To remain in the UK with refugee status, you will need to follow the asylum process to claim asylum in the UK.
Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right, but to you must be able to show that you are eligible and are fleeing persecution in your own country and seeking refuge abroad. The following guide tells you how to apply for asylum in the UK.
The meaning of asylum
Asylum refers to the process of seeking refuge, or protection, in a foreign country.
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.
Having applied for asylum, you become an ‘asylum seeker’, ie; you have submitted an asylum application and are awaiting a decision from the relevant authorities as to whether or not your application has been approved.
In the event that you are granted asylum in the UK, you will be given refugee status. This will entitle you to lawfully remain in the UK for a period of up to 5 years, after which time you may be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain.
Eligibility for asylum in the UK
You can only make an asylum claim to remain in the UK once you are in the country.
Your claim for asylum might is unlikely to be considered if you are from a country within the European Union (EU), or you have claimed asylum in an EU country before arriving in the UK.
If you are considered stateless, your own country is your former habitual residence, ie; the country you usually live in.
To claim asylum in the UK, you have to satisfy the definition set out under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which requires you to have left your home country and be unable to go back due to fear and future risk of persecution.
Your fear of persecution must not only be well-founded, it must also be based on one of the following five convention reasons as stipulated under the convention:
- 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.
Feared 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.
Fear must be based on a risk of persecution that is forward-looking. Even if you have suffered persecution in the past in your home country, you may not be granted asylum in the UK if there is no longer any future risk persecution.
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.
When to apply for asylum in the UK
If you wish to claim asylum in the UK you should do so at the first available opportunity.
You should seek asylum either immediately on your arrival into the UK, or if you are already in the UK, as soon as you come to believe that it would be unsafe for you to return to your own country.
On arrival in the UK
If you apply on arrival at an airport or seaport, you must inform a Border Force officer that you want to claim asylum.
You are already in the UK
A change of circumstances in your own country following your arrival to the UK may give rise to a future risk of persecution sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the 1951 Geneva Convention. That said, the longer you delay, the more likely it is that your claim for asylum will be denied.
How to apply for asylum in the UK
The asylum process involves a number of stages. The first is a screening meeting with an immigration officer.
On arrival in the UK
When you arrive in the UK, you will need to tell a UK border official that you want to claim asylum.
You will have your screening at the UK border when your application will be registered.
You are already in the UK
If you are already in the UK, you should arrange a screening as soon as you become eligible to claim asylum.
You should telephone the asylum intake unit to make the appointment:
Telephone: 0300 123 4193
Monday to Thursday, 9am to 4:45pm
Friday, 9am to 4:30pm
The screening will take place at the intake unit, which is at:
40 Wellesley Road
Croydon CR9 2BY
Claiming asylum with dependants
If you have travelled to the UK with your partner and/or children under 18 years of age, 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.
You register your claim for asylum during your screening.
Your identity, and that of any dependants, applying with you, will also be verified by the screening officer. Each person applying will be asked to provide their personal details and proof of identification, and will also be photographed and have their fingerprints taken.
You will then be interviewed. During this interview, you will be asked to explain why you are applying for asylum, if or how you were persecuted in your own country and why you are afraid to go back.
The officer will also consider if there are additional issues, such as perceived vulnerabilities or safeguarding concerns e.g. human trafficking, and may refer you to another body for further support.
You can request for an interpreter to be present during the interview if needed.
The screening officer can carry out a second interview if they believe the individual is an illegal entrant. This second interview will be under caution, and what the person being interviewed says can be used against them in further actions relating to their case.
Having registered your claim for asylum you will be given an Application Registration Card (ARC) to prove that you have an outstanding asylum claim pending a decision. You would also usually be given a ‘Section 120 One Stop Notice’ either while you are at the intake unit or it will be sent to you by post.
After the screening
After the screening, your claim will be assigned to a caseworker. This individual will consider your account of why you need protection and any supporting evidence you have to offer in order to decide whether you meet the criteria for granting asylum under the 1951 Geneva Convention.
In particular, your caseworker will need to be satisfied that:
- The harmful treatment you fear amounts to persecution
- Your fear of such persecution is well-founded
- The persecution is for one of the five reasons specified in the Convention
- You have been unable to find protection in another part of your own country
- You are at risk of experiencing persecution in the future if you were forced to return to your own country
What happens at the asylum interview?
The next stage after the screening is the asylum interview. You will be asked to attend an interview with your caseworker when you will be asked to fully explain why you are applying for asylum and the basis upon which you need protection.
You should bring relevant evidence and documents to support your application.
In addition to any evidence submitted by you, your caseworker will take into account other additional and independent sources of information on the political and human rights situation in your own country, as well as previous legal decisions about asylum that have been made in the UK courts.
Any information provided during the interview may be compared against what you said in your initial screening, and used by the UK authorities to make a decision about your asylum claim.
What documentation is required for an asylum claim?
When you make an application for asylum, you will need various documents for yourself and your dependants also applying with you.
These documents include your passport(s), birth certificate(s) and any medical or school records, if you have them, as well as any police registration certificate. You should also bring any written evidence to support your claim for asylum.
If you are already in the UK when you make your application, you and your dependants must bring documents that prove your UK address.
Waiting for a decision on your asylum claim
While your application is being processed, 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. Children, families with children, pregnant women, elderly persons, victims of trafficking or torture and those with a mental or physical condition that cannot be managed or would present a risk to others in an immigration removal centre will not usually be detained.
How long does an asylum decision take?
You will usually get a decision as to whether or not your claim has been approved within six months.
However, it can take longer if your claim is complicated, for example, your supporting documents need to be verified or you need to attend a further interview.
Asylum seeker rights in the UK
As an asylum seeker, you and any dependants also making a claim will have the right to remain in the UK pending a decision on your application. This applies even in circumstances where you have entered the UK illegally.
You will not usually be permitted to work during this time. You may, however, be eligible for cash support and temporary accommodation.
You may also be entitled to legal representation to assist with your claim.
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 in terms of cash and temporary accommodation.
If your application is successful
If your application for asylum is successful, you will be granted refugee status and permission to remain in the UK for 5 years. After this time, you may be eligible to apply to settle in the UK permanently.
What happens if your asylum claim is denied
If your claim for asylum is denied you may be able to appeal against the decision, although there are strict time limits for so doing and, in some cases, you may only be able to appeal once outside the UK.
If you have exhausted any appeals process, and there is no other reason for you to stay, such as humanitarian reasons, you will need to make arrangements to voluntarily leave the UK or risk being deported.
You will be notified of any decision to deport you, although you may then be detained without warning at an immigration removal centre pending your forced departure from the UK.
If the situation in your home country changes following a denial or refused appeal, you can make a new claim.
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.