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Seeking Asylum In UK

Foreign nationals fearing persecution in their home countries may apply for asylum in the UK. We have discussed the step-by step UK asylum application process in this article.

If you are a South African citizen looking for more information and/or legal advice about how to rightfully claim asylum in the UK, whether you are eligible, or what evidence you must submit to prove the genuineness of your claim, reach out to our legal team today on +44 (0)333 305 9375, or contact us online.

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    Asylum in the UK

    The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines asylum as a protection that a country grants to a foreign national in its geographical territory.

    According to Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum in other countries from persecution in their home country.

    It is important to note that the UK government has an explicit policy of deterring people from seeking asylum in the country. To deter people from claiming asylum in the UK, the government has put policies in place that:

    • Aim to make it easier to remove people to ‘safe third countries’ without assessing their asylum claim, and
    • Give fewer rights to refugees who cannot be removed and remain in the country

    In essence, seeking asylum in the UK can prove to be a difficult process. The UK asylum decision making system is strictly controlled and complex.

    For example, while UNHCR recognises and registers refugees in other countries in the world, UNHCR UK does not have the authority to determine who can be granted asylum in the country. The Home Office is the sole decision-making authority for asylum applications in the UK.

    Data sourced from the House of Commons Library show that the percentage of asylum applicants refused at initial decision in the country reached its peak at 88% in 2004.

    Since then, however, the refusal rate has been falling. During 2004-2021, around 75% of applicants, who were refused asylum at initial decision, lodged an appeal. Approximately one-third of those appeals were allowed.

    The refusal rate decreased to 24% in 2022, its lowest point since 1990. In the financial year ending June 2022, 76% of initial decisions resulted in a grant of asylum or other form of protection in the UK.
    The UK ranks 19th among the EU27 countries plus the UK for asylum applications per head of population.

    The asylum seeking process can arguably be smoother for foreign nationals whose countries are either at war or suffering from internal armed conflicts, such as citizens from Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine who have higher asylum success rates in the UK compared to other nationalities.

    Although South Africa is not at war or going through any internal armed conflicts at present, you may still be eligible to claim asylum in the UK if you can prove that you run a considerable risk of persecution in South Africa if you return to the country, because of your race, religion, political opinion, sexual preferences etc.

    In this article, we will be discussing in detail the eligibility criteria and the required supporting documents to register an asylum claim in the UK.

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    Eligibility Requirements for Seeking Asylum in the UK

    Citizens from foreign countries must be able to prove that they are unable to live safely in their countries of origin due to the fear of persecution, because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, sexual preference, or any other issue that puts them at risk because of the social, cultural, religious or political circumstances there, to be eligible to claim asylum in the UK.

    Foreign nationals may also seek asylum in the UK in case their country is at war, or undergoing internal armed conflict, and they cannot get protection from the authorities in their home country in such a scenario.

    However, your asylum claim in the UK will not be considered if you:

    • Are an EU national
    • Have travelled to the UK through a ‘safe third country’
    • Have a connection to a safe third country where you could claim asylum

    A ‘safe third country’ generally refers to a country which the asylum seeker is not a citizen of, where they would not be harmed in, and which will not deport them to another country where the asylum seekers might be harmed.

    Last but not the least, you must be physically in the UK to claim asylum in the country. You may make an asylum application at your port of entry, and UK Border Force officers will carry out the screening interview, before referring your claim to UK Visas and immigration.

    Required Documents for an Asylum Application

    You will be required to submit the following supporting documents for yourself and your dependent family members (i.e. your spouse/civil partner and children below 18 years of age) along with your asylum application in the UK.

    Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, and the Home Office may ask you for further information. It is advisable that you submit as much information as possible that helps prove the genuineness of your asylum claim.

