How to Apply for Asylum in the UK

If you 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 in a foreign country. Having applied for asylum you will be legally known as an asylum seeker, ie; someone who has submitted an application and is awaiting a decision on their claim.

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

To be recognised as a refugee in the UK you must be inside the country or have arrived at a port of entry, and satisfy the definition set out under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

This requires you to show that owing to a well-founded fear of persecution in your own country because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, you are unable or unwilling to avail yourself of the protection of that country.

If you are considered stateless, your own country is your former habitual residence, ie; the country you usually live in.

Your claim for asylum might not 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.

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. It is possible to seek asylum either immediately on your arrival at the port of entry, or at any stage thereafter believing that it would be unsafe for you to return to your own country.

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.

Once you have passed through immigration control and are inside the UK, you must make your application to the Asylum Intake Unit in Croydon. If you apply on arrival at an airport or seaport, you must inform a Border Force officer that you want to claim asylum.

How to apply for asylum in the UK

After you apply for asylum you will undergo a screening process with an immigration officer. You will have your screening at the UK border if you claim asylum as soon as you arrive. You can also be screened once you are in the UK if you subsequently become eligible to claim asylum.

The screening process is to identify you, and any dependants applying with you, to register your claim and appropriately route you into the asylum process. This could include referral to another body where there are perceived vulnerabilities or safeguarding concerns, such as human trafficking.

You will be asked to provide your personal details and proof of identification during the screening process. You will also be photographed and have your fingerprints taken.

You will then be interviewed by a caseworker to explain why you are applying for asylum, how you were persecuted in your own country and why you are afraid to go back. You can request for an interpreter to be present during the interview process if needed.

Any information provided during interview may be compared against what you have said during your initial screening, and will be 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, ie; your partner and any children under 18.

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

Having made an application 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 may be detained at an immigration detention centre while you wait for a decision on your application. Alternatively, you may be electronically tagged, or asked to regularly attend or telephone a reporting centre.

You will usually get a decision as to whether or not your application has been approved within 6 months, although 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.

As an asylum seeker you will have the right to remain in the UK pending a decision on your claim, although you will not usually be permitted to work during this time. You may, however, be eligible for cash support and temporary accommodation.

How decisions on asylum claims are made in the UK

Having registered your claim for asylum you will be assigned 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.

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.

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.

Please note, for more detailed information on how to apply for asylum in the UK please seek expert legal advice.

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.