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Passing through immigration control on my return to the UK yesterday, my wife had to restrain me from taking a photograph of one of the notices that appeared on the UK visual displays at Heathrow. She wanted to get home sooner rather than later and, on reflection, I wasn’t in the mood for trouble. The powers of Immigration Officers to stop, search and generally inconvenience are really quite extensive.

However, I did make a careful note, that I think is accurate (I had plenty of time on my hands in the queue):

It is against the law to provide support to asylum seekers who delay their claim without good reason.

If you intend to claim asylum you must do so at this airport.

As far as I am aware, neither of those two propositions is at all correct, even in simplified form.

It is against the law to help an asylum seeker enter the UK if done knowingly and for gain, with certain exceptions (section 25A of the Immigration Act 1971). I’ve no idea where the suggestion of support comes from, though. It is certainly not necessary to claim asylum on arrival, as intimated by the use of the word ‘must’. It is perfectly possible to make a claim from inside the UK after arrival.

Are these statements as misleading as I think they are or can someone point out a law I’ve missed? If so, why are they being used?

I’ve seen from emails and comments that a lot has happened in the last three weeks (the UKBA Zambrano guidance is finally out and there was a major speech by the immigration minister, for example) so I’ll do some catching up with the most important updates and developments over the next few days, I hope.

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The Free Movement blog was founded in 2007 by Colin Yeo, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers specialising in immigration law. The blog provides updates and commentary on immigration and asylum law by a variety of authors.


6 Responses

  1. The notices are there because it’s in the UKBA’s self-interest to have people claim asylum at the point of arrival. This makes it easier for the UKBA to identify from where the person seeking asylum has come, catch them in possession of travel documents which might otherwise be destroyed, and potentially hit the in-bound carrier with a penalty. All these “opportunities” might be lost if the individual makes an in-country asylum claim.

    1. You’re of course correct in your interpretation, but I think FM’s question was rhetorical. And these notices are by no means unique to Heathrow, I remember having seen them (at least the second one) at Edinburgh Airport.

      What can be done if these notices indeed misrepresent the law? Is UKBA’s displaying of misleading notices a breach of law in itself? I can very well imagine that immigration professionals may be unwilling to take UKBA to task over this, but I would happily sign a petition or a letter — hell, even donate some money.

  2. Although obviously accurate, isn’t the second sign helpful to asylum seekers? Applying in-country might affect the credibility of their asylum claim because UKBA will argue that it was not made ‘as soon as reasonably practical’. They also have some decent signs with information about claiming asylum which I thought were a good thing, especially given the lack of information at other EU airports. How about having these translated into different languages?

  3. I too have seen this sign at Heathrow and mused on its suggestion that the large international NGO I work for may be involved in illegal activity by providing support to such people. I believe it must refer to Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 which provides that NASS support (s98, s95 & s4) can be withheld from those who have not claimed asylum “as soon as reasonably practicable after the person’s arrival in the United Kingdom”. After a number of challenges, it now only catches single adults who apply for subs only (so s95). UKBA’s view is that if someone applied for asylum 2 weeks after entering the UK, they must have some form of support available to them during this period. The sign is annoying and plainly misleading.