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Legal Routes to UK Asylum

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    When referring to ‘safe and legal routes’ the meaning is regarding the formal sanctions by the UK for journeys to the UK. This means instances when a visa will be granted or made available for the journey, or otherwise, the person is permitted to travel to the country without needing a visa.

    Journeys made under other circumstances are not considered safe or legal routes. Yet, this does not mean that the journey is unsafe or unlawful, but rather that it is being conducted in ways that are not formally sanctioned, which increases the risks of exploitation, harm, abuse, and other dangers from the perspective of the UK government.

    Routes Continued

    Regarding the lawfulness of journeys not made via the UK’s ‘safe and legal routes’, there is no requirement per international law that an asylum claim be made in any specific country. Refugees may legitimately cross over a multitude of borders to reach the location of their asylum.

    Ministers and officials typically refer to ‘first safe countries’ in this process. However, there is no actual rule of principle that requires a person to make their asylum claim in a safe country. However, many may have valid reasons, be it connection or family, to seek asylum in this type of country.

    Additionally, the designation of a country as being safe is typically made in contrast to the deprivation, exclusion, harassment, and violence the individual seeking asylum experienced in their origin country.

    A country that is safe for one or many may not be safe for everyone as well. A country that provides asylum for many individuals may also be unsafe for others due to the capacity or will to provide protection being restricted by the number of individuals who receive protection, especially where other countries refuse or fail to share the responsibility for providing protection.

    Safe And Legal Routes Available

    It is critical, in understanding the functioning of safe and legal routes to asylum in the UK, that three specific groups are distinguished:

    • Those who are seeking asylum
    • Those who are already recognised as refugees
    • The family members of those who are recognised as having refugee status in the UK

    Safe and legal routes are not specifically available in connection with any of these specified individuals. Safe and legal routes are available to those who are already recognised as refugees and to some of the family members of individuals who are already recognised as refugees. That being said, the adequacy of these routes is a topic of concern. This includes the extent to which some people may not be included in them. There are no routes like this specifically designated for those seeking asylum.

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      Can Asylum Seekers Apply For Visas?

      The UK government is making sure that the only way individuals can come to the UK to seek asylum will be through their designated safe and legal routes. However, these safe and legal routes would require a visa.

      There are no visa routes available, currently, for UK travel for asylum claims. Yet, it is also not possible to apply for asylum in the UK without being present in the country. However, there are some safe and legal routes operated by the UK for humanitarian protection for vulnerable people. But be aware that these routes do not involve acquiring asylum in the UK.

      The boundaries between lawful routes and refugee resettlement programmes in the UK have become blurred.

      An example of this can be seen in the calculations of how many people are offered refuge in the UK, and how this number sometimes includes people who come through routes that may not assess the need the individual has for protection.
      The UK operates three specific safe and legal immigration routes; these include:

      • The UK Resettlement Scheme, the Community Sponsorship Scheme, and the Mandate Scheme. These are all refugee resettlement programmes.
      • Refugee family reunion visas are available to those who have immediate relatives of people who have been granted refuge in the United Kingdom before leaving their country of origin.
      • Nationality-specific bespoke immigration routes are available to some Ukrainians, Afghans, and those from Hong Kong.

      Each of these routes has specific eligibility criteria and conditions that are attached to obtaining permission to stay. However, not all of the routes available will grant refugee status or the associated entitlements and rights that were underlined in the 1951 Refugee Convention.

      It is also wise to understand the Borders Act 2022, which makes it difficult for a person to arrive in the UK with no visa. Since there is no such thing as an asylum visa, the Borders Act 2022 applies to most asylum seekers who enter the UK.

      Since July 2022, anyone who enters the UK without a visa and claims asylum has gone against this ruling. The offence of doing so has a maximum sentence of 4 years, or 5 years, for those who enter in breach of the deportation order.

      Some claim asylum immediately upon entry; those who do this will have their screening interview at the airport.

      Those who come to the UK to seek asylum need to use their passports; however, for many individuals, this is not always possible. It can put them at risk of applying for a passport in their country or using a passport in their name to leave. Either way,Either make their presence known to the authorities they are trying to flee from.

      Some enter the UK on student visas, visit visas, or work visas and then make their asylum claims when they arrive or just after.

      However, not all applicants can claim asylum as soon as they arrive in the UK; there can be good, valid reasons for this difficulty. Yet, it is possible that the Home Office can use a ‘delay’ in the application being made against the applicant. This could result in the argument that a delayed application serves as evidence of no real immediate danger, thus making the application dishonest, or because of a visa expiration.

