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Help with immigration problems

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Immigration control

Immigration control is about how and why people from countries outside the UK are allowed to come to the UK and how long they can stay. It is also about what they are allowed to do when they are in the UK, for example, whether they can work, whether relatives can come to the UK to join them afterwards, and whether they can use the National Health Service or claim benefits.

The rules about immigration control (which are law) are complicated by the fact that they overlap with nationality law - that is, the law about who is or is not a British citizen, and the rights of the different types of British citizen.

The system of immigration control in the UK splits people into two broad categories: those who have 'right of abode' in the UK and who can live, work and move in and out of the country as they wish, and those who require permission in order to enter and remain here.

There are certain groups of people who do not fit easily into these two categories and who do not have to get leave to 'enter and remain' even though they do not have 'right of abode'. Included in this group are people who can benefit from European rights of free movement.

Where people do need leave to enter the UK, immigration rules set out various ways in which it can be granted. Some examples of different immigration categories are: 'visitor', 'spouse' and 'student'. In each category, the rules indicate different requirements that must be satisfied before someone will be granted leave to come and stay. For example, students must show that they will follow a full time course of study. The rules require that most of the categories of people coming to the UK will be able to support themselves without relying on public funds.

The immigration rules also specify how long leave to remain in the UK should be granted for. Leave to remain can be either 'limited' or 'indefinite.' Limited leave is granted to people who are coming to the UK for 'temporary' reasons, for example, as students. Other people applying for leave to remain may be eligible for 'indefinite' leave, with the possibility of being able to apply for UK citizenship.

People in most 'temporary' categories, such as visitors, will also need to show that they intend to leave the country when the purpose of their stay is over.

People who require leave to enter the UK will usually need to get 'entry clearance' to show that they are entitled to enter the UK under the immigration rules. There are detailed rules about how to qualify for entry clearance within each category of applicant coming to the UK. Some groups, such as refugees and asylum seekers do not require entry clearance, but most do.

In the rest of this information, you can find a list of some of the immigration problems which you may need advice on, as well as a list of organisations which may be able to help. You should bear in mind that immigration laws are strictly enforced in the UK and the consequences of misunderstanding your right to be here can be very serious. It can include the risk of deportation. It is therefore essential to consult a specialist adviser if you are unsure about your position, or the position of family and friends.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can give you more information about how to get help with immigration problems. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

There is also information about immigration queries on the GOV.UK website at If you want to apply to become a British citizen there is information about this at If you are not sure what immigration form you need to use you will find all the current immigration forms for coming to the UK, extending a stay, or settlling in the UK on the GOV.UK website at

Problems which may need immigration or nationality advice

Examples of problems that you may need advice on are:-

  • getting permission to stay in the UK longer than you originally intended
  • getting permission to do something which you are not at present allowed to do, for example, being allowed to work
  • bringing relatives into the country, for example, a spouse, fiancé(e), children
  • being threatened with deportation from the UK
  • being held by the immigration authorities in a detention centre
  • wanting a passport and not knowing whether you are entitled to a British passport or some other passport
  • wanting to apply to become a British Citizen
  • if you are already living in the UK but wanting to travel (for example, for a holiday), whether you will be allowed back into the UK
  • whether you are entitled to use state services or claim benefits, for example, education, health services, council housing, social security benefits, housing benefits, Council Tax Reduction
  • the right to vote
  • a relative or friend being refused entry to the UK when arriving at an airport or port.

Registration of immigration advisers

All immigration advisers must be registered with the Office of Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC), or be an adviser with an organisation which is exempt from registration. Citizens Advice Bureaux are exempt but can only give basic immigration advice up to OISC Level One. You can find further details of OISC Level One on the OISC website at

Anyone who gives immigration advice and is neither registered nor exempt, will be committing a criminal offence. Every registered or exempt advice agency should display a certificate issued by the OISC to show it meets the OISC standards. The OISC can be contacted at:-

5th Floor
21 Bloomsbury Street
Helpline: 0845 000 0046 (for general enquiries)

A list of all registered and exempt advisers and advice organisations can be seen on the OISC website, which also includes details of how to make a complaint about an immigration adviser. The OISC does not deal with enquiries about immigration problems.

National organisations which can help

Refugee Councils

Refugee Councils offer advice and support to all refugees and asylum seekers. As part of this they operate a one stop service, providing advice and support to newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers on social security benefits, housing, immigration and education. No appointment is necessary, but people are seen on a first come, first served basis.

Refugee Council England

PO Box 68614
E15 9DQ

Tel: 020 7346 6700
Fax: 020 7346 6701

Own-Language Telephone Advice Service: 0808 808 2255 (freephone)(Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9.30am to 1.00pm and 2.00pm to 5.00pm; Wednesday from 2.00pm to 5.00pm).
Own-Language Telephone Advice Service Textphone: 0808 808 2259
Children's Panel advice line: 020 7346 1134 (Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5.30pm)

The Refugee Council in England runs a number of advice lines based throughout England. You can speak to an independent adviser free and in confidence, in the language of your choice.

The Refugee Council will give advice, information and support over the telephone or, if necessary, book face to face appointments for one of their offices in London, West Midlands, East of England and Yorkshire and Humberside.

Welsh Refugee Council

Phoenix House
389 Newport Road
CF24 1TP
Tel: 029 2048 9800
Fax: 029 2043 2980

The Welsh Refugee Council lobbies for the needs of refugees in Wales and can provide information on the services and advice available for refugees in the area. The Welsh Refugee Council also operates reception assistant and One Stop Shop services. These services help asylum seekers apply to the National Asylum Support Service system and support them while they are waiting for a decision.  

