This is a detailed guide on being detained at UK immigration and refused entry to the UK. Here’s a quick summary for those who need information fast:
- The most likely reason you will be detained at the airport by customs is a belief that you pose a threat of absconding. You can avoid this by having evidence of your return flight or next journey to show officials at the border.
- Immigration officials will need to take your biometric information and search your bags more thoroughly. If you have nothing to hide this will not be an issue. They will also ask you questions about such topics as how you’ll support yourself and what your plans are in the country.
- If you are taken to a detention centre, it is highly advised you seek help from a professional immigration adviser. You may be asked to provide evidence of your intentions which a lawyer will be able to help you organise and submit.
- We offer in-person or over-the-phone advice to those held in any removal or detention centre across the UK with our Detainee Bail package. Instructing the help of a legal professional will give you the best chance of getting the outcome you are looking for.
Even if you enter the country with the best intentions and official travel documents, there could still be a chance you’ll get detained at the airport. While very rare, this could happen for a number of reasons.
One of the main reasons for being detained at the airport will be that the immigration officer feels you pose a threat of absconding. This means they feel that once in the country you will not follow the conditions of your leave and may not return or move on when expected to.
Citizens of countries such as the US and Australia are known as ‘non-visa nationals’ in the UK. This means they are not required to apply for a visa before entering the country for a visit. This visit can last up to six months but does not allow visitors to engage in any work outside of small business meetings.
Although this means that visits to the UK are much more straightforward for many citizens, the UK border could still be a difficult hurdle if immigration officials doubt your intentions during your stay.
Should you be detained at UK immigration, there are a number of factors that officials will assess before granting you entry to the country.
Reasons for being detained at the airport
No onward travel plans
This is the most likely issue to cause you trouble at the airport. Should officials see that you have no concrete evidence of your plans to leave, this will be a huge absconding red flag.
For many globetrotters, your next move will not always be so carefully planned so even the best-intentioned traveller can slip up here.
The best thing to do before you fly to the UK is to make sure you have evidence of your return flight. If this is not possible, plans organised for the future (in your home country, for example) may be enough to prove that you will not overstay.
You may also be able to let the officials know an estimate of when you intend to leave but this may not be sufficient proof to satisfy the official, so try and sort your plans before travelling.
Under no circumstances should you falsify travel documents for your next journey. If you are discovered there will most likely be serious consequences as this will be seen as deception and could result in a UK travel ban.
If you have ever been detained at the airport in immigration in the UK before, this may also result in you being held up again. Even if you were approved to enter the last time, this experience will be on your record and could cause delay.
Should you be held for questioning at the airport due to a previous detainment, it is highly advised to answer the questions from the official as accurately and calmly as possible. If you are a well-meaning traveller, your visit to the UK will most likely not be seriously affected and you will only be held for a number of hours.
Returning to the UK shortly after leaving
Because citizens of non-visa countries are allowed into the UK for six months upon entry, there have been some reports of non-visa nationals leaving and re-entering to automatically renew this six months’ allowance.
Some travellers may take short visits to Europe before returning to the UK which could result in their travel patterns being flagged by immigration. If this is the case, you should answer the questions (covered in section 2) accurately and calmly. It is not against the law to make short visits out of the UK before returning, but immigration may want to confirm your intentions are genuine.
Periods of overstaying
If you have previously entered the UK for a visit or on a visa and did not leave when your time was up, this will most likely cause you difficulty at customs.
Periods of overstaying of up to 28 days are not counted by the Home Office, so leaving within this time after your assigned leave is less likely to be a problem.
However, any periods of overstaying over 28 days will be recorded by the Home Office and UK officials will be made aware of them at the border.
It is highly recommended you do not overstay at all when visiting or living in the UK under the Immigration Rules. If you overstayed the last time you were in the UK but left within 90 days and paid for the flights yourself, you will be allowed to enter again but there will be a much higher level of scrutiny on you.
You should be prepared to answer the typical questions asked by officials and it is recommended, if you are a visitor, to have concrete evidence of your return journey.
What will happen at the airport
If you are detained at UK immigration, officials will expect you to provide your biometric information. This includes your picture and fingerprint data. This information is usually provided by applicants to most UK visas but will not be required for non-visa visitors before they enter.
It is important to follow the processes of UK immigration as the data collected here is shared with a very wide database and any negative experiences could affect your travels elsewhere in the world.
Your bags will be subject to further scrutiny. If you are a well-intentioned traveller with nothing to hide, this will be of no consequence and shouldn’t take long.
Questioned by immigration officers
You will be asked questions by an immigration official about such things as:
- Your travel plans;
- how you will spend your time in the UK;
- how you will support yourself;
- the amount you currently have in your bank accounts.
It is important to provide accurate answers to these questions in order to satisfy the officials. If your answers do not satisfy the officials, you may be refused entry to the UK at the airport. If this happens, you will either be taken to an immigration detention centre or sent back to your departure location.
You may also be granted temporary admission (the typical maximum time granted is one week) which will allow you time to gather the necessary evidence to prove you will follow the conditions of your leave to enter and will not abscond.
Detention and removal centres
When held in immigration detention UK or granted temporary admission, it is highly advised that you seek advice from a legal professional on what to do next. A legal professional will be able to advise you on what evidence will satisfy the Home Office that you should be allowed to enter, helping to the resolve the issue and allowing you to carry on your travels.
IAS can provide legal support at all immigration removal and detention centres across the UK. We provide support within 24 hours of your first contact and can make visits in person or provide advice over the phone.
The conditions in detention centres are comfortable. You will be provided with food and water and access to a phone, which you can use to contact your loved ones or your legal adviser.
If you are being detained following a period of overstaying, you may have the opportunity to appeal this decision but the most likely outcome will be a return to your country of origin before making a new application.
If you submit your evidence and the decision is made for you to be removed, it is vital that you comply with this in order to protect your chances of entering again in the future. If you do not comply and are forcibly deported, you could face an entry ban of up to 10 years.
Process we follow
As the largest immigration advice firm in the UK, we are well-disposed to help you out wherever you are in the UK. We have two offices in London (one near Heathrow), offices in major cities across the UK and advisers who can provide advice remotely over the phone.
Our first step in helping you will be to conduct an advice session. This will help your lawyer understand your case and make decisions on what your next steps should be. In this session, we will exhaust all options and ensure you are happy with our recommendations before moving any further.
For those being detained for an extended period, your lawyer will then be able to draft your application for immigration bail. This will include the evidence agreed on in your advice session as well as a formal letter of Representation. This will provide details of your case and the reasons you should be granted bail while you await a decision from the Home Office.
If the case is taken further, your lawyer will be able to represent you at a tribunal. They will prepare your case for the trial and will keep you updated throughout the process.
Having legal representation or receiving official advice will give you a much higher chance of success in applying for bail or entry clearance. If you have been detained at UK immigration or refused entry to the UK, an immigration adviser is your best option for continuing your travels ensuring you are safely able to enter the UK again.