      That being said, even though these claims can be challenging to make and while applications are difficult, many people still manage to successfully claim asylum in the UK. June 2022 saw a success rate of 76%.

      The UK safe and legal immigration routes include:

      Refugee Resettlement Programmes

      Schemes For Relatives Of Those With Refugee Status

      • Refugee Family Reunion Visas

      Afghans, Hong Kong Nationals, and Ukrainians

      • Nationality-bespoke immigration routes

      There are many more applications for asylum than there are people who come to the UK via the country’s organised refugee resettlement scheme or as close family members of those who are recognised as refugees in the UK.

      According to the Home Office immigration statistics, between September 2021 and September 2022, the following numbers were recorded:

      • 1,391 people entered the UK via a refugee resettlement scheme.
      • 4,786 people entered the UK via refugee family reunion rules.
      • 72,027 applications for asylum were submitted.
      • 15,987 asylum seekers were granted permission to stay, although this number increased to 17,658 after the appeals.

      However, on top of the above-recorded numbers, there have been significant amounts of people who have come through bespoke visa routes for those who come from Hong Kong with British national status, with 144,576 visas being granted for these individuals between January 31st, 2021, and September 30th, 2022.

      This is on top of the 2 available Ukraine schemes, with 186,893 visas granted since March 2022 and 12,300 Afghans leaving to remain in the 2 Afghan schemes as of November 2022.

      UNHCR Resettlement Schemes

      Three different general resettlement schemes are run in the UK’s partnership with UNHCR (also known as the UN Refugee Agency). These are the aforementioned UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS), the community sponsorship scheme, and the mandate resettlement scheme.

      All three schemes rely on UNHCR to identify those it considers to be eligible. Applications cannot be made for resettlement via the first two of these schemes (UKRS and community sponsorship). An individual must be picked for this and will be given a designated country that will offer them resettlement.


      Under UKRS, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) will identify and interview people who may potentially have resettlement requirements and will decide if they are refugees. If they are, they will be referred to the UK, where they will need to meet the criteria for resettlement as set out in the UNHCR resettlement handbook. This scheme can even include unaccompanied children.

      Community Sponsorship

      The second scheme is the community sponsorship scheme, which operates alongside UKRS. This scheme provides for the families that arrive in the UK to receive support from local community groups, including housing provisions for two years, support with accessing English language lessons, social services, the NHS, cultural orientation, and support to aid in self-sufficiency and obtaining employment.

      Consent does need to be obtained from local authorities before an application for the community sponsorship scheme can be submitted to the Home Office. Once a community sponsor is ready and they get matched with a family, they will, together, need to agree on the family’s arrival with the localised authority.

      After this, the family will generally arrive 6 to 12 weeks later. The family will be identified by UNHCR via the same process as is used for UKRS.

      Mandate Scheme

      The third scheme available is the Mandate Scheme, which is only available to those whom UNHCR recognises as refugees and who identify as being in dire need of resettlement. This is a scheme available for those who also have a close family relative in the UK who is a settled individual or who has limited leave to remain on a route that can lead to settlement. The relative must also be willing to support and accommodate the refugee.

      The refugee in this case needs to be a spouse, child, parent, or grandparent over the age of 65. Some exceptional circumstances may be applicable should other family members need to partake in this scheme.

      Once the individual is accepted by the UK authorities, they will be given 6 months leave outside of the rules to enable them to reenter and will then be granted refugee status and indefinite leave to remain upon arrival. Refugee family reunions will also be available to this group to allow them to bring eligible family members over to join them.

      Refugee Family Reunion Rules

      When an individual has refugee status but has not naturalised as a citizen in the UK, they can bring their children and/or partner to the UK should they meet the additional requirements.

      Family reunion applications can also be made under the Appendix Family Reunion (Protection) of the immigration rules. However, there is no provision in these rules regarding children applying to bring their family members over to the UK. However, be aware that those who are entering under the refugee family reunion route are not recognised as refugees formally.

      In places where the rules are not able to be met, applications can be made on the grounds of exceptional circumstances due to paragraph FRP 7.1. This is much more difficult and is considered a higher-risk application.

      RAMFEL (The Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London) obtained FOI data that showed 66% of family reunion applications rejected between 2019 and 2022 were allowed an appeal. This is a critical route that allows refugees to be able to reunite with family.

      Those who complete a successful application will be granted leave that will expire at the same time as their refugee relative, yet they do not obtain refugee status themselves.

