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Immigration terms glossary

Accession (A2) – Bulgaria and Romania acceded to the EU on 1 January 2007. Since January 2014, nationals of these countries are able to enter and live in the UK as an EEA national without any immigration restrictions.

Accession (A8) – Eight countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia) who acceded to the EU on 1 May 2004. Nationals of these countries are able to enter and live in the UK as an EEA national without any immigration restrictions.

Appeals – If someone is subject to an immigration decision they may have a right of appeal, normally to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT). Section 82(2) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 lists those decisions which are defined as “immigration decisions”. Some appeals may be brought whilst a person is in the UK; others may only be exercised from abroad. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) hears appeals which raise issues affecting national security.

Application forms – Most initial applications for an extension or variation of leave to remain must be made to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) on a designated application form. Failure to do so may render the application invalid. Exceptions include EEA applications (for which recommended forms are available) and asylum applicants.

Application Registration Card (ARC) – A biometric, smart card issued to those who have claimed asylum, incorporating personal details, fingerprints and employment status.

Asylum – A claim or recognition under the 1951 UN Convention.

Asylum Screening Unit (ASU) – An office of the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) which receives personal applications from asylum applicants who have entered the UK and carries out fingerprinting, photographing and “screening” interviews which record identity and family details of the applicant, the route taken to the UK and the documentation used.

Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) – Established in April 2007 as a shadow Executive Agency of the Home Office responsible for immigration and citizenship, the BIA replaced the Immigration & Nationality Directorate. In April 2008 BIA was renamed the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and merged with UK Visas and part of HM Customs and Excise as an executive agency of the Home Office. In 2014, the UKVA was re-integrated as part of the Home Office under the title UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

Carrier’s liability – A charge levied under the Immigration (Carriers Liability) Act 1987 on a carrier who brings an inadequately documented passenger to the UK. The criteria which the UK Border Agency use to determine whether a passenger is “inadequately documented” include if the passport or visa is absent or invalid or has been falsified in a way that would be reasonably apparent if a trained representative of the carrying company could reasonably be expected to detect it by examining it carefully but briefly and without the use of technological aids.

Certificate of entitlement – A document showing that a Commonwealth Citizen has the right of abode in the UK. Normally takes the form of a sticker placed in a passport.

Citizenship ceremony – An event celebrating the award of nationality to new citizens.

Civil Penalty – A financial penalty of up to £10,000 for employing  a person aged 16 or over who is subject to immigration control and who has no permission to work in the UK, or who is working in breach of their conditions of stay in the UK.

Common Travel Area – Describes an area in which there are no immigration checks. Comprises the UK, Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands.

Deportation – The removal of a person from the UK under an order signed by the Home Secretary. Normally applied to people who have committed serious criminal offences. Return is barred until the order is revoked

Discretionary leave – Permission to stay granted exceptionally outside the Immigration Rules including to some asylum applicants and those who succeed in a human rights claim.

Entry Clearance – A document (normally an endorsement in a passport) which shows that a person is eligible to enter the UK. Entry clearances are always issued outside the UK (at a British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate).  The body responsible for issuing entry clearances is UK Visas, which since April 2008 has been part of the UK Border Agency. The staff responsible are called entry clearance officers. Entry clearances come in two forms: visas and entry certificates. The nationality of the applicant determines whether they are issued with a visa or entry certificate. See also Visa nationals.

Enforcement – Refers to action taken against a person who has entered the UK illegally, remained beyond their permitted stay or who has been found to be working illegally. Persons found in these circumstances may be detained and removed from the UK by the UK Border Agency.

Excuse – Employers can have the excuse against paying a civil penalty for employing illegal workers by carrying out specific checks on the original documents of prospective employees. Employers will only have the excuse for employees with time-limited leave to be in the UK if they carry out repeat checks at least once every 12 months.

Humanitarian Protection – A permission to stay often given to people who do not qualify for asylum but who it is decided should not be removed from the UK for humanitarian reasons.

Illegal entrant – A person who enters the UK illegally: clandestinely, by using fraudulent documents or deception or in breach of a deportation order.

Illegal worker – A person who is working when not entitled to do so under the immigration laws.

Immigration Act – see Legislation below.

Immigration Officer – Immigration officers are part of the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). They are responsible for granting (and refusing) leave to enter at UK ports and airports. They also undertake enforcement work within the UK. See Enforcement.

Immigration Rules – The Rules set out the detailed requirements for a person coming to or remaining in the UK. The main Rules are set out in House of Commons Paper 395 (HC395).

Leave to enter/remain – The permission given for a person to enter or stay in the UK. Leave can be for an indefinite period without any restrictions or may be “limited” with restrictions on how long they may stay and other conditions such as prohibitions on taking employment and a requirement to register with the police.

Legislation – Immigration and nationality laws are contained within a number of Acts which provide the primary legislation. The comments alongside the Acts below refer to key measures introduced by the Act. However, the Home Office is continuously “tidying up” legislation and/or trying to block what it considers to be loopholes. All of the Acts have therefore introduced more changes than are referred to here.

