Immigration Law Explained
Immigration law is the branch of law that deals with the legal entry of people from other countries into the UK. People enter the UK for all kinds of reasons; for example people enter the UK in order to study, to work, as a tourist, to join a spouse who already lives in the country, or as a refugee seeking asylum.
UK Immigration Rules
For all people applying for immigrant status, there are a number of conditions and requirements that must be fulfilled in order to qualify. The requirements can vary from person to person, depending on their specific situation. For example, factors such as marital and family status, personal wealth, and the kind of job someone does, can influence how they apply for and obtain immigrant status. These factors can also influence how long it takes for someone to obtain “indefinite leave to remain” status, which means they can legally stay in the country indefinitely.
The decisions about who can immigrate to the UK are made by a branch of government called UK Visas and Immigration. Around 3 million people apply each year to stay in the UK either temporarily or permanently.
The Points-based Immigration System
For people who immigrate from outside the European Economic Area, the UK operates a points-based immigration system in which certain professions and skills are valued highly. People with these skills are encouraged to immigrate via the provision of a fast-track process. Currently there are 4 active “tiers”, each of which can apply to different categories of people. In each category, an individual must score a certain number of points in order to be eligible for leave to remain.
In certain categories, applicants must have a licensed immigration sponsor. Possible sponsors include employers and education providers.
This tier applies to people who are classified as skilled workers, and who have received an offer of employment from a UK employer.
Tier 4 consists exclusively of students who apply for visas in order to study in the UK. In order to qualify a student must already have a place at an educational institution. The institution must be one that is licensed to sponsor immigrants.
This tier consists of temporary workers, and in most cases provides for a stay of no more than 12 months. Examples of temporary workers include au pairs, people on working holidays, certain work exchange schemes, sportspeople, religious workers, and charity workers.
Entering the UK Via Marriage or Civil Partnership
If an individual is married or in a civil partnership with a UK citizen, or is entering into a marriage or civil partnership once they arrive in the UK, the requirements for immigrant status are somewhat more relaxed. However, this is contingent on meeting certain other requirements and restrictions.
Applying for a Visa
Obtaining a UK visa to visit, live, study, or work in the UK is a lengthy process that involves several steps, including filing documents and making appointments. The kinds of services you use and the appointments you need depend on what kind of visa you’re applying for, which in turn depends on your reason for visiting the UK, and how long you wish to stay in the country.
In general, the visa application process for immigrants to the UK will include the following steps:
Becoming a British Citizen
There are multiple ways a UK resident can become a British citizen.
The most common of these is naturalisation. This is open to people over 18 who are of good character, have knowledge of the English language and lifestyle, and meet certain residency requirements.
Some people can register as a British citizen. This applies to British nationals, protected persons, and people who are “stateless,” meaning they have no nationality or citizenship in Britain or in any other country. It also applies to people born to a British mother or father, depending on their date of birth.
Finally, someone who is married to or is the civil partner of a British citizen can apply for citizenship once they meet certain requirements. These include being over 18, being of sound mind and good character, and meeting language and English life requirements. They must also have been granted indefinite leave to stay in the UK, and meet residency requirements.
Indefinite Leave to Remain
Permanent residency—also called indefinite leave to remain—is an alternative to citizenship. It’s granted after a certain number of years of residency in the UK, the exact number of which depends on your individual circumstances. For example, for people in Tiers 1 and 2 the period of time is typically 5 years. For the spouse of a British citizen the period of time is 2 years.
Once someone has been granted indefinite leave to remain, there are no restrictions on the type of work they can do, or on how long they can stay in the UK. However, to retain this status they cannot spend more than 2 consecutive years outside the UK.
How can a Solicitor Help?
Immigration law can be very complicated, and the process of applying for and receiving immigrant status can be a lengthy one. Another potential problem is that even minor errors in a visa application can result in the application being rejected. All application fees are non-refundable, so even a tiny mistake can end up being a costly one. Because of this it’s often a good idea to work with a solicitor who can help you complete all the various tasks that are involved.
A solicitor can help in many different ways, including: