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Legal Routes to UK Asylum

It is possible to claim asylum in the UK through various legal routes. A safe and legal route means a journey the UK government has formally approved.

The UK’s asylum laws can be challenging to navigate. Contact Immigration Advice Service today at +44 (0)333 305 9375 for further advice and guidance.

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    An Overview of the Legal Routes to UK Asylum

    Over the last few years, the government has been looking to reduce ‘unlawful migration to the UK’, by introducing sanctions on those coming to the UK for humanitarian protection if they do not do so through a ‘safe and legal’ route.

    The government has introduced a number of different policies to deter ‘unlawful migration’, such as the Illegal Migration Bill and the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.

    The ‘safe and legal’ routes to the UK that currently exist are Refugee Family Reunion, Refugee Resettlement Scheme and Nationality-specific Immigration Routes.

    These routes have different criteria and are very specific to the person and country they come from.

    What are the UK ‘Safe and Legal Routes’?

    Refugee Family Reunion

    Refugee Family Reunion is a ‘legal’ route for family members of those who have already been granted asylum and are legally recognised as refugees within the UK.

    To be eligible for this route, family members need to be the immediate family of the person recognised as a refugee in the UK before that person left their country of origin. Immediate family members can be partners, husbands, wives and dependent children.

    Any other relative of the recognised refugee in the UK is not eligible under this route and would have to apply using alternative routes.

    Since the Nationality and Borders Act was introduced in 2022, the Refugee Family Reunion route has been reduced. People who are granted asylum and recognised as refugees in the UK are divided into two groups: Group 1 and Group 2.

    Group 1 is designated for those who travelled to the UK directly from the country that they fled without delay. They must also have a good cause for their unlawful entry and/or presence in the UK.

    All remaining are classed as Group 2. Those granted status under Group 1 are entitled to sponsor eligible family members within the Refugee Family Reunion route. However, anyone in Group 2 is only allowed to sponsor eligible family members if a refusal of their application would mean that the UK could breach its obligations in the international community in the European Convention on Human Rights.

    The application for this ‘legal’ route is free, yet a successful application does not mean they have status as a refugee and they are not granted asylum. Instead, they are granted leave with the family member who sponsored them.

    Refugee Resettlement Schemes

    The route of a Refugee Resettlement Scheme is for those who have been granted asylum and are already recognised as refugees in a different country than that of the UK. Under a Refugee Resettlement Scheme, people are transferred to the UK (voluntarily) and immediately granted permanent residence.

    This means they do not have to go through the complexities of the asylum process in the UK. 

    You can not apply to be resettled yourself, instead, you are identified by the UNHCR, the UK or foreign immigration authorities and referred to these schemes.

    There are three types of resettlement schemes:

    • UK Resettlement Scheme
    • Community Sponsorship
    • Mandate Resettlement Scheme

    Both the UK Resettlement and Community Sponsorship schemes are only for vulnerable refugees in refugee camps located close to countries in conflict or that are considerably unstable.

    With the UK Resettlement Scheme, local authorities are responsible for all work in integration and processing the refugee status upon their arrival in the UK. In contrast, the Community Sponsorship Scheme matches those in need with local community groups in the UK who have volunteered to help with integration support in a particular area.

    The Mandate Resettlement Scheme is for anyone with a close family member in the UK, who has been given permission to stay in the UK or is in the process of obtaining permanent status, and who is fine to put them up in accommodation.

    Nationality-Specific Immigration Routes

    There are some country-specific routes to the UK, depending on international conflicts and events. Currently, there are only three countries that qualify for this.


    Following the withdrawal of UK and American forces from Afghanistan in 2021 and the subsequent takeover of the Taliban, three ‘safe and legal’ routes were introduced from Afghanistan. These routes are:

    • Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy
    • Ex Gratia Scheme
    • Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme

    The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, as well as the Ex Gratia Schemes are based on applicants being previously employed in Afghanistan by the UK government. This previous employment activity would largely increase the threat risk to the person living in Afghanistan

    The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme is for any nationals from Afghanistan and their dependents in Afghanistan or closely neighbouring countries who might be at risk due to the situation in Afghanistan since the withdrawal.

