The Secret to a Successful Asylum Application in the UK
by Javaria Ahmed
Who are asylum seekers? What is an asylum claim? What is the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee? In this article, you will find answers to these questions. I’ll also take you through the procedure of successfully claiming asylum in the UK.
What is the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee?
An asylum-seeker is a person who escapes their country due to a fear of being persecuted. As a result, they seek protection from the UK government due to the severe human rights violations they are facing.
You’ll get protection if you become a refugee. Therefore, an asylum seeker is not a refugee, as they have just started the process through an asylum claim to seek this protection. As a result, they are still waiting to hear a decision from the Home Office (a government department) on their asylum claim.
A person will remain an asylum seeker for the entire period of their application until the UKVI makes a decision on the application. Not every asylum seeker will become a refugee, only those who meet the requirements below. Some applicants may get humanitarian protection. However, every refugee was once an asylum seeker. This means that claiming asylum is the procedure used to become a refugee in the UK.
The Secret to a Successful Asylum Application in the UK: Who qualifies as a Refugee?
To meet the requirements set out by Article 1A of the Refugee Convention, you need to have a well-founded fear of being persecuted due to one of the reasons below:
- Being a member of a particular social group (for example, gender as women in some countries face widespread discrimination simply because they are female). Gender identity and sexual orientation also fall under this category
- Your political opinion
People Fleeing War
This definition does not include people fleeing war. It is unless you can prove that you will suffer persecution on return due to the political party you support. This will be a political opinion. Persecution in this context means they fear that they will suffer great harm if/when they return to their own country. They need to be outside of their own country and unable or, due to such fear, unwilling to go back. Before granting refugee status, the Home Office will look at who is carrying out the persecution. Is it the state (the government from the country of origin) or other individuals? A refugee will need to show that their state will not be able to effectively protect them.
In many cases, people fear that the state itself will persecute them. If this is the case, there is no need to prove this element. The Home Office will also look at whether the person may relocate within their country of origin.
Let’s now look at how an asylum seeker would successfully become a refugee through the asylum procedure stated below.
From an Asylum Seeker to a Refugee: The procedure
You can make your asylum claim in the UK regardless of your immigration status, even if you arrived in the UK without a visa, with forged documents. You can claim asylum even if you have overstayed, after coming to the UK for different reasons, for example, as a visitor.
However, you can only apply for asylum once you are already in the UK. You cannot claim asylum outside the UK.
You need to apply as soon as you arrive in the UK or once you realise it would not be safe for you to return to your country. If you wait for a very long time, there is more of a chance that your application will be unsuccessful.
Applying at the Border
You can claim asylum as soon as you arrive in the UK. You will have your screening at the UK border (in the airport) when you tell a Border Force Officer that you want to claim asylum. Border Force Officers wear blue uniforms with “Border Force” written on it.
You will register your claim and be screened in a screening interview at the airport. Always ask for an interpreter if English is not your first language. You can ask for a male or female interviewer, and if available, they will conduct your interview. It is crucial for you to give the correct information on your application. Otherwise, you risk 2 years imprisonment or may have to leave the UK.
Applying in the UK
If you are already in the UK, you need to call the Asylum Intake Unit appointments line on 0300 123 4193 to book an appointment for the screening interview. Someone from the Home Office will call you back. They will ask very simple questions about you and your family. At this stage, they will not ask why you are claiming asylum. Then they’ll tell you where your interview will take place. Due to COVID19, you should attend your appointment alone and only with dependents (children) claiming asylum with you.
You register your asylum claim at what is called a screening interview. The screening is a meeting with an Immigration Officer in which you will tell them about yourself, your case, where you are from and why you want to claim asylum. They will take your photo and fingerprints.
If you have any documents such as passport(s), travel document(s), birth and marriage certificate, identity card(s) and school record(s), you should take them with you to the interview. You need to take anything with you that will help explain why you are claiming asylum.
After Your Screening Interviews
Once the screening interview has taken place, the Home Office will then review your case. At this stage they’ll only decide if they consider your claim in the UK.
The Home Office will also send you your asylum registration card (unless you are in detention). Sometimes, they’ll also send you a preliminary information questionnaire. You’ll need fill it in and return it before the deadline written on the letter, if you receive one.
If the UKVI decides to consider your asylum claim in the UK, you case will be allocated to a caseworker. If they decide not to consider your claim, they may send you to a ‘safe country’. This is usually another ‘safe country’ that you traveled through to get to the UK or that you already have a connection with and can claim asylum in. The ‘safe country’ will not send you to another country where you would be harmed. The Home Office can send you to another ‘safe country’ either after the screening or asylum interview.
If they decide to consider your claim in the UK, you then have an interview with your caseworker. They will send you a letter telling you where and when your interview will take place.
You can request an interpreter and will be interviewed alone. What you say in this interview will remain confidential. Make sure you explain how you were persecuted and why you fear going back.
Although it may be challenging, try to explain your situation in detail so your caseworker understands what happened to you. If you have any documents (including ID) and evidence, be sure to bring them. You can bring a solicitor to this interview. However, you’ll need to find a solicitor yourself. You can request for the interview to be recorded. However, you’ll need to ask your caseworker at least 1 day before.
Whilst You Wait for a Decision
Whilst you wait for a decision, you may have to go to regular reporting meetings. If you don’t go to these meetings, you may be detained. You will not be allowed to work while waiting for your asylum decision. However, you may volunteer.
If, however, after 12 months, you are still waiting for your decision, the Home Office may allow you to work. Whilst you wait for a decision on your application, you may also be detained at an immigration removal centre. If you are: a child (under 18), elderly, a family with children, pregnant, accepted as being a victim of trafficking, able to provide independent evidence of torture or have a mental or physical condition that would be a risk to others, you will not usually be detained.
It will usually take around 6 months for the Home Office to reach a decision on your application. If your application is successful, you can stay in the UK as a refugee for 5 years. This is known as ‘Leave to Remain’. After 5 years, you can apply to settle in the UK.
You can apply for a pre-flight partner (spouse or civil partner, unmarried or same-sex partner, or child) to come and join you in the UK. You will also be given a Refugee Convention Travel Document, access to employment, the NHS, public funds (benefits and housing) and education.
If your application is refused, you will be asked to leave the UK. You can appeal against this decision in the time period stated in the refusal letter.
The key to successfully completing an asylum application is to understand who qualifies as a refugee, what the correct procedure is and to then follow it. Make your case explaining why there is such a well-founded fear that you cannot physically go back to your country. Wherever you can, attempt to provide any evidence that will support your application and, where possible, try to claim asylum at an earlier stage rather than later.
About the author of this article: Javaria Ahmed is a talented law graduate and has completed the LPC. She is an aspiring immigration solicitor particularly keen to work with asylum seekers and refugees. Javaria wishes to help create a change in how refugees and asylum seekers are viewed whilst helping them to access the justice, support, and protection they rightfully deserve. She is extremely passionate about creating a more fair and just immigration system and thus helping some of the most vulnerable people in our society.