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UK Immigration Rules: Where Are We Now?

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The UK Immigration Rules set out the policy and practice of the Home Secretary in regulating the entry and stay of migrants in the UK.

The rules apply to all decisions made by immigration officers in relation to applications for entry clearance, leave to enter or remain, or variation of leave to enter or remain in the UK.

However, the Immigration Rules are widely criticised for being long, complex and difficult to interpret, divided into several different documents and running into well over one thousand pages.

The following guide provides an overview of the key components of the UK Immigration Rules, and examines some of the complexities arising within the rules and related guidance.

The substantive UK Immigration Rules cover the following matters:

  • Introduction – this includes interpretation of various different phrases, for example, the definition of a civil partner, parent, refugee, points-based system migrant and illegal entrant.
  • Part 1: general provisions regarding entry clearance, leave to enter or remain in the UK.
  • Part 2: transitional provisions relating to visitors rules
  • Part 3 – persons seeking to enter or remain in the UK for studies.
  • Part 4 – persons seeking to enter or remain in the UK in an “au pair” placement, as a working holidaymaker or for training or work experience.
  • Part 5 – persons seeking to enter or remain in the UK for employment.
  • Part 6 & 6A – persons seeking to enter or remain in the UK as a businessman, self-employed person, investor, writer or composer or artist, and points-based system migrants.
  • Part 7 – other categories, ie; retired persons of independent means, long residence and private life.
  • Part 8 – family members.
  • Part 9: general grounds for the refusal of entry clearance, leave to enter or variation of leave to enter or remain in the UK.
  • Part 10 – registration with the police.
  • Part 11, 11A & 11B – asylum & temporary protection.
  • Part 12 – procedure and rights of appeal.
  • Part 13 – deportation.
  • Part 14 – stateless persons.
  • Part 15 – condition to hold an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) clearance certificate.

The appendices cover various related matters, including but not limited to attributes, ie; the points needed for attributes for applicants under Tiers 1 to 5 of the points-based system; the rules relating to the English language, maintenance requirements and knowledge of language and life in the UK (KoLL); as well as the rules relating to family members, visitors and workers coming to the UK.

How often are the UK Immigration Rules updated?

It is an inherent feature of the UK Immigration Rules that they are subject to constant updates and amendments, either as the Secretary of State’s policy changes or because the Secretary of State is forced to address problems that have manifested themselves in the practical operation of the system.

All changes to the UK Immigration Rules can be accessed online under the “Immigration Rules: statement of changes”. It is also possible to view the archived copies of the consolidated rules as they were on the date before each statement of changes came into effect. These date back to 1994.

That said, it can prove extremely difficult to access up-to-date versions of the underlying legislative provisions, which have also been repeatedly amended. While original versions are readily available online, it is also essential for users to be able to access the current amended versions, which isn’t always possible.

It can also prove difficult to identify precisely which laws were in force at any particular time. In the absence of any detailed analysis of the relevant changes, it can often be hard to discern which pieces of legislation, rules and regulations were in place at an earlier stage when particular disputed decisions were taken.

Challenges of the current rules 

Typically, the UK Immigration Rules are amended in a piecemeal way to deal with particular problems as and when they arise. However, because the rules have been allowed to grow organically, in direct response to the needs at any given time, this is not necessarily the way to produce a rational and consistent set of rules.

In addition, not only is it difficult to predict with any certainty how long a particular set of rules and related guidance will remain static, critics, including senior judges and lawyers, frequently criticise the rules for being repetitive, archaic and hard to navigate, not least because they are set out in a non-sequential fashion.

These problems are further compounded by the fact that the UK Immigration Rules no longer contain all or indeed most of the policy that is to be implemented, which is of course their primary purpose. The policy is separately provided in separate unconsolidated guidance that can be accessed through the Home Office website.

Described by one senior judge as a “maze of immigration and asylum procedure”, and another as an “impenetrable jungle of intertwined statutory provisions and judicial decisions”, it is hard to imagine how lay people, and people whose first language is not English and have no recourse to public funding, can be expected to understand how the rules apply to their particular set of circumstances.

Indeed, the rules are not even necessarily fully understood by many immigration officers, yet hundreds of thousands of decisions are made annually, decisions that can be life changing for those seeking entry or leave to remain in the UK.

Accordingly, for many cynics of the system, it is argued that the complexity of the rules serves as a barrier to migrants, effectively but unfairly driving down net migration, as it is only those who can afford a good lawyer who are able to successfully navigate those rules.

Clearly, therefore, there is an acute need for simplification of the UK Immigration Rules so that both immigrants, and immigration officers making the necessary decisions, have a clearer understanding of their rights and responsibilities.

Imminent System Overhaul

At the end of 2018, the government outlined its proposals for a new immigration system in the UK, to take effect by 2021. This will necessarily see fundamental changes to the legislation and rules that underpin the system.

Following a range of pre-consultation meetings with key stakeholders and other experts, and with the Home Office as the sponsoring department for the project, the Law Commission aims to deliver recommendations in a final report later in 2019 on “Simplifying the Immigration Rules”.

Do you have a question about the UK Immigration Rules? 

While the UK prepares to depart the EU and the government proceeds with its proposals for system reform, the UK immigration rules remain in tact – and notoriously complex to navigate.

DavidsonMorris are specialist UK immigration solicitors, helping individuals and companies of all sizes and across all sectors with their UK immigration and visa needs.

If you have a question about a UK visa or your options to enter or remain in Britain under the UK immigration rules, contact us.


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