Scottish Refugee Council

5 Cadogan Square
170 Blythswood Court
G2 7PH
Tel: 0141 248 9799
Fax: 0141 2432499
Helpline: 0800 085 6087 (Mon–Fri 10.00am-4.00pm, closed 1.00pm-2.00pm except Wed open 1.00pm-4.00pm and Thurs open 10.00am-1.00pm)

The Scottish Refugee Council works with refugees and asylum seekers living in Scotland and with refugee community organisations. It also gives advice on, for example, welfare benefits, housing, education and health.

Bryson Intercultural (Northern Ireland)

9 Lower Crescent
Co. Antrim

Tel: 028 9024 4639
Fax: 028 9032 9581

Bryson Intercultural’s Asylum Advice team provides independent advice and advocacy services for newly arrived asylum seekers. Advice work covers, for example, access to NASS support, the asylum application process, welfare benefits, employment and housing.

UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG)

32-36 Loman Street
Tel: 020 7922 7812
Helpline: 020 7922 7811 (Mon 10.00am-2.00pm; Tues, Thurs and Fri 10.00am-4.00pm)

UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) is a national lobbying and campaigning organisation working for legal equality for lesbians and gay men. UKLGIG is a support and campaign group for lesbians and gay couples with immigration problems which they would not face if they were heterosexual. The group works to change the immigration rules to ensure this discrimination is removed. It also arranges for exchanges of information, provides a support network and advises on and supports applications to the Home Office.

UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA)

9-17 St Alban’s Place
Tel: 020 7288 4330 (administration only)
Fax: 020 7288 4360

UKCISA campaigns on behalf of foreign students and produces a number of very useful booklets on students’ problems. Individual international students looking for advice should consult their local NUS office (contactable through NUS headquarters). In an emergency, you may ring UKCISA on the Student Advice Line: 020 7788 9214 (Mon-Fri, 1.00-4.00pm).

Independent Police Complaints Commission

5th Floor
90 High Holborn
Tel: 0300 020 0096
Fax: 020 7404 0430

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is responsible for some complaints about immigration officers. They can investigate if immigration officers fail to carry out properly some of their duties, for example:

  • when they arrest or detain people
  • when they fingerprint people
  • when they search people or property.

Rights of Women (England and Wales only)

Rights of Women is a women's voluntary organisation committed to informing, educating and empowering women about their legal rights. It has free confidential advice lines that gives specialist advice in family law, divorce, relationship breakdown, children and contact issues, domestic and sexual violence, discrimination and lesbian parenting.

52-54 Featherstone Street

Telephone: 0207 251 6575 (admin only)
Textphone: 0207 490 2562

Family law advice line: 020 7251 6577 (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 7pm-9pm; Friday 12 noon-2pm)

Criminal law advice line: 020 7251 8887 (Tuesday 11am-1pm)

Immigration and asylum law advice line: 020 7490 7689 (Monday 12 noon-3pm; Thursday 10am-1pm)

Ascent advice line for women and advisors in London

Family law advice line: 020 7608 1137 (Monday 11am-1pm, Tuesday and Wednesday 2pm-4pm)

Criminal law and sexual violance advice line: 020 7608 1137 (Thursday 2pm-4pm)

Solicitors in private practice

The few solicitors in private practice who specialise in immigration work are generally based in larger urban areas.

To find out whether there are any solicitors in private practice in your area who specialise in immigration work, you can contact the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (see below).

In England and Wales, you can also search for a solicitor by location and subject by using the Law Society website at or the Ministry of Justice website at

In Northern Ireland, the Law Society has an online directory which can give contact details for solicitors giving specialist advice. Visit

Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA)

The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) is an association of lawyers specialising in immigration and nationality law. It may be able to advise about finding a solicitor who is able to take on a case.

ILPA can be contacted at:-
Lindsey House
40-42 Charterhouse Street
Tel: 020 7251 8383
Fax: 020 7251 8384

Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM)

NICEM represents the minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland. It directly represents their interests and is a forum to promote the participation of those communities. NICEM pursues justice, equality and dignity and works for social change in race relations, in particular the elimination of racial discrimination. NICEM also operates reception assistant services, which help asylum seekers apply to the National Asylum Support Service system and support them while they are waiting for a decision, as well as providing advice.

NICEM can be contacted at:-
3rd Floor
Ascot House
24-31 Shaftesbury Square
Tel: 028 9023 8645/028 9031 9666
Fax: 028 9031 9485

Local help

Many local organisations provide immigration and nationality advice, for example, law centres (see below) or race equality councils. There are also some private solicitors who specialise in this field (see under heading Solicitors in private practice).

The quality of advice which local organisations give can vary.

Law centres

Law centres nearly always have a worker who specialises in immigration. Law centres generally have fairly strict catchment areas, so it is important to check whether a law centre in the area will be able to take on a case. Sometimes, the catchment area will include people who either live or work in the area.

If the law centre can offer advice and representation in immigration cases, it will be free.

In England and Wales

Law Centres Network
Floor 1, Tavis House
1-6 Tavistock Square

Tel: 020 3637 1330 (admin only)
Email: contact form available on the website

In Scotland

Ethnic Minorities Law Centre
Glasgow Office
41 St Vincent Place, 2nd Floor
G1 2ER
Tel: 0141 204 2888
Fax: 0141 204 2006

Edinburgh Office
103 Morrison Street
Tel: 0131 229 2038
Fax: 0131 229 2039

In Northern Ireland

Law Centre (NI) Central Office
124 Donegal Street
Tel: 028 9024 4401
Fax: 028 9023 6340

Law Centre (NI) Western Area Office

9 Clarendon Street
BT48 7EP
Tel: 028 7126 2433
Fax: 028 7126 2343