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Key immigration terms explained

This page is for new arrivals. If you are a housing adviser please click here for information more relevant to you.

Common travel area

This means England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. British and Irish citizens can move freely between, and reside in, these islands. It is described in more detail here. See also habitual residence test.

Discretionary leave

Discretionary leave (DL) is a form of leave outside the rules (LOTR). One of its uses is to grant leave to people who have claimed asylum but don’t meet the strict criteria. You can find more about DL here.

European Economic Area (EEA)

The EEA defines the European countries whose nationals and family members have 'free movement' rights in the UK. It is explained here.

EU Settlement Scheme, EU settled status and EU pre-settled status

All EEA citizens, their family members, and others with an EU right to reside in the UK could apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) until 30 June 2021. Applications made after that date will only be accepted if there is good reason for the delay. You can find out lots more about the EUSS and about settled and pre-settled status here, including how to apply and where you can get help with the application.

Frontier workers

A frontier worker is an EEA citizen who is economically active in, but not predominantly resident in the UK, by the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. The frontier worker scheme was launched on 10 December 2020 and enables such workers to register, and retain rights to continue working in the UK, even if they apply after 31 December. It is described in full here.

Habitual residence test

The test requires the claimant/applicant to be habitually resident in the 'Common Travel Area'. It is described in full here.

Illegal entrant and overstayer

These terms both refer to a person who requires leave to be lawfully present in the UK but who does not have it and s/he has not been granted temporary admission. An illegal entrant is someone who entered the UK before being granted leave and an overstayer is someone who was granted limited leave but which has since expired.

Immigration control

A person is subject to immigration control if s/he requires leave to enter or remain in the UK. Every person requires leave to enter or remain in the UK unless s/he is:

  • a British citizen
  • an Irish citizen
  • a Commonwealth citizen with the 'right of abode'; or
  • a citizen of an EEA member state who is exercising one of his/her freedom of movement rights which arises from the UK's membership of the European Union (or during the transition period once the UK leaves).

All the above (British, Irish etc.) have a 'right to reside' in the UK. Any person who requires leave to be in the UK but does not have it is in the UK unlawfully – unless s/he has been granted temporary admission.

Immigration rules

The legal rules approved by parliament which UKIV officers use to decide whether a person should be given permission ('leave') to enter or remain in the UK.

Indefinite leave to enter/remain

A person who has been granted open ended leave without any conditions is said to have 'indefinite leave to remain' (or, if granted to a person who makes their application from outside the UK, 'indefinite leave to enter'). A person with indefinite leave is also sometimes referred to as having 'settled status' because they have permanent residence. Indefinite leave to remain is usually granted after periods of limited leave totaling five or ten years. For example, a wife or husband of a British citizen is usually granted indefinite leave after two periods of limited leave of 30 months each; a refugee is granted indefinite leave after a five year grant of limited leave, etc.


Leave is legal permission to be in the UK. Leave is granted by UKIV officers in accordance with the immigration rules, and may be recorded in a letter (these were phased out some years ago), a biometric residence card or a stamp in a passport. Any person who is subject to immigration control must have leave (or temporary admission) to lawfully enter or remain in the UK. Leave can be for a fixed period (limited leave) which can be granted with or without conditions (typically, no right to work or no public funds).

A person with leave can apply to have its period or conditions varied provided the application is made before the change occurs (i.e. before it has expired or before starting work/claiming public funds). Once leave has expired, a new application must be made.

Leave outside the rules (LOTR)

This is leave granted by the Home Office using their discretion to a person who does not meet immigration rules. LOTR is only granted in cases where there are exceptional, compelling, compassionate grounds present to justify it, for example where refusal would breach the applicant’s human rights or would result in unjustifiably harsh consequences for themselves or their family. Discretionary leave is a form of LOTR and is given to unaccompanied children who have claimed asylum (and previously to victims of trafficking or slavery who are now granted temporary permission to stay).

Limited leave

Limited leave is leave awarded for a set period and is often granted with a 'no public funds' condition so that the holder cannot claim certain social benefits. The length of the period and any other conditions (such as the right to work), depend on the type of leave being applied for (e.g. to work, to study, join a partner, etc.). For example, a wife or husband of a British citizen is usually granted two consecutive periods of limited leave of 30 months each, with no recourse to public funds but the right to work, after which s/he qualifies for settled status (provided the application is made before leave expires). Refugees and people with humanitarian protection are granted five years' limited leave with the right to work and claim benefits, after which they can apply for indefinite leave. Most applicants for indefinite leave have to pass a test of their knowledge of life in the UK and their command of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic.

Long residence

The immigration rules make provision for people with long residence who may have established a right to family or private life in the UK. There is more detail here.

