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What are your rights?

what are your rights

PLEASE NOTE: the contents of this page might not be up to date, as immigration law changes regularly. Contact THT Direct for a referral to an immigration solicitor who will be able to advise you.

  1. Your Rights
  2. Immigration control
  3. Detention
  4. Visas

Your Rights

There are a few things you need to be aware of when it comes to your immigration rights:

  • Your rights will be affected depending on where you were born – it depends on that country’s immigration control.
  • If you’re a non-visa national, then you won’t need a visa to enter the UK – but you may still be refused entry on arrival if you don’t have a genuine reason for coming to the UK.
  • If you’re a visa national you’ll require a visa before you come to the UK- this is called entry clearance, which means that a Visa Officer will look into your application and possibly interview you to find out your reasons for coming to the UK.

There are other categories under the immigration rules which means you may not need a visa and you will be able to gain entry without permission on arrival. For further information on visas and extensions, you can visit the UK Border Agency.

Immigration control

If you’re a Commonwealth citizen without right of abode, or outside the European Economic Area (EEA)countries, you’ll be most affected by immigration control.

Right of abode is a technical term that applies only to British citizens and some Commonwealth citizens. Commonwealth citizens with right of abode have the same rights in the UK as British citizens. They’re free from immigration control. A list of Commonwealth countries is available on the Commonwealth website.

If you’re a Commonwealth citizen, you’ll have right of abode if you were born before 1 January 1983 and:

  • At the time of your birth, your mother was a Citizen of the UK and Colonies (CUKC) born in the UK (which included Eire before 31 March 1922). If your father was born in the UK, you may be a British citizen.
  • You’re a woman who was, at any time before 1 January 1983, married to a man with right of abode (which includes a man who is a British citizen).

If you’re a Commonwealth citizen with right of abode who wishes to enter the UK, you must prove that you have right of abode by producing a Certificate of Entitlement. You should apply for this at your nearest British Embassy or High Commission before travelling to the UK. The Certificate of Entitlement is valid for the same period as your current passport. It can be revoked if you produce evidence that you have become a British citizen, or a British subject with right of abode.

If you’re a Commonwealth citizen (or British citizen) with right of abode, you have the right to stay in the UK with no conditions and to come and go as you please. Unlike people with indefinite leave to remain, if you have right of abode, you can re-enter the UK without restrictions even after absences of more than two years.

The main situation with immigration control that may affect you is if you wish to bring a spouse, civil partner or dependent relative into the UK. However, spouses and civil partners of EU nationals shouldn’t be affected as long as they can prove their identity and their relationship to an EU national.

If you’re in one of the categories described above, you’ll generally be able to:

  • move freely in and out of the UK
  • work in the UK
  • claim Social Security benefits - there may sometimes be problems over entitlement eg, you may not pass the Habitual Residence Test.

These rights may be restricted in some circumstances. Sometimes, some immigration control may apply. For example, most settled people can’t leave the UK for more than two years without the risk of losing their settled status.

Can an immigration officer or UK Border Official discriminate against certain groups?

Discrimination by the Government against a national or ethnic group is specifically authorised where evidence shows that a group tends to breach immigration laws.

If you belong to such a group, you may be subjected to more rigorous examination by an immigration officer. You may also be detained, refused permission to enter and remain pending a decision on your case or have a condition or restriction imposed on your permission to enter the UK.


Would I be detained on arrival to the UK?

You shouldn’t be detained for an immigration-related matter unless there’s no reasonable alternative.
You might be detained on arrival in the UK or after you have already entered the UK.

The power to detain people can be exercised by immigration officers. An immigration officer also has the power to grant temporary admission or release from detention.

Immigration officers can detain the following groups of people, taking into consideration several factors:

  • People who an immigration officer needs to examine in order to decide whether they should be granted leave to enter the UK.
  • People who were granted leave to enter before they arrived in the UK, but who have been examined since arrival in the UK and who have had their leave to enter suspended. They may be detained while the examination is completed and a decision is made about whether to cancel their leave to enter.
  • Illegal entrants and people reasonably suspected of being illegal entrants, while a decision is made about whether to issue removal directions, or until they are removed after directions have been made. 
  • People who had limited leave to enter or remain in the UK and who have not observed a condition attached to their leave, for example a prohibition on working. The person can be detained while a decision is made to remove them or until they are removed after directions have been made. 
  • People who obtained, or who are reasonably suspected of having obtained, leave to enter the UK by deception, while a decision is made to remove them or until they are removed after directions have been made.
  • The family members of a person who has been given removal directions.
  • Members of the crew of a ship, aircraft or train who remain beyond the leave granted to enable them to join their ship, aircraft or train, or who abscond after having lawfully entered the UK without leave to enter.

Rather than be detained, you may be temporarily admitted to the UK. In this case you may be required to meet reporting conditions. This means that you are temporarily admitted with certain restrictions placed eg, on where you stay. For more information about alternatives to detention consult the UK Border Agency.

Taking into consideration several factors, immigration officers can also detain:

  • People who have been found guilty of criminal charges and whom the court has recommended for deportation.
  • People who have been given notice of a decision to make a deportation order.
  • People against whom a deportation order is in force.
  • People who have been certified by the Secretary of State as being a risk to national security. They can be detained even if they cannot be removed or deported from the UK.


A visa is the entry clearance given to a person from a visa national country (a visa national), irrespective of the purpose of the visit. A visa national will always require a visa each time they enter the UK.

For more information about visas please visit UK Border Agency.

If you’re a visa national entering the UK as a visitor with joint entry clearance and leave to enter (a Visitor Visa), you can leave and re-enter the UK as often as required as long as your entry clearance is still valid. Leave to enter as a visitor will be for a period of six months where the visa is valid for six months or more. If fewer than six months remain, a visitor can enter for the length of time remaining.

What’s the difference between ‘entry clearance’ and ‘leave to enter’ in the UK?

Whatever type of entry clearance you have, you must travel to the UK within the time stated on the entry clearance - this is normally six months. If you wish to travel later than this, you should apply to the Embassy, High Commission or Consulate to have the date by which you should have travelled changed. You should make this application either by post or in person, before the original date expires.

If you have joint entry clearance and leave to enter, leave to remain in the UK is determined by the dates on the entry clearance. If you arrive in the UK after the 'valid from' date on your Visa, you should still leave by the 'valid until' date, even if this results in a shorter stay than desired. You can, however, apply in the UK to extend your stay. If you have joint entry clearance and leave to enter, you may still be examined by an immigration officer at the port of entry. If your leave to enter is not suspended or cancelled, you need no further notice of her/his leave to enter. A person who does not already have leave to enter does need to receive notice that you have been granted leave to enter the UK. This can take the form of a passport stamp, fax or e-mail or, in the case of a visitor, orally (including by telephone). Leave to enter may also be given to a responsible third party, for example, a tour operator.


The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 19/9/2014 by C. Berry

Date due for the next review: 31/3/2015

Content Author: J. Font

Current Owner: D. Anyanwu

More information:

Citizen's Advice, Advisernet - Getting entry clearance and leave to enter