It’s not uncommon for travellers to be refused entry to the UK at the border. Even if you are entitled to visa-free travel to the UK, or if have been granted a UK visa in advance of travel, you’re not guaranteed entry into the country.
This is because UK border officials have the power to refuse entry into the UK, even if a Home Office caseworker has already determined that the individual in question is eligible to enter the UK for their specified purpose.
In this guide, we look at the circumstances in which a person can be refused entry to the UK, and what you should do if you this happens to you.
Being aware of refusal to enter rules in the UK, and knowing how best to handle this upsetting situation, is not only important in terms of resolving the immediate problem, but also to minimise the potential impact of any refusal on future immigration applications. We also look at various ways in which the risk of being denied entry to the UK can be reduced.
Why are travellers refused entry to the UK?
There are a number of different scenarios in which a person could be refused entry to the UK, although one of the most common is where there are discrepancies between what an individual is saying, or the paperwork they have in their possession, and the nature of their visa or stated purpose for their visit if travelling visa-free.
If border officials form the view that the intentions of a person presenting at a UK border are not consistent with the type of visa held, or the reasons provided for their trip to the UK, they can refuse entry.
For example, where a traveller presents at a port of entry for the purposes of tourism, or to visit friends and family, but border officials are not satisfied that this individual is a genuine visitor, they may be denied permission to enter. This could be where documentation on their person suggests that they may be intending to look for work once in the UK or otherwise have no intentions of returning to their home country. It is not unheard of for officials to find copies of CV’s or work search letters in someone’s luggage, or for people to travel to the UK without the financial means to return home at the end of their trip and, when asked, are unable to provide proof that they can cover their return or onward journey.
Another common scenario in which people are refused entry to the UK is where they are in possession of a multiple-entry visitor visa, but where their previous travel history suggests that they are using this visa to effectively live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits. A long-term visitor visa will legitimately allow the visa-holder to enjoy frequent visits over the course of either 2, 5 or 10 years, provided each trip is not more than the maximum length of stay endorsed on their visa, typically 6 months. However, a long-term visitor visa cannot be used as a means of living in the UK, where several long stays in close succession which reach the 6-month limit are likely to arouse suspicion with border officials that the visa is in fact being used to make the UK the visa-holder’s main home.
What powers do border officials have to refuse entry to the UK?
In the same way that the Home Office has the right to refuse a visa application on grounds of suitability, the officials responsible for frontline border control at air, sea and rail ports in the UK — known as Border Force officials — have the authority to permit or deny someone entry. The grounds for refusal of entry on arrival in the UK, or cancellation of entry clearance or permission, are set out under section 3 of Part 9 of the UK’s Immigration Rules.
The grounds for refusal and/or cancellation of a visa under section 3, Part 9 include:
- where a person presents at a port of entry without a visa, yet they are required under the rules to obtain entry clearance in advance of travel
- where a person fails to produce a recognised passport or other travel document
- where a medical inspector advises that it is undesirable to grant entry to the person for medical reasons, unless there are strong compassionate reasons that still justify admission
- where a child is travelling without a parent or legal guardian and, where required, their parent or legal guardian has failed to provide written consent for the child to travel
- where a returning resident fails to satisfy border officials that they had indefinite leave when they last left, they have not been absent from the UK for more than 2 years and now seeks admission for the purpose of settlement, or fails to satisfy border officials they are seeking entry for the same purpose for which their previous permission was granted
- where border force officials are satisfied that a person has committed a customs breach, regardless of whether a criminal prosecution is pursued
- where a person’s purpose in seeking entry is different from that specified in their entry clearance, including where there has been a change in circumstances since their entry clearance or permission was granted such that it should be cancelled.
Official Home Office guidance advises port-of-entry staff when permission to enter may be refused on a person’s arrival in the UK, and when existing entry clearance or permission to enter or permission to stay may be cancelled on arrival. This provides useful insight for anyone who would like to be aware of refusal to enter rules in the UK.
In brief, refusal decisions can be mandatory or discretionary. In cases where a person is required under the rules to hold entry clearance on arrival but does not have this, fails to produce a recognised passport or travel document, or their entry is undesirable on medical grounds, permission to enter ‘must’ be refused. In all other cases, permission to enter ‘may’ be refused. This means that the decision will be at the discretion of border officials.
