Your options if you're in the UK illegally

This advice applies to Wales. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland

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. Talk to an adviser for help finding an immigration specialist 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: 0800 160 1004

Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 10am to 1pm

Calls cost up to 13p per minute from landlines, 3p to 55p from mobiles

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. If you’re not sure when your leave expires, check your biometric residence permit, online immigration status or passport.

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.

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Page last reviewed on 22 August 2019