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What does it mean? - key immigration terms explained

This page is for housing advisers. If you are a new arrival 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.

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

All EEA nationals living in the UK and all people with EU rights to reside can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to receive 'EU settled status'. More detail is available here. For up-to-date information on the scheme consult the page on Brexit developments.

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

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.

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 paragraphs 6, 6A, 6B and 6C of the immigration rules.

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.

Sponsorship

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 an undertaking, which is a legally binding agreement to provide this support.

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.

UK Immigration and Visas (UKIV)

The Home Office agency responsible for immigration control. UKIV 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.

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Background Topics

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