Public funds

Leave is often granted with a 'no public funds' condition and if that person uses or receives 'public funds' s/he breaks the terms of their leave and is no longer lawfully in the UK – although there are some limited exceptions where this rule is not applied. What counts as public funds is defined by the immigration rules and includes all the following housing-related benefits and services:

  • social security benefits
    • universal credit (or a legacy benefit)
    • housing benefit
  • housing services
    • a local authority tenancy
    • acceptance on the local authority housing register or waiting list
  • other benefits and payments
    • council tax reduction (council tax rebate/council tax support)
    • local welfare assistance (discretionary assistance fund/ Scottish welfare fund)

Most other non-contributory social security benefits also count, for a full list see the Home Office guidance. The law about public funds is in paragraph 6.2 of the immigration rules. If you are destitute because you do not have access to public funds, you can find information here.

Right of abode

'Right of abode' is a term that describes someone who is entirely free of any kind of immigration control. It applies to all British citizens (but not necessarily to other forms of British nationality). Irish citizens are treated as if they have the right of abode within the common travel area. Some citizens of Commonwealth countries also have the right of abode because they were born to a British parent or married a person with right of abode before 1 January 1983, and they can apply for a certificate of entitlement to prove their status.

Right to reside

'Right to reside' is a generic term that describes anyone who has legal authority to be resident in the UK. It includes anyone who has the right of abode, any form of leave (including leave with a 'no public funds' condition), or any person who is a national of an EEA member state who is exercising one of his/her European Union freedom of movement rights to reside (and work) in the UK. Temporary admission granted by UKIV is not a right to reside.

Settled status

Settled status is another term for a person who has indefinite leave to remain. A person with settled status can apply to be a British citizen provided s/he can show they are of good character (no convictions or fines etc.), have passed the 'Life in the UK' test and have the relevant level of English.


A person who wishes to come to the UK may need a sponsor for the application: this might be an employer (for a work-related application), a university (for study) or a family member for a visit or an application to come to live permanently in the UK. Sponsors of family members are expected to provide accommodation and support for the relatives they bring in, usually providing proof that they meet the minimum income levels set in the immigration rules. Sponsors or dependant adult relatives (not spouses or children, but people who have care needs the sponsor wants to meet in the UK) are usually asked to sign a maintenance undertaking (pdf), which is a legally binding agreement to provide this support.

Stateless person

A stateless person is one who is denied the right to citizenship or permanent residence in their home country or in any other country where s/he was previously resident. There are several reasons why a person can become stateless and you can find out more about this on the Free Movement website. A stateless person is not necessarily at risk of harm, but they may face serious discrimination through having their civil, legal, and social rights reduced or removed. The UK has ratified the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

A stateless person can be granted leave in the same way as any other non-UK national (e.g. as a student, worker permit holder etc.) but can also apply for five years' leave from the Home Office for that reason. The Home Office guidance says that they usually only do this if the applicant does not meet the criteria for asylum or qualify for leave under any other category – although the law (Immigration Rules, part 14) does not strictly require this.. A person who is granted stateless leave gets five years' limited leave after which she/he can apply for indefinite leave to remain.

Temporary admission

Temporary admission is merely a period of grace granted by UKIV to be present in the UK for a limited period without falling foul of the law so that person has time to apply for asylum or leave. Temporary admission is not a form of leave so it does not confer a right to reside or allow that person to claim public funds. Many asylum seekers have temporary admission so they can make their asylum application and any appeals within the UK.

Temporary permission to stay (TPS) – human trafficking and slavery

TPS is a form of limited leave granted under section 65 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and an appendix to the immigration rules. It is granted to survivors of human trafficking or slavery who do not have any other form of leave where it is necessary to help that person recover from physical or psychological harm, to seek compensation, or to help police with their enquiries into the person(s) who exploited them. TPS replaces discretionary leave for survivors of trafficking or slavery but with stricter criteria.

A person who qualifies for TPS is given 30 months leave, or 12 months if pursuing compensation. Leave is given without a ‘no public funds’ condition, with the possibility of an extension.

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)

The Home Office agency responsible for immigration control. UKVI officers decide applications for leave and asylum (including asylum support) according to the immigration rules.

Undocumented (migrants)

'Undocumented' does not have a strict legal meaning, but is the preferred term to describe a migrant who is liable to deportation. It is described in more detail here.

Voluntary return

Voluntary return is a programme run by the Home Office which can help migrants with travel costs to return to their home country. More details can be found here.

Zambrano carers

A 'Zambrano' carer is a person from a non-EEA state whose residence is required in order to enable a child or dependant adult, who is British, to live in the UK (or the rest of the EEA).