This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
It is important to remember that immigration advice is heavily regulated. There are legal restrictions on giving immigration advice and providing immigration services. Aside from this, immigration law is complex. If in doubt, you should recommend that constituents seek advice from a specialist solicitor or adviser. Encouraging constituents to access appropriate professional advice is more helpful than trying to be a substitute for it.
Immigration applications are decided with reference to the Immigration Rules. The Rules set out the eligibility criteria and conditions for each UK visa category, as well as the grounds to refuse, withdraw or revoke a visa. The Rules change often. Changes are laid before Parliament and published on gov.uk.
Ministers and Home Office staff have some discretion to make exceptions but in practice they are only likely to consider doing so in very exceptional cases, as discussed below.
New casework: initial actions
This checklist might help you identify an appropriate course of action when dealing with a new piece of casework.
1. Diagnose the type of immigration problem you are dealing with
Establish the facts of the case so you can clarify the issue(s) in question. Gather any relevant documentation that the constituent can provide, including any correspondence with the Home Office, decision/refusal letters and appeal determinations. It is often helpful to liaise with the legal representative if the constituent has one.
2. Identify the stage the case has reached
Different courses of action may be necessary depending on whether, for example:
- An application is outstanding
- An application has been refused
- An appeal is underway
- Removal directions or a deportation order have been served
3. Establish whether the matter is urgent
To help you prioritise your work, check whether there are any imminent or missed deadlines, or if the constituent is facing a significant change of circumstances.
4. Determine whether the constituent is getting adequate help and support
If not, then you should signpost them appropriately, including to sources of free assistance for those who are unable to pay (see below).
5. Consider whether it is necessary or desirable to make an