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What Are The Legal Routes to UK Asylum?

There are a number of potential routes for people wanting to seek asylum in the UK. However, these routes involve numerous steps, do not always lead to refugee status, and will not be suitable for everyone.

Contact Newcastle Immigration Lawyers today at 0191 303 8965 or online and receive bespoke legal advice from our immigration experts to work out which route is best for you.

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    There are a number of routes which people seeking to claim asylum in the UK can take.

    Following a recent focus on limiting unauthorised entry into the UK, the UK government has recently changed its approach to asylum policy. Through its Rwanda policy, for example, the government has attempted to send individuals who enter the UK without authorisation to Rwanda, rather than processing their asylum claim in the UK. In combination with the Illegal Migration Bill and the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the government has shifted to a focus on ‘safe and legal routes’ of asylum, which are intended to provide routes to claiming UK asylum which use authorised means of entering the UK.

    These changes are largely in response to a recent government focus on ending unauthorised entry to the UK, for instance by cracking down on those attempting to enter the UK by small boat.

    However, the Rwanda policy and the Illegal Migration Bill continue to face challenges in the courts, with concerns that both policies breach the UK’s international law obligations.

    As it stands, the ‘safe and legal’ routes to asylum which are authorised in the UK are the Refugee Family Reunion process, the Refugee Resettlement schemes, and the Nationality-Specific Immigration routes.

    The Nationality-Specific routes apply to citizens of Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Hong Kong, specifically. These ‘safe and legal’ routes will be described throughout the article.

    Between September 2021- September 2022, 72,027 asylum applications were submitted. Of these, 15,987 asylum seekers were granted permission to remain in the UK, though this rose to 17,658 after appeal.

    It is worth noting that not all of the routes explored in this article actually lead to refugee status, but they are nonetheless options which can be pursued by certain at-risk individuals seeking to reach the safety of the UK.

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      Under the new UK government approach, the asylum focus has shifted to prioritising ‘safe and legal’ routes of entry, rather than processing the claims of people who enter without authorisation.

      The three main ‘safe and legal’ routes to seeking asylum in the UK are the Refugee Family Reunion process, the Refugee Resettlement schemes, and the three Nationality-Specific immigration routes (which apply to Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Hong Kong). The details of each of these routes will now be discussed.

      Refugee Family Reunion

      Family reunification is an option for people who already have immediate family members in the UK, have already been granted asylum, and have received refugee status. In order to be eligible, you must have an immediate family member in the UK.

      Immediate family member in this sense refers to either your partner or your dependent children. No other family members are considered eligible under the Family Reunion route.

      As of the introduction of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, those in the UK who are granted asylum and refugee status are divided into two groups. These are as follows:

      • Group 1: This group is for individuals who travelled directly to the UK from the country which they were fleeing and who are deemed to have good reason for entering the UK without authorisation
      • Group 2: All other refugees fall under this category

      Whilst both groups can apply for Family Reunion, applications from Group 1 are more likely to be accepted. In the case of applications from Group 2, these will only be accepted in instances where not to do so would constitute a breach of the UK’s international obligations, as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

      Between September 2021 and September 2022, 4,786 people came to the UK through refugee family reunion rules.

      Refugee Resettlement Schemes

      Refugee resettlement applies to individuals who have already sought asylum in a separate country and were subsequently granted refugee status.

      As such, this route does not technically cover individuals who seek asylum in the UK itself – they are instead resettled in the UK once they have already received refugee status.

      There are three main types of resettlement scheme which the UK uses. These are as follows:

      • UK Resettlement Scheme. This scheme was first introduced in the UK in July 2019. It involves the resettlement of individuals who have already been granted refugee status, and who the UNHCR has recognised as eligible for resettlement. There are a number of grounds on which refugees may be deemed eligible, including being a woman or girl at risk, having medical needs which their country of asylum cannot fulfill, or being a survivor of violence or torture.
      • Community Sponsorship Scheme. This scheme is used by community groups who wish to welcome a resettled family into their own community. In order to be eligible, community groups must demonstrate that:
        • they have sufficient resources to properly support the refugee family
        • they have a viable plan for supporting the family
        • the structures and framework of the community clearly outline the responsibilities which different community members will have
        • they do not pose a risk to the family they will be supporting
      • Mandate Resettlement Scheme. This scheme is not specific to the UK but instead operates on a global basis. It aims to reunify refugees with their close family members in the UK. In order to be eligible, you must be either the minor child, spouse, parent, or grandparent of someone in the UK who either has permanent residence or who has temporary residence which offers a pathway to permanent residence.

