Once a foreign national has claimed asylum in the UK they enter the asylum process and their application will be considered by the border authorities. Due to the importance of filtering the large number of applications received to determine those which are genuine, the process can be lengthy. The aim is to reach a decision on applications within 30 days of the application being made but some applications may take longer. Applications by asylum seekers who are being held in detention are likely to be processed more quickly.
Asylum applications made since March 2007 are dealt with by one official from the outset until the application has been concluded. This person is known as the “case owner” of the application. Asylum seekers who have reasons to prefer a male or female case owner may request this but should do so as soon as possible.
Screening is the first stage of the asylum process. The applicant will have a short interview and their travel documents will be examined to verify their identity and status. Passports and other travel documents will be kept by the immigration authorities until the conclusion of the asylum process. Fingerprints and a photograph will be taken and applicants may be given an Application Registration Card which contains their personal details and confirms their status as an asylum seeker.
If asylum is claimed on entry to the UK, the screening process will take place immediately at the port of entry. For those who claim asylum at a later stage, screening takes place at one of the asylum screening units. An interpreter will be provided if needed.
Meeting the Case Owner
The first meeting with the case owner should take place within a few days of asylum being claimed. They will explain the asylum process, give any forms or assistance that are required and arrange a full asylum interview. The case owner will also provide information on how the asylum seeker can find legal help and make arrangements to address any special needs the applicant may have.
The Asylum Interview
The full asylum interview should take place within a week of the first meeting with the case owner. During the interview the applicant will be asked questions about why they are claiming asylum. The interview is an asylum seeker’s opportunity to prove that they are a genuine refugee. It is vital that all questions are answered fully and truthfully. Asylum seekers are likely to be asked specific questions to account for their behaviour if they did not claim asylum immediately or if they travelled to the UK via a “safe” country.
If an interpreter is needed this can be arranged prior to the interview and the applicant is also entitled to have legal representation. Failure to attend the interview is likely to result in the asylum application being refused.
Waiting for an Asylum Decision
While the application is being decided the case owner is likely to stay in touch with the asylum seeker and will assist them regarding any benefits to which they may be entitled. The applicant must notify their case owner if their circumstances change during this period. They must also attend any subsequent meetings arranged during the decision-making process.
Asylum seekers are not generally entitled to work in the UK while their asylum application is being processed. They must obey the law and cooperate with the immigration authorities during this time – failure to do so is likely to have a negative impact on their application.
The Asylum Decision
If the application is successful the asylum seeker will be given leave to remain in the UK for an initial period of five years. The applicant’s case owner will then help them with everything they need to start a full life in the UK.
If the application is unsuccessful the case owner will explain the appeal process or may give the failed asylum seeker temporary permission to stay in the UK if they believe that there are humanitarian grounds for doing so. Ultimately, most failed asylum seekers are expected to leave the UK and may be detained, if they fail to leave voluntarily, pending deportation.
The Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme
Asylum seekers may leave the UK at any time during the asylum process, if they wish to. Those whose application has been unsuccessful are also free to make their own arrangements to leave the UK. Practical assistance may be available under the Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme. Case owners will be able to provide advice about any available assistance.