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Applying for Asylum in the UK

If you want to remain in the UK as a refugee you will need to follow the process of applying for asylum in the UK.

What does asylum mean in legal terms?

Under international law everybody has a right to seek asylum. In legal terms, an asylum seeker is someone who has fled their country of origin because of persecution, or a risk of persecution, and is seeking refuge elsewhere.

By its very definition an ‘asylum seeker’ is someone who has applied for asylum, but is awaiting a decision from the relevant authorities as to whether or not their application has been approved.

The UK’s national laws on asylum seekers are subject to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951, as amended by the 1967 Protocol.

The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is a multilateral treaty that sets out the fundamental rights of individuals granted asylum, as well as the legal obligations of signatory states, including the UK, to protect them.

The core principle under the 1951 Convention is that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they risk persecution.

Although the provisions of the Refugee Convention have in some cases been complemented or even superseded by more favourable provisions in UK law, this, together with the European Convention on Human Rights, continues to provide the foundation of UK law regarding the rights of refugees.

Applying for asylum in the UK: Who qualifies?

To be recognised as a refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention, you must show that owing to a well-founded fear of persecution you are outside the country of your nationality and are unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail yourself of the protection of that country.

This definition also extends to those of you who are outside the country of your former habitual residence, where you are stateless, but owing to a fear of persecution are unable or unwilling to return to that country.

Your fear of persecution must not only be well-founded, it must also be based on one of the following five convention reasons:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Political opinion
  • Membership of a particular social group.

Membership of a particular social group includes anything that puts you at risk of persecution because of the social, cultural, religious or political situation in your country, for example, your gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.

An act of persecution must be sufficiently serious by its nature, or repetition, so as to constitute a severe violation of one of your basic human rights. This may take several forms but can include, for example, an act of physical or mental violence, or the denial of judicial redress resulting in a disproportionate or discriminatory prosecution or punishment.

The risk of persecution is forward-looking, so even if you have suffered persecution in the past, you will not be granted asylum in the UK if there is no longer any risk of anything happening to you in the future.

Equally, it is not always necessary to have been persecuted in the past for a future risk to exist. A change of circumstances in your country of origin following your arrival to the UK may give rise to a future risk of persecution.

If you do not meet the legal definition of a refugee, you may still be afforded humanitarian protection allowing you to remain in the UK, for example, if you can show that you would face a real risk of suffering serious harm, such as inhuman or degrading treatment, if returned to your home country.

What is the process of applying for asylum in the UK?

If you are seeking asylum status in the UK, you should apply as soon as is reasonably possible, for example, at the airport or seaport when you arrive in the UK, or as soon as you think it would be unsafe for you to return to your own country. Your claim for asylum status is more likely to be denied if you wait.

After you apply for asylum you will undergo a screening interview with an immigration officer. During this interview you will be asked to provide your personal details and proof of identification. Your fingerprints and photograph will also be taken.

You will later be interviewed at length by a caseworker, during which time you will be asked to fully explain why you are applying for asylum and the basis upon which you need protection.

Having registered your claim for asylum you will be given what’s known as an Application Registration Card (ARC) to prove that you have an outstanding claim pending a decision.

You will usually get a decision as to whether or not your claim has been approved within 6 months. During this time you may be electronically tagged, or asked to regularly attend or telephone a reporting centre. You may even be detained in an immigration detention centre, in which case you should seek urgent legal advice.

What does asylum mean for your legal rights?

Asylum seekers in the UK have fundamental legal rights, not least the right for you and your dependants to remain in the UK once you have applied for asylum pending a decision on your claim, even in circumstances where you have entered the UK illegally.

As an asylum seeker you may be entitled to legal representation to assist with your claim. You may also receive some cash support and temporary accommodation while you wait for your decision.

However, you will not usually be allowed to work while your asylum claim is being considered, so you may be wholly reliant on the limited state support available to you.

If your application for asylum is successful, you will be granted refugee status, ie; permission to remain in the UK for 5 years. After this time you may be eligible to apply to settle in the UK permanently.

If your asylum application is refused and you have exhausted any appeals process, and there is no other reason for you to stay, for example, for humanitarian reasons, you may be deported.

Although you will be duly notified of any decision to deport you, you may then be detained without warning at an immigration removal centre pending your forced departure from the UK.

What does asylum mean for your dependants?

If you have travelled to the UK with your partner and/or any minor children, you can include them in your application for asylum as your dependants. That said, your partner and dependent children are also able to make their own applications for asylum in their own right.

A spouse, civil partner, unmarried or same-sex partner who has accompanied you to the UK and does not wish to claim asylum in their own right, will normally be deemed a dependant, provided that they consent to be treated as such at the time the application is lodged.

In relation to any accompanying children, a minor child is a person who is under the age of 18 or who, in the absence of documentary evidence establishing age, appears to be under that age.

Any relatives who are not your partner or minor child, for instance a dependant parent or other relative, will not be accepted as dependants and should claim asylum in their own right.

Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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Xpats.io is a leading resource for foreign nationals and international businesses relocating to or residing in the United Kingdom.

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