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10 of the most outrageous Home Office refusal letters


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Bureaucrats are not generally known for their creative thinking. But show a Home Office immigration official an application for asylum or a visa and watch their imagination run riot.

All these are real excuses, communicated in official government letters, for declining a visa, refusing asylum or disbelieving some aspect of the applicant’s case. While they may seem absurd or extreme, some are in fact routine departmental language, repeated in hundreds if not thousands of letters every year.

All are manifestations of what immigration lawyers refer to as a “culture of disbelief”, whereby people wishing to come to or stay in the UK are viewed with the utmost suspicion by hostile officials.

1. Because you went on holiday

This woman in the asylum system told the Home Office that she was a victim of domestic violence. That couldn’t possibly be true, officials decided, because she had gone on holiday three times in the past ten years.

The result was misery for the asylum seeker and her three children, who were refused government accommodation while waiting for their asylum claim to be processed. This can take a while: half of the 32,000 people with pending asylum cases have been waiting for over six months for the Home Office to decide their fate.

Courtesy of Euan MacKay.

2. Because earthquakes aren’t “exceptional”

The Home Secretary has a general discretion to grant anyone permission to stay in the UK. This is known as leave outside the Rules, available “on compelling compassionate grounds” when there are “exceptional circumstances”.

Having this as a fallback should help avoid “computer says no” results, where forcing someone to leave the UK would have appalling consequences but their situation isn’t specifically catered for in the Immigration Rules. Such as, for instance, when an earthquake back home destroys your family home, leaving all your nearest and dearest destitute.

On the other hand, why exercise compassionate discretion when the person applying for it can be blithely advised to find shelter amidst the rubble with their newly homeless family.

Courtesy of Bilaal Shabbir.

3. Because prove that he’s your boyfriend

Most of us take for granted being able to visit friends and relatives in whatever country they happen to be. The reality for certain nationalities — “visa nationals”, in the jargon — hoping to pop into the UK is a full-on visa application. Visit visa applications can be and are refused with no right of appeal, leaving people unable to come see their loved one’s new home.

This lady applied to visit her boyfriend in the UK, who dutifully supplied a letter in support of the visa application. A Home Office visa official rejected the application, demanding evidence of “how this person is known to you [and] why he is inviting you to stay in the UK”. All of which was, er, explained in the letter. 

It is surprisingly difficult to put into legal language why a girlfriend might want to visit her boyfriend, but relying on common sense may not cut it.

Courtesy of Nichola Carter.

4. Because your home is the country you left aged three

People can be deported from the UK because of criminal convictions or because their presence is otherwise not “conducive to the public good”. Getting rid of “foreign criminals” is all well and good, but many of those targeted for deportation are not really foreign at all. Citizenship rules mean that many people born and/or bred in Britain do not have British citizenship, and so can be packed off to a country they hardly know.

This can be resisted on human rights grounds, but the Home Office is nothing if not creative in resisting such arguments:

Courtesy of Luke de Noronha.

5. Because a child’s need for a father is just a “whim”

The Home Office is legally required to take the best interests of children into account when making immigration decisions. Naturally, it does so grudgingly, and having a British child is not by itself reason enough to get to stay.

So when one 14 year old wrote a letter pleading with the Home Office not to take her father away, it was only natural to write back: “the best interests of a child are not to be interpreted as a requirement to bend and sway to the every whim and demand of a child”.


Courtesy of Julian Norman.

6. Because Christianity is not a religion of peace

This man fled persecution in Iran, where converts from Islam to Christianity can have a rough time. At an asylum interview in the UK, he mentioned one reason for swapping faiths was that Christianity is an attractively “peaceful” religion.

In a bid to undermine his account, a zealous Home Office official turned to none other than the Bible, saying that it is “filled with imagery of revenge, destruction, death and violence”. For instance, God says in the Book of Leviticus:

You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will case a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.

This, the refusal letter said, proved that the asylum claim was bogus:

These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering that it is a “peaceful” religion, as opposed to Islam which contains violence rage and revenge.

After an international outcry, the Home Office conceded that this was a bridge too far.

Courtesy of Nathan Stevens.

7. Because we think “Asalam Alikim” is someone’s name

For what it’s worth, there is no religious bias going on here: the Home Office is ecumenical in its ignorance of world religions. Faced with a letter beginning “asalam alikim” (peace be upon you, a standard greeting in Muslim countries), one official grew suspicious: who exactly is this Mr Alikim? 

Courtesy of Lamb Building.

8. Because Brexit

You can’t get a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa any more. Nobody much mourns it, partly because it involved people who wanted to come to the UK to set up a company having to pitch their business idea to civil servants.

One entrepreneur came a cropper in this pound shop Dragon’s Den when the Home Office invoked Brexit-related business uncertainty:

The government is, of course, simultaneously promoting Brexit as wise government policy leading to economic Nirvana. Which is it?

Courtesy of Catherine Taroni.

9. Because Lonely Planet

It is important for officials deciding on asylum applications to be on top of social conditions in particular countries. Whether someone would be at risk of persecution as, say, a gay man in Uganda depends on the facts on the ground.

It would be nice to think that officials making such weighty decisions would consult the volumes of “country of origin information” provided by their own department, as well as by independent experts and NGOs. But sometimes they just Google it.

Courtesy of Immigration Law Gaffes.

10. Because [insert reason here]

Immigration lawyers often suspect that the Home Office culture of disbelief means coming up with reasons to refuse as many people as possible, rather than carefully weighing up individual applications. Receiving template rejection letters where the author has forgotten to fill in the reasons for refusal does nothing to dispel these suspicions.

Courtesy of Iain Halliday.

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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.