Your options if you're in the UK illegally
If you're living illegally in the UK, you might be able to apply to make your stay legal. You’ll be living here illegally if you came to the UK without permission or your permission to stay has expired.
You can also get help returning to your home country if you want to.
If you can’t live in the UK legally but choose to remain here, life could be difficult. You can be charged for some NHS treatment or be detained and removed from the country. You might be exploited at work, struggle to find housing.
Get immigration advice
There are ways to make your stay legal. An immigration specialist will decide which applies to you. Don't worry, getting advice will be confidential - they won't tell anybody about your query. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help finding an adviser in your area.
You can also call the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants for help. They provide free and confidential advice to people living in the UK illegally.
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
Telephone: 020 7553 7470
Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 10am to 1pm
Calls cost up to 13p per minute from landlines, 3p to 55p from mobiles
How to become a legal resident in the UK
Whether you can live in the UK legally will depend on your circumstances. Your application will probably be refused if you apply more than 14 days after your permission to stay has expired. Check your biometric residence permit or passport if you’re not sure when your leave expires.
You might be able to apply to stay in the UK if:
it would be very difficult for you to live in the country you would be in - for example because of a lack of work, education, family or friends, or if you wouldn't be accepted back there
you’ve lived in the UK for 20 years or more
you're aged 18 to 25 and you've lived in the UK for at least half your life
you can’t return to the country because you’d be persecuted or seriously harmed - for example, if you’d be tortured
you’ve got a partner who has a right to stay in the UK - for example, if your partner is British or has settled status
you’ve got children in the UK, especially if they're British citizens, settled or have been in the UK for 7 years or more
your last visa was as a partner and you've suffered domestic abuse at the hands of the partner related to your visa
If you’ve got children living in the UK illegally, it’s important to get advice on whether you can make an application for them. They’ll be living illegally if they haven’t been registered for British citizenship or leave to remain. You can read more about what you can do if your child is here illegally.
If you can't stay in the UK legally
You might be able to get help from the government to arrange and pay for your journey back to your home country. This is known as making a 'voluntary return'. You can contact the Voluntary Returns Service team to find out what help you can get. You can read more about voluntary returns on GOV.UK.
Voluntary Departures and Assisted Voluntary Returns
Telephone: 0300 790 6268
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5.30pm
Calls cost up to 12p per minute from landlines, 3p to 45p from mobiles
You can also apply online for help to leave the country.
If you’ve been in prison
If your prison sentence was up to 4 years, you might be able to get help to return to your home country using the Home Office’s ‘Facilitated Returns Scheme’.
You can apply to the scheme:
up to 9 months before your sentence ends
when your sentence has ended
You can’t use this scheme if you’re a citizen of the EU, EEA or Switzerland. You can check which countries are in the EU and EEA on GOV.UK.
If you’ve already applied to stay in the UK, you must cancel your application before you apply to the scheme. If you’re not sure what your best option is, talk to an adviser.
What help you can get
The Facilitated Returns Scheme can give you money to help you settle down when you return home. You can use the money to do things like:
set up a business
study or get training
pay for housing
pay for your medical costs
If you’re using a prisoner transfer scheme to serve the rest of your sentence in your home country, you can still apply for the scheme.
How to apply
To check if you can apply for the Facilitated Returns Scheme, call 020 8760 8513 from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
Page last reviewed on 22 August 2019