because of:
- your race
- your religion
- your nationality
- your political opinion
- anything that puts you at risk because of the social, cultural, religious or political situation in your country, for example, your gender or sexual orientation
The authorities in your own country must have also failed to protect you.
You should apply for asylum as soon as possible. This can be at the airport or seaport where you arrive.
If you apply after you’ve arrived in the UK, you must apply to the Asylum Intake Unit.
When you apply for asylum, you’ll also be treated as applying for permission to stay in the UK for other human rights reasons.
If you can show that you would face inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment if you were returned to your home country, then you may have a claim for 'humanitarian protection'.
You may have other reasons, based on human rights law, that mean you should be allowed to stay in the UK. Your solicitor will be able to tell you whether your claim for asylum, humanitarian protection or other permission to stay is likely to succeed.
Asylum claims are registered by either:
- telephoning the Home Office who’ll arrange an appointment
- attending their offices in person without an appointment
If you’re detained or arrested, you can tell the police or the staff at a detention centre or prison that you wish to claim asylum.
You'll have a first interview with an immigration officer. This is called a ‘screening’, and it's when you'll tell them about your personal history but not the full facts of your case.
At the interview you’ll have your fingerprints and photograph taken and you’ll need to show your documents, which include:
- passport and travel documents
- police registration certificate
- identification documents, for example identity card, birth and marriage certificate or school records
- anything you think will help your application
If you do not have acceptable identification, get advice from your solicitor straight away.
After the screening you’ll most likely be placed on immigration bail.
You’re required by law to stay at the address you give to the Home Office. You may also be required to report to the Home Office on a weekly or monthly basis.
It’s important that you comply with these restrictions.
Preliminary information questionnaire/one stop notice
After the screening, your case will be given to a caseworker. You may be given a document called a ‘one stop notice’, or be sent a form called a ‘preliminary information questionnaire’.
These are opportunities for you to give information in writing about your claim for asylum. Your solicitor will help you complete the form and return it.
After the screening you’ll be sent an application registration card which proves that you’ve applied for asylum.
You’ll then have an interview with your caseworker to explain why you’re applying for asylum.
You should give as much information about your claim as you can, including any evidence you have about being persecuted.
The interview is important, as UK Visas and Immigration will use the information you give to make its decision about your claim. The information in your screening may be compared against what you say in the asylum interview.
You can bring a solicitor with you to this interview, although there’s normally no legal aid for this.
If your solicitor does not go with you, ask your caseworker at least one day before the interview for it to be recorded.
You can be detained at any stage of your claim. UK Visas and Immigration must give you its reasons for detaining you.
If you’re detained, you should immediately contact your solicitor and ask about applying to be released on bail. Instead of being detained, you’ll be asked to stay at a fixed address and you may be:
- tagged (your movements are tracked electronically)
- asked to visit a reporting centre regularly
It’s important that you tell UK Visas and Immigration and your solicitor where they can contact you at all times.
Your application will usually be decided within six months. It may take longer if, for example, your supporting documents need to be verified or you need to attend more interviews.
If your application is successful, you’ll be given permission to stay in the UK for five years. This is known as ‘leave to remain’. You can then apply to settle in the UK.
If you do not qualify for refugee status you may be given permission to stay for humanitarian reasons. After five years you can then apply to settle in the UK.
You may also be given leave on human rights grounds for up to two and a half years.
If your claim is refused, you should immediately ask your solicitor for advice about appealing against the decision. There are very strict time limits for appeals and, in some cases, you can only appeal from outside the UK.
Your solicitor may be able to prepare your case and represent you. There’s a different form of free legal aid that you may be entitled to called controlled legal representation. Your solicitor will explain this and will tell you how much they’ll charge you if you cannot get free advice.
Money and housing
If you have no way of supporting yourself, you can apply to UK Visas and Immigration for asylum support.
You may be given cash and/or temporary housing. You may be sent to another part of the country to be housed. Your solicitor will explain what help you’re entitled to.
Being removed from the UK
If your claim for asylum is finally refused (all appeals have been unsuccessful) and you have no other basis on which you can stay in the UK, you’ll have to leave the country.
UK Visas and Immigration can force you to leave and may detain you in order to do so. It’s very important that you contact your solicitor immediately if your application is refused.
It’s a criminal offence if you do not cooperate with the government to get a travel document so that you can be removed from the UK.
While we have made every effort to provide accurate information, the law is always changing and affects each person differently. This information is no substitute for specific advice about you personally and we will not be liable to you if you rely on this information.
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