The asylum process and the immigration system is complex, confusing and full of jargon! We have tried to demystify some of the key terms and definitions that you are most likely to encounter. For a more comprehensive overview of the asylum and appeals process, check out Education for All, Article 26's guide for universities on access to higher education for people who have sought asylum in 'Policy & Resources'.
Who is an asylum seeker?
In claiming asylum, a person is applying to the government to be recognised as a refugee by the UK and allowed to stay in the country. If they have lodged a claim for asylum with the Home Office and are awaiting a decision about their asylum claim they are classed as an ‘asylum-seeker’.
Who is a refugee?
In 1951, following the Second World War and the horrific persecution of the Jews, the UK signed the United Nations Refugee Convention. It is a key legal document that defines who is a refugee, what rights they have and the legal obligations that states have towards them.
Under the Convention a refugee is defined as someone who:
“Owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside his country of nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
Persecution includes torture, physical and mental violence, rape, imprisonment, discrimination, deprivation of rights, and forced labour. People sometimes refer to asylum- seekers as refugees, because they have fled their countries’ due to persecution to seek sanctuary in the UK. However, in terms of the UK’s legal process and the terminology relating to the legal status a person has in the UK, a person is an asylum-seeker until they have been granted refugee status by the Home Office.
Who is an unaccompanied asylum seeking child?
The definition of an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child for immigration purposes is given by the Home Office as “a person under 18 years of age or who, in the absence of documentary evidence establishing age, appears to be under that age” and who “is applying for asylum in their own right; and is separated from both parents and not being cared for by an adult who by law or custom has responsibility to do so”. Children in this situation are also known as 'separated children' or 'unaccompanied minors'.
What is Refugee Status?
Refugee status is granted when the applicant has been recognised as a refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention. They will be granted leave to remain for five years with access to social security and the right to work. Prior to the end of this five years, applicant must apply for permanent stay known as Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), at which point their case will be reviewed by the Home Office.
What is Humanitarian Protection?
Humanitarian Protection is granted to people when the Home Office has decided that they do not fit the criteria to be recognised as a refugee as laid out in the 1951 Refugee Convention, but it is considered that they face a risk of suffering serious harm on return to their country of origin, such as torture or unlawful killing. Humanitarian Protection is usually granted for a period of five years (with access to social security and the right to work). An application for Indefinite Leave to Remain must be lodged before the period of leave expires.
What is Limited leave to Remain?
Limited Leave to Remain (formally Discretionary Leave to Remain) is granted to the majority of unaccompanied children seeking asylum. Limited Leave to Remain is granted to an unaccompanied child when the Home Office does not accept that they should be granted refugee status or humanitarian protection but there are no adequate reception arrangements for them to be returned to their country of origin. Before July 2012, limited leave to remain was granted to unaccompanied children for three years or until they reached 171⁄2 years, whichever was shorter. Now they will be granted limited leave to remain for 30 months or until they reach 171⁄2, whichever is shorter. Applicants need to apply for an extension of this leave before it expires. Very few young people in this situation have their leave extended by the Home Office, and it is now much harder for them to obtain free, quality legal representation when making an application to extend their leave to remain.
Limited Leave to Remain is also given if the Home Office does not recognise an asylum- seeker as a refugee or a person who qualifies for Humanitarian Protection but they are granted on the basis of their right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights). It is another type of temporary permission to stay in the UK and the length of leave is unlikely to be more than 30 months initially. Those granted Limited Leave to Remain will not be able to apply for permanent residence until they have lived in the UK for at least 10 years and leave is granted with the right to work but often with no access to social security. In older cases, leave was granted for 3 years, with an application for permanent residence after 6 years.
What is the UKBA?
The UK Border Agency was the border control agency of the British Government and part of the Home Office. Formed in 2008 it was responsible for making decisions on applications for asylum, residence and other immigration matters. Following formal criticism from the Parliamentary Ombudsman for poor service and a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases, the UKBA was abolished as of 31st March 2013 and the agency was spilt into two new organisations: UK Visas and Immigration, and an immigration law enforcement organisation. Both organisations were brought under the Home Office.
What is the Home Office?
The Home Office is the ministerial department of the UK government responsible for immigration, security and law and order. UK Visas and Immigration, an organisation within the Home Office is responsible for making decisions on asylum claims. Most people use the generic term 'Home Office' when talking about the department responsible for making decisions on asylum claims.