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Introduction to UK immigration law and becoming an immigration advisor
Introduction to UK immigration law and becoming an immigration advisor

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2 Key principles of immigration control and asylum law protections

The laws and policies that regulate the Immigration Rules and asylum are complex and change frequently.

As a matter reserved to the UK Parliament, it is UK Government policy which determines immigration law in all four UK nations. The UK Government seeks to balance the needs of anyone seeking genuine entry or protection while preventing the entrance of those wishing to come to the UK for ‘undesirable’ purposes.


In 1891, common law stated that ‘no alien has any right to enter this country except by leave of the Crown’.

This subsequently became legislation in the Aliens Restriction Act 1914 and the Aliens Restriction (Amending) Act 1919, and further acts followed. UK law now requires individuals, who are not British or Commonwealth citizens with the right of abode in the UK, to obtain leave to enter the UK from an immigration officer upon their arrival.

The main principles of immigration law are contained in the Immigration Act 1971.


‘Asylum’ is the term given to the protection offered to any individual fleeing persecution in their own country; indeed it is also referred to as ‘protection’ both in legislation and in immigration practice.

Asylum-seekers generally apply for asylum only after entering the UK. Applicants who meet the UK’s criteria will receive refugee status; those who do not can still be granted leave to remain in the UK for humanitarian or other reasons if there is a real risk that they would suffer serious harm after returning to their country of origin.

Refugee status and humanitarian protection provide an individual with permission to reside in the UK for an initial period of five years, with the right to work and access welfare benefits. Lawful residence in the UK for a continuous period of five years generally qualifies an individual to apply for UK citizenship.

If an individual does not qualify for refugee status or humanitarian protection, but their removal would breach the UK’s obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998 or European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), they may be granted temporary permission to remain in the UK. This will typically be subject to conditions; it may apply, for example, if an individual has strong family ties in the UK.

There are also very limited refugee resettlement programmes, where selected refugees can settle in the UK without having to go through the full asylum process.