      Nationality-Specific Immigration Routes

      This route is intended to offer a path to asylum for countries in which extenuating current events pose a particular risk to the country’s citizens.

      At present, only three countries are eligible under this scheme: Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Hong Kong. The UK government has faced criticism for not broadening the scope of the scheme to other countries where the citizens also face significant risks.

      In terms of the 3 countries which are eligible, the details of the different routes vary depending on the country in question. These will be explored in the following sections.

      Nationality-Specific Immigration Routes: What Are My Options?


      Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, 3 main routes of entry to the UK were introduced by the UK government. These were the Ukraine Family Scheme, the Ukraine Extension Scheme, and the Homes for Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme:

      • Ukraine Family Scheme: This route is for individuals who have close family members living in the UK. In order to be eligible to apply for this scheme, you must have been living in Ukraine up to or immediately before 1st January 2022, even if you have since left Ukraine. To be eligible to join a UK-based family member under this scheme, the UK-based family member must fall into one of the following categories:
        • British citizen
        • Have permanent residence in the UK
        • Have refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK
        • Have a form of temporary residence which can eventually lead to permanent residence
      • Ukraine Extension Scheme: This scheme is intended for individuals who already had the legal right to live in the UK as of 18th March 2022, or a legal right to live in the UK which ended on 1st January 2022. It allows such individuals, and their spouse and children, to extend their legal stay in the UK. This allows eligible individuals to delay their return to Ukraine. As such, it is not necessary under this scheme that applicants were residing in Ukraine up to or immediately before 1st January 2022. Under this scheme, successful applicants are not granted refugee status but rather have their temporary settlement status extended for up to 3 years.
      • Homes for Ukraine: This scheme allows approved sponsors within the UK to sponsor a Ukrainian individual or family unit and to offer them accommodation for at least 6 months. Applications are made online using an application form. The Ukrainian(s) being sponsored must have been living in Ukraine up to or immediately before 1st January 2022.


      After the UK withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in 2021, and the Taliban’s subsequent takeover, the UK government introduced 3 main routes which certain Afghan citizens could use to claim asylum in the UK. These are the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, the Ex Gratia Scheme, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. The details of these schemes are as follows:

      • Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP): This route is for Afghan citizens who previously worked for the UK and who are now at risk from the Taliban as a consequence of that work. Under this scheme, eligible individuals may also relocate with their partner, dependent children, and additional family members who are also eligible under ARAP. You can apply for this scheme using an online application form, and can apply from any country.
      • Ex Gratia Scheme: This scheme offered relocation to the UK to certain individuals who had been made redundant on account of the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, in November 2022 it was replaced by the ARAP.
      • Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme: This route is intended for Afghan individuals who are now at risk following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. This route can be used by individuals who were evacuated, or identified as eligible for evacuation, when the UK first withdrew from Afghanistan. It can also be used by individuals who are eligible for the UK resettlement scheme. Previously, it could also be used by individuals who faced particular risk under the Taliban’s leadership, for instance if they worked for an institution associated with the UK. This pathway has now ended, however.

      Hong Kong

      Following protests in Hong Kong over the Chinese government’s influence over national politics, and concerns over human rights violations on the part of the Hong Kong government, the UK government introduced two visa types in 2021 for certain Hong Kong individuals. In particular, the UK government focused on Hong Kong residents who gained British National (Overseas) status under the Hong Kong British Nationality Order 1986.

      The two visa types are the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa and the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Household Member visa:

      • British National (Overseas): This visa type is intended for individuals who satisfy the following criteria:
        • Are at least 18 years old
        • Have British National (Overseas) status
        • Ordinarily reside in Hong Kong, if you are not already in the UK
        • Have the means to support yourself in the UK for at least 6 months
      • British National (Overseas) Household Member: This route is intended for the partner or adult children of people who hold British National (Overseas) status. In order to be eligible, you must have been born on the 1st July 1997 or later

      Neither of these visas grant refugee status, but they do provide a route to permanent settlement.

      More generally, whilst a number of the routes explored in this section don’t actually allow applicants to claim asylum in the UK or to receive refugee status, they do allow at least temporary access to the UK.

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        What Documents Will I Need?