      Hong Kong Routes

      In June 2020, China’s parliament passed a draconian National Security Law for Hong Kong, which bypasses the Hong Kong Legislative Council. As a result, the UK government announced the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Visa in July 2020, and then the Appendix Hong Kong British National (Overseas) became effective in January 2021.

      Through this, there are two routes available: BN(O) status holders and BN(O) household members. The second is an option for adult children and their dependents who have formed part of the same household as the status holder. Status holders can bring dependent partners and children, as well as other family members who may have a high level of dependency.

      Out of these bespoke routes, this is the only one that has a fee to apply. The fee is £180 if applying for 2.5 years, and on top of this, the Immigration Health Surcharge also needs to be paid. This is £1,560 for 2.5 years for adults and £3,120 for five years for adults.

      Those who are given leave through this route can also apply for indefinite leave after five years of continual residence in the UK.

      Afghan Citizens Routes

      In August 2021, the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, and the UK government evacuated 15,000 people to safety. Two routes were later announced to aid Afghan refugees: the ACRS (Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme) and the ARAP (Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy).

      It is not possible to apply under the ACRS. The scheme is also split into three pathways; the first of these was filled before it was opened. Those who were evacuated at the start of the incident filled out Pathway 2, which is also only for cases that are referred to in the UK and UNHCR, as for the general resettlement scheme detailed above. The third pathway had 1,500 places available, which included family members as well as the foreign development and commonwealth offices, which accepted expressions of interest from British Council contractors, Chevening alumni, and GardaWorld contractors.

      However, it is still possible to apply via ARAP; to be eligible, the person needs to apply for an eligibility assessment done by the Ministry of Defence. This is not an application for leave, however, and once considered eligible, the applications are made to the Home Office by the Ministry of Defence on the applicant’s behalf.

      Ukraine Schemes

      The UK introduced the first of three schemes to aid Ukraine in March 2022. This was the Ukraine Family Scheme, closely followed by the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, or ‘Homes for Ukraine’. The last of the three was introduced for those already in the UK.

      Those who successfully apply to these schemes get three years of leave to remain, but there is no path to settlement. The scheme looks to be successful due to the numbers that arrived; however, it has issues regarding what happens for the Ukrainians after the third year.

      Sticker, welcoming refugees

      The current safe and legal routes do have limitations in terms of eligibility and the countries to which they apply. Those who travel to the UK for humanitarian reasons need to be immediate family members of someone already recognised as a refugee.

      These routes are different from claiming asylum, and many who have obtained asylum in the UK do not qualify for any of the aforementioned routes. Those who do qualify will typically face limitations in the country from which they apply, thus making a majority of these routes inaccessible or hard to access for those seeking asylum.

      The UK government’s efforts to reduce the amount of unlawful migration to the UK without expanding the safe and legal routes available have received some criticism. This is due to its restrictions and limitations for those who are seeking asylum in the UK.

      A member of parliament mentioned this, asking the Home Office Permanent Secretary if a young person looking to seek religious persecution in a country in East Africa with an aunt in the UK, or someone escaping a besieged city in Yemen and is escaping a war zone with a distant relative in the UK, what would the best safe and legal route be to get to the UK?

      The response was that there was no designated safe and legal route for these conflicts.
      While there has been no change yet, many advocates for fewer restrictions regarding safe and legal routes hope to see change soon. However, for now, these routes still face limitations and restrictions for those seeking safety and asylum.

      How Our Immigration Lawyers Can Help You

      The routes to asylum and safety from persecution in the UK can be very complex; most of the time, applicants already need to have been granted asylum or be of a specific nationality to make use of the UK’s safe and legal routes. This makes the process very complicated.

      However, for people seeking asylum, there are different types of asylum processes available that can be used to find asylum with the aid of a professional and expert immigration lawyer. While the UK asylum system is tricky, an immigration lawyer can help you work around it.

      At Birmingham Immigration Lawyer, we have an expert team of lawyers who can help you in many parts of your process, such as:

      • Asylum applications and appeals
      • Detained casework
      • Bail for SoS applications, tribunals, and renewals
      • Fresh Claims
      • Permission to work applications
      • Travel documents
      • Issues with BRP
      • Family reunion applications and appeals
      • Applications for Permission to appeal
      • And error or law preparations and hearings

      For help with any of the above or anything else you need with your asylum claim, contact us today at 0121 667 6530 or online to get started.

      Our immigration team has helped hundreds of cases secure refugee status in the UK. Get help from us today. Contact Us

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