In those cases where there is evidence of deception on the part of the person seeking to enter the UK, for example, where their purpose in seeking entry is clearly different from the purpose specified in their entry clearance, they may not only be refused entry but their visa can also be cancelled. The fact that a person is in possession of a valid visa simply indicates to border officials that a Home Office caseworker has reviewed the visa application and determined that the individual in question is eligible to enter the UK for a specific purpose. As such, a Border Force officer still has the power to refuse entry into the UK, notwithstanding that another immigration official has reached a different conclusion.
What if you’re refused entry to the UK?
Border Force officers are typically looking to identify people who may be either a security risk, or using a visitor or other type of visa to gain entry to the UK for illegal purposes or an unlawful permanent stay. However, depending on the answers given to questions asked, it is possible for anyone to be refused entry to the UK for all sorts of different reasons.
In some cases, if border officials take the view that a person is attempting to mislead or deceive them, that individual may not only be denied entry to the UK, but their visa may be cancelled, presenting very serious difficulties in re-applying for another visa due to an adverse immigration history. Where there is clear evidence of deception, a person may also be detained and deported, together with a 10 year ban on re-entry.
Having travelled to the UK, possibly after a long trip, it is understandable for emotions to be heightened if border officials refuse entry. However, it is important not to argue with Border Force officers. By keeping calm, this will provide the best possible basis upon which to resolve the matter, and to allay any doubts or address any other relevant matter. It will also help to buy some time to contact a UK immigration specialist to see what, if anything, can be done to resolve the immediate problem.
In most cases, foreign travellers who are refused entry to the UK will be required to immediately return home on the next available flight, although in rare cases there may be exceptional compelling or compassionate circumstances which would still justify admission. However, even if a person has no other option but to return to their home country, they should seek legal advice on their return if they would like to re-attempt to enter the UK.
If someone is refused entry to the UK, they should be provided with a written notice setting out the reasons for this, which can help their legal advisor to assess the impact on future applications. Importantly, if a person is refused entry to the UK, they will almost certainly require a visa following their denial, even if they are classed as a non-visa national.
How to avoid refusal when entering the UK
All visa nationals, ie; citizens of countries that do not qualify for visa-free travel to the UK, will need to obtain a visa in advance of travel to obtain entry clearance before arriving at a UK port of entry. However, to help minimise the potential for refusal to enter the UK, even non-visa nationals looking to regularly visit the UK should consider obtaining a visa.
The successful grant of a visa does not, of itself, guarantee entry to the UK, where border officials must still be satisfied as to the reason for each visit and that a person is a genuine visitor. Still, having a visa will at least demonstrate that sufficient evidence has already been produced to show that the visa-holder meets all of the relevant requirements for their route, and that a Home Office caseworker has been persuaded of that person’s intentions. In this way, having a visa can help to ensure a smoother process, although maintaining suitable breaks between visits will also help to show that the visa is not being misused.
However, when travelling under a visa of any type, including but not limited to visitor visas, it is also strongly advised to carry sufficient paperwork to prove the purpose of the trip. In the context of a short trip, for example, for the purposes of tourism, this could include a travel itinerary and accommodation booking. It will also help to have evidence of any return or onward flight, or the funds to pay for this. Equally, for those with advance entry clearance to come to the UK to undertake work or a course of study, even though detailed documentation will already have been submitted to the Home Office in support of the visa application, documentary proof of work or studies should still be made available on request at a port of entry. In this way, it will be possible to demonstrate the purpose of the trip, and that this purpose is entirely consistent with the visa status held.
By the same token, it is also important that anyone coming to the UK does not have on their person any documentation which contradicts either their visa status or the stated purpose for their visit if travelling visa-free. For example, if travelling under a visitor visa, they must not have any documentation to suggest a search for work during their UK stay.
Overall, by being aware of refusal to enter rules in the UK, and the potential consequences of being refused entry, it is possible to take steps to pre-empt any refusal.
Refused entry to UK FAQs
What is refusal entry?
Refusal entry refers to being denied entry by border officials at a port of entry. In the UK, Border Force officers are responsible for frontline border control at air, sea and rail ports, and have the right to refuse entry.
What happens if you are refused entry at the border?
If you are refused entry at the UK border you may be detained and subsequently deported. If there is clear evidence that you have used deception to obtain a visa, you may also be banned from re-entry for 10 years.
What happens if you are refused entry into the UK?
If you apply for a visa but are refused entry clearance, you will not be permitted to travel to the UK. However, even if you are granted a visa, you can still be refused permission to enter on arrival.
What is general grounds for refusal?
The general grounds for refusal are set out under Part 9 of the UK’s Immigration Rules. These relate to the suitability requirements applicable to all UK immigration routes that must be met, in addition to the validity and eligibility requirements.
Last updated: 16 January 2023