UK Immigration Rules

Immigration and visa system

The UK Immigration Rules are the means by which the United Kingdom controls immigration into the country and provide the baseline for the Home Office in making its immigration decisions. The Rules themselves are not primary legislation (Acts of Parliament), but are created by virtue of The Immigration Act 1971, which remains the primary Act of Parliament encapsulating immigration law and controlling immigration into the United Kingdom.

The Immigration Act states that "the Secretary of State shall from time to time [...] lay before Parliament statements of the rules, or any changes in the rules, laid down by him as to the practice to be followed in the administration of this Act for regulating the entry into and stay in the United Kingdom of persons required by this act to have leave to enter, including any rules as to the period and to the conditions to be attached in different circumstances..."

The Immigration Rules are made at the behest of the Home Secretary (currently Theresa May) and are subject to parliamentary scrutiny, although in reality this is often extremely cursory.

Amendments to the Immigration Rules are frequent; in 2010 there were eight statements of changes to the Rules, in 2011 a further eight and in 2012 there were ten. By convention, changes to the Rules are normally laid before Parliament twenty-one days before they come into force, but this is not mandatory and can be overridden if necessary. Thus the Statement of Changes to the Rules laid before Parliament on 30 January 2013 came into effect the next day. This was justified on the basis that it was necessary to act quickly to deal with abuses to the Rules in question (which involved Tier One (Entrepreneur) visas).

The Rules deal with every category of immigration and as such are long and complex and difficult to navigate. They cover the requirements that an applicant must meet to be granted leave in any particular category, whether this be passing the Life in the UK Test for those seeking indefinite leave to remain or meeting specific financial criteria for those under the Points-Based System. They also stipulate in many instances the detailed evidence an applicant must produce to prove that they meet the designated criteria.

Care also needs to be taken because some parts of the rules are historical and refer to categories of immigration which are only available to those already granted leave in this category (such as Tier 1 (General) migrants), and not to newcomers. It is therefore easy to be misled.

The key message therefore for those subject to the Rules is to take nothing for granted. So whether you are seeking UK entry clearance or you have already been granted leave to remain in the UK, check that the Rules have not changed since you last applied and take professional immigration advice. Immigration controls are getting stricter all the time. A recent example is the immigration rules concerning marriage and partners; these were changed on 9 July 2012, caught many unawares and left them struggling to meet the new criteria.

Most immigrants, unless EU nationals (to whom a separate and generally more benign set of rules apply), will fall into the category of visitors, Points-Based System applicants or family members.

For specialist legal help on immigration to the UK, send us an enquiry or call us on +44(0)20 7724 4488.

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