    There are three pathways for this scheme and they are relevant to people who:

    • Have been evacuated or were identified for evacuation with no success, at the time of the UK’s withdrawal
    • Have already fled to a neighbouring country, have been given official refugee status and identified by the UNHCR, classing a type of resettlement scheme
    • Are at significant risk due to employment, such as British Council Workers in Afghanistan. This pathway has since been closed.

    If you are successful in these schemes, you are still not recognised as a refugee or given asylum.


    Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022, the Home Office introduced various schemes for Ukrainians needing to flee. Temporary visa concessions for Ukrainians were introduced, as well as the Appendix Ukraine Scheme which consisted of three pathways:

    • Ukraine Family Scheme
    • Homes for Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme
    • Ukraine Extension Scheme

    The Ukraine Family Scheme is for Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians who have close Ukrainian relatives who live inside or outside of the UK. For this scheme, you must apply to join a relative who is UK-based. They must also be British, settled, and have humanitarian protection, refugee status or pre-settled status.

    Applicants and the sponsor need to be immediate family members, extended family members or immediate family members.

    The Homes for Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme is for anyone who is living outside of the UK. To be eligible for this scheme, the applicant needs to have an approved sponsor who can accommodate them for a minimum of six months. If you’re going as a family living in the same place, you only need one sponsor between all.

    The Ukraine Extension Scheme is for anyone from Ukraine who had status in the UK on 18 March 2022, or which finished on 01 January 2022, with their partners and children.

    Applications for all three of these schemes are free. The schemes for Ukrainians are not dependent on the applicants’ needs for protection. You must, though, have been living in Ukraine immediately before 01 January 2022. The only exception is for children who were born on or after that date.

    If you are successful, you are not granted leave to remain as a refugee. You are granted leave to remain for up to a maximum of three years. There are benefits to this, such as having permission to access public funds, work and study.

    Hong Kong

    In 2021, the UK Home Office introduced the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) visa and the Hong Kong BN(O) Household Member visa. This enables people to come to the UK with their dependents if they have British Nationality Overseas status.

    Applicants wishing to use the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) route must:

    • Be 18 years old or over
    • Be a British National (Overseas), classified in the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986
    • Be a resident in Hong Kong
    • Be able to find accommodation and support themselves in the UK for a minimum of six months
    • Not fall for refusal
    • Have proof of a valid TB certificate if needed

    The Hong Kong BN(O) Household Member route is designed for adult children who are 18 or over of a BN(O) Status Holder or a BN(O) Status Holder’s partner, born on or after 01 July 1997, to live, study or work in the UK. 

    This route requires a fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge. If you are successful, you are granted leave to remain on a route to settlement, with the permission to work and study as you wish.

    The prices for a Hong Kong British National (in-country) for 30 months (main applicant and dependants) to apply is £180, whilst a Hong Kong British National (in-country) for 5 years is £250.

    ‘Safe and Legal’ Routes Limitations

    The current ‘safe and legal’ routes listed above are extremely limited in their eligibility criteria and the countries that they are confined to. To be able to come to the UK for humanitarian reasons, you would need to be an immediate family member of someone who is already recognised as a refugee in the UK, identified as a refugee in a different country themselves or from Afghanistan, Ukraine or Hong Kong.

    It is important to note that these routes are different from claiming asylum in the UK. Many people who have been given asylum in the UK would not qualify for any of these pathways. There also could be further complications and practical limitations within the country they are applying from which might make these routes unavailable and inaccessible. 

    Make the application process easier with the help of our immigration team.

    Our Immigration Solicitors Can Help You

    You can save a lot of time and money by contacting our specialised immigration lawyers. Understanding the UK’s legal routes and laws can be difficult and might result in delays or even a rejection of your application to come to the UK. Immigration Advice Service has excellent immigration specialists who can ensure you understand the eligibility criteria of the legal route you qualify for.

    Our team at IAS understands the importance of the application and that it might be essential to your move to the UK.  We will work with you to make each step of the process easier for you. Contact us today by calling +44 (0)333 305 9375.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    At a simple level, asylum seekers are individuals who seek international protection from war, conflict, or persecution, while refugees are those who have been officially recognised and granted asylum.

    No, you are only able to claim asylum from within the UK. However, if you qualify for any of the above resettlement schemes, you can apply for these from outside of the UK.

    If you are from Hong Kong, you can apply for settlement status after five years of continuous living in the UK.

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