    You will have to submit:

    • Your passport and/or any other travel documents
    • Your identification documents, e.g. identity cards, birth certificate, marriage certificates, school records etc.
    • Any other document that you believe will substantiate the genuineness of your claim for asylum

    If you are staying in the UK at the time of your application, you will need to submit your UK proof of address. Depending on your living situation, you may submit any of the following documents:

    • If you have your own accommodation in the country, please provide UK documents with your full name and residential address, such as bank statements, housing benefit book, council tax notice, tenancy agreement, utility bills etc.
    • If you are staying in the UK with someone else, please provide:
      • A letter from the person you’re staying with to confirm you have their permission to stay, dated within the last three months
      • Documents mentioning the full name and address of the person you’re staying with, e.g. a council tax notice, tenancy agreement or utility bills

    It may be difficult for foreign nationals whose home countries are at war or undergoing internal armed conflict, to have all the above documents ready with them. The Home Office usually shows some leniency in documentation requirements in such scenarios.

    How to Apply for Asylum in the UK


    Your asylum application process begins with registering your claim for asylum, followed by the Home Office reviewing your application and making a decision whether your claim can be considered in the UK.

    If the Home Office decides that your case can be considered in the UK, you will have to attend an asylum interview. The final decision on your asylum claim will be based on the outcome of this interview. We have discussed each of these stages in this section.

    Registering Your Asylum Claim

    As an asylum seeker in the UK, you will be required to discuss your circumstances with a UK immigration officer first. This meeting is called a ‘screening’, during which you must register your asylum claim.

    The screening may take place at your port of entry, if you claim asylum as soon as you arrive in the UK. Alternatively, you may also be screened after arriving in the UK if you become eligible for asylum.

    Screening Interview

    During your screening, the UK immigration officer will:

    • Take your photo and fingerprints for biometrics purposes
    • Discuss your details e.g. who you are, where you are from etc.
    • Ask why you are seeking asylum in the UK

    Please bring your supporting documents to your screening interview. You will also have to declare any medical condition you or your dependent family members may have.

    If you want to claim asylum in the UK while entering the country, you must inform a UK Border Force officer that you would like to do so. Alternatively, if you are already in the UK when you want to claim asylum, please get in touch with the asylum intake unit in the country and schedule an appointment for screening.

    In case you have nowhere to live in the UK, you can just call the asylum intake unit to enquire about where you should go for registering your asylum claim and at what time.

    On the date of your appointment, please bring your documentary evidence with you. You may ask for an interpreter to be present during your appointment if you are not an English speaker, but you cannot claim any financial help for travelling to or from the asylum intake unit.

    After Your Screening

    After your screening interview, the Home Office will review your case and decide whether it can be considered in the UK. If yes, then they will send you an asylum registration card (ARC) to your UK address, and assign a caseworker to your case. You may also receive an asylum questionnaire to provide further details regarding your claim.

    If there is enough evidence gathered from your screening and your questionnaire (if any), you may be granted protection status in the UK without having to attend an asylum interview.

    If the Home Office decides that your case cannot be considered in the UK, they may send you to a safe third country which will consider your asylum claim. You may be able to appeal against the decision.

    If the Home Office cannot place you in a safe country, your case will be considered in the UK.

    Asylum Interview

    Your Home Office-appointed caseworker will schedule an asylum interview with you. You may have your lawyer present if you so wish.

    During this interview, you will have to explain how you were persecuted in your home country and why you are afraid to go back there. Please tell your caseworker every information that you would like them to consider while reviewing your asylum claim.

    The caseworker will explain the asylum process to you, and tell you what to do while awaiting your asylum decision. You will have to meet them regularly during this period. These meetings are known as ‘reporting events’.

    Please carry your ARC when you go to these reporting events. If you do not attend your reporting events, your asylum claim may be withdrawn and you may be detained.

    Your caseworker will review your case, the supporting documentary evidence and any other information provided by you in support of your asylum claim, and will eventually make a decision about your asylum application.