        When attending an asylum screening in the UK, you will ideally need to provide the following documents:

        • Your passport
        • Travel documents
        • Identification documents, e.g. identity cards, birth certificate, marriage certificate, and school records
        • Any additional documents which you expect will support your application

        If you already reside in the UK and live in your own accommodation, you will also need to provide proof of address. Examples of accepted proof are as follows:

        • Bank statement
        • Tenancy agreement
        • Household bill
        • Council tax notice
        • Housing benefit book

        If you reside in the UK and do not have your own accommodation but are instead staying with someone else, you will need to provide the following:

        • A letter (no more than 3 months old) from the person with whom you are staying which confirms their permission to have you stay with them
        • Evidence of that person’s name and address, such as one of the documents listed above (bank statement, tenancy agreement, etc.)

        How Long Will the Process Take?

        Whilst there is no set time that the government will take to make an asylum decision, there has been a recent increase in waiting time. Since 2020, the amount of cases in which the initial decision takes over 6 months has more than doubled. This is in part due to an increase in asylum applications in recent years.

        The process will take longer in certain circumstances, however. These include:

        • If your documents need to be verified
        • If you are asked to attend further interviews
        • If further checks are needed on your personal circumstances, for instance if you have a criminal record
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        Understanding the Decision

        Once you receive a decision on your application claim, you will either be granted or refused permission to stay in the UK. The decision will take one of the following forms:

        Permission to stay if you have refugee status or humanitarian protection

        You will be granted either refugee status or humanitarian protection. If you are granted refugee status, this means that you have been officially recognised as a refugee. If you are granted humanitarian status, this likely means that you have been assessed not to qualify for refugee status but you still cannot return to your own country or the country from which you fled.

        In either case, you will be granted permission to stay in the UK for at least 5 years, after which point you can apply for permanent residence. If your partner or children were also included in your application and listed as dependents, they are also likely to be granted the same permission to stay.

        Permission to stay for other reasons

        It is also possible that you will not qualify for refugee status or humanitarian protection but will still be granted permission to stay in the UK. In this case, the length of time for which you are eligible to stay will depend on your particular circumstances.

        Depending on your circumstances, it may still be possible to apply for permanent residence after 5 years of residing in the UK.

        No reason to stay

        If you are not granted refugee status or humanitarian protection and your caseworker decides that you have no other grounds for remaining in the UK, you will be asked to leave. You may decide to appeal this decision.

        If you do not appeal the decision within the allotted time frame (within 14 days of the written decision if you are within the UK and within 28 days if you are outside of the UK), or your appeal is unsuccessful, you will then be required to leave the UK.

        If you do not leave by yourself, the next step is that the government will force you to leave. You will first receive a written notice and may then be detained and deported from the UK.

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          How Newcastle Immigration Lawyers Can Help

          Seeking asylum in the UK is a complicated and changing process. There are a number of possible routes to legally entering the UK, not all of which lead to refugee status. At Newcastle Immigration Lawyers, we can help you to navigate the numerous stages of applying for asylum in the UK, or to explore alternative options.

          We offer a number of services, including help with: asylum applications, asylum appeals, detained casework, Bail (SoS applications and Tribunal), bail renewal, fresh claims, permission to work applications, travel documents, biometric residence permit issues (including if your permit is lost, stolen, or has an error), family reunion applications and appeals, applications for permission to appeal, and error of law preparation and hearings.

          Contact us today on 0191 303 8965 or online to receive help with any of the above areas or to get bespoke legal advice on your own immigration journey.

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                    Related pages for your continued reading.

                    Frequently Asked Questions

                    Asylum seekers in the UK will often be housed in reception centres. In the case of a shortage in availability, they may also be housed in hotels, hostels, or Bed and Breakfasts. The location of the accommodation will vary based on availability.

                    In the case of family reunion routes, successful applicants will be residing with their close family members. In the case of refugee resettlement, on the other hand, refugees will often be resettled in areas where the local authorities have sufficient resources to accommodate them.

                    From 2016 to June of 2022, Iranian citizens were the most common nationality to seek asylum in the UK. Since then, Albanians have made the highest number of applications.

                    Regarding refugee resettlement, in 2022, Afghanistan, Syria, and Sudan were the most commonly resettled nationalities in the UK.

                    There are a number of reasons why asylum seekers may choose the UK over staying in France. These can include having greater proficiency in the English language, having family ties in the UK, or being more familiar with UK culture. Many also believe that they will receive good treatment in the UK.

                    When applying for asylum, legal assistance is not compulsory but is highly recommended. Applying for asylum in the UK is a complicated and often lengthy process. In addition, recent changes to UK asylum policy may lead to further confusion. Attempting to navigate the UK asylum system without proper legal assistance can lead to significant delays and unsuccessful applications.