  • Immigration Act 1971 – Implemented on 1 January 1973, this is the core Act which defines who is subject to immigration control and provides for the regulation and control of entry and stay in the UK. Schedule 2 to the Act sets out the powers of immigration officers to examine, detain and remove passengers; and matters related to illegal entry. Although the Immigration Act 1971 remains the main Act it must be read in conjunction with subsequent legislation to form a complete legal framework for immigration control both on entry to and within the UK.
  • Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 – Appeals structure for asylum.
  • Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 – Introduced sanctions on employers who employ people not entitled to work.
  • Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 – Introduced changes to the appeal system with a focus on a single right of appeal and the need for grounds for appeal to be raised at the earliest opportunity. Also introduced NASS, the concept of dispersal of asylum seekers around the UK and vouchers (subsequently abolished).
  • Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 – Further revised the basis for appeals, in particular to control when people where entitled to raise an appeal on human rights grounds. Also introduced citizenship ceremonies and a requirement to show knowledge about life in the UK when applying for naturalisation.
  • Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc.) Act 2004. Abolished the two tier system of appeals and introduced the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT).
  • Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006. Creates the power to apply civil penalties to employers.
  • UK Borders Act 2007. Includes arrangements for the issuing of biometric immigration documents (ID Cards).
  • Immigration and Citizenship Bill 2009. Provides the legislative framework for immigration officers to exercise revenue and customs functions which had previously been exercised by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs ("HMRC"). Also made amendments to requirements relating to naturalsation as a British citizen.
  • Immigration Act 2014 - Limited rights of appeal and provided new powers to regulate migrant's access to services, including making landlords liable to a civil penalty for renting property to migrants not lawfully present in the UK.

Other relevant legislation includes:

  • Human Rights Act 1998
  • Race Relations Act 1976 (as amended by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000)

The detailed requirements for entry to or stay in the UK are set out in the Immigration Rules (HC395). There are also a number of Regulations and Statutory Instruments.

Naturalisation – A process for people who are not born in the UK to acquire British Citizenship.

New Asylum Model (NAM) – A process for handling asylum applications introduced in 2007 which operates by segmenting applicants into various asylum processes.

Points Based System (PBS) – A system for managing applications by people who wish to come to the UK to work, train or study. The PBS does not apply to EEA or Swiss nationals. The system has been introduced progressively since February 2008. The PBS is described by the UK Border Agency as being aimed at attracting skilled migrants to the UK; making the process more transparent; and improving compliance. It operates by allocating points to an applicant based on criteria such as educational qualifications, age, previous earnings and experience. A candidate has to “earn” a sufficient number of points to qualify. There are 5 tiers under the PBS:

  • Tier 1 – People classified as high value, including investors and entrepreneurs.
  • Tier 2 – Skilled workers with a job offer, including intra company transfers.
  • Tier 3 – Unskilled workers. Currently suspended.
  • Tier 4 – Students. 
  • Tier 5 – Temporary workers or people coming to the UK under the Youth Mobility Scheme.

Applicants under any of the tiers, apart from tier 1, must be sponsored by the relevant organisation: a UK based employer or educational establishment. In order to sponsor an applicant, the organisation must first obtain a sponsorship licence from UK Visas and Immigration. In obtaining a licence, the organisation must also agree to assume responsibilities for making sure that a person complies with their immigration conditions by record keeping and reporting any changes to UK Visas and Immigration.

Overstayer – A person who has remained in the UK beyond their permitted stay.

Public Enquiry Offices (PEO) – Offices offering a same day, premium service for straightforward applications for leave to remain and settlement by non-EEA nationals. Offices are currently located in Croydon, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool and Sheffield.

Public funds – A number of provisions under the Immigration Rules require that a person should be able to support themselves “without recourse to public funds”. Public funds are defined for immigration purposes in paragraph 6 of the Immigration Rules.

Refusal of leave to enter – A decision, normally made by an immigration officer at a port of entry, to refuse a person permission to enter the UK. A person can be refused leave to enter even if they hold a valid entry clearance. Grounds for Refusal of Leave to Enter are set out in paragraphs 320-321 of the Immigration Rules. A person who is refused leave to enter will normally be returned to the place from which they arrived or their country of origin.

Register of Education Providers – A list of education providers including universities and private establishments. All education providers that want to recruit foreign students must be on the list.

Register of Sponsors – A list of organisations licensed to sponsor migrants for employment under Tier 2 of the Points Based System.

Registration – A process by which a person can obtain British Citizenship. Normally used for children.

Registration with the Police – Persons over 16 who are nationals of one of the countries listed in Appendix 2 to the Immigration Rules (HC395) may be required to register with the police. Normally this relates to persons granted leave to enter for more than 6 months. In order to register, a person must attend their local police station within 7 days of arrival to be issued with a certificate of registration.

Removal – An administrative process used to remove people who have entered illegally, breached their conditions or remained in the UK beyond their permitted stay.

Sponsorship license – see Points Based System

Temporary Admission/Release (TA/TR) – A decision, normally made by an immigration officer, to allow a person to enter or remain in the UK on a temporary basis whilst further consideration is given to their case or pending removal. TA/TR may be subject to residence, reporting or other restrictions.

Transit visa – Nationals of certain countries who wish to travel to the United Kingdom in order to travel on to another country may require a visa even if they do not intend to pass through the UK border control. The visa is a direct airside transit visa (often called a DATV). A current list of the countries whose nationals require a DATV is available on the UK Border Agency website.

Travel Documents – Documents issued by the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to refugees, stateless people and those granted discretionary leave and humanitarian protection.

UK Border Agency (UKBA) – Established in April 2008 following a merger with UK Visas and part of HM Customs and Excise. In 2014, the organisation lost its status as an executive agency and was reabsorbed into the Home Office as UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). See also Border and Immigration Agency (BIA)  

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) – The current (2014) arm of the Home Office responsible for UK immigration matters.

Visa national – Nationals of countries who require a visa for entry to the UK whatever the purpose of their journey, including visitors. The visa needs to be obtained prior to travel (see also Entry Clearance). The countries whose nationals require a visa are listed at Appendix 1 to the Immigration Rules.

Working holidaymaker – This category of entry has been deleted from the Immigration Rules and is now covered under Tier 5 of the Points Based System – Youth Mobility Scheme.