    You may be detained at an immigration removal centre while you are waiting for a decision on your asylum application. If your application is successful and you get permission to stay in the UK, you will be released from the centre.

    Following types of asylum seekers are not usually detained:

    • Children
    • Elderly
    • A family with children
    • Pregnant mothers
    • Human trafficking victims
    • People who can provide independent evidence of torture
    • People having mental or physical conditions that cannot be managed or would present a risk to others in an immigration removal centre

    After Asylum Interview

    If your asylum application is successful, you might be granted refugee status in the UK. If you do not qualify for refugee status but cannot return to your own country for valid reasons, you may get humanitarian protection.

    In either scenario, the Home Office will give you permission to stay in the UK for a minimum of five years. After five years, you can apply to settle in the UK, subject to other relevant terms and conditions.

    If you have mentioned any dependent family members in your asylum application, they will also get permission to stay in the UK for five years. Only your spouse/civil partner and minor children are eligible. Your dependents may also apply to settle in the country as a family after five years.

    If your caseworker decides that you do not have any valid reason to stay in the UK, the Home Office will ask you to leave the country. If you do not leave voluntarily, you will be detained and removed from the UK. You may be able to appeal against the decision.

    Enlist us for expert help with claiming asylum in the UK. Contact Us

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      Applying for Asylum in the UK as a Child

      Children under 18 should apply as part of their adult relative’s asylum application, if they have an adult relative claiming asylum in the UK at the same time. If that is not the case and the child asylum seeker is not in the care of social services, they should use the walk-in service at the asylum intake unit.

      If they have an adult with them who is legally responsible for them, the adult person must attend the walk-in service with the child asylum seeker in their care. Otherwise, the child may go to the police or social services, or can walk into the asylum intake unit by themselves.

      If the child is already in the care of social services, they need to book an appointment at the asylum intake unit over phone.

      UK Asylum Application Processing Time

      The processing time of your asylum claim will depend on the volume of asylum applications the Home Office is dealing with at that time.

      The processing time used to be an average of six months in 2020, which has increased to an average of 20 months in 2021 given the increase in asylum applications in the UK.

      Woman asking man questions and filling in notes

      Appealing an Asylum Decision

      If your asylum claim is refused, the Home Office decision letter will tell you the reasons for this, and will also mention if you have the right to appeal that decision.

      In the UK, appeals are heard by the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber). After hearing your case and/or reviewing your appeal form and supporting documents, they may allow your appeal. Alternatively, they may dismiss your appeal and uphold the Home Office’s original refusal decision.

      If you have lost your appeal but believe that there has been a legal mistake with the tribunal’s decision, you can request for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber). If your appeal is rejected by both tribunals, you have the option to go to the Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court.

      The Home Office decision letter will also tell you in case you do not have the right to appeal, and if you can apply for an administrative review instead.

      We are here to guide you through the process of successfully claiming asylum in the UK. Contact us

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        How Can IAS Help?

        Claiming asylum in the UK can be a fairly complex and time-consuming process. Given the UK government’s policies to deter asylum seekers in the country, and the rigorous requirements from the Home Office, we advise that you speak with an immigration lawyer as soon as you decide to claim asylum in the UK.

        If your asylum application is refused by the Home Office, you may have a chance to appeal that decision or seek an administrative review. Either of these options are also quite complex, and will demand legal advice at every step.

        At IAS, we have a team of expert immigration advisers who can offer asylum advice and legal help if you are an asylum seeker. We also offer emergency support in case you have been detained. We can provide a same-day advice session if you have an immigration emergency .

        Dial +44 (0)333 305 9375 today to speak to one of our expert immigration lawyers. Or reach out to us online.

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                  Frequently Asked Questions

                  No, you have to be physically present in the UK to apply for asylum in the country.

                  Yes. Eligible family members of an asylum seeker, i.e. their spouse/civil partner and children under 18, may immigrate to the UK as their dependents, provided the original applicant’s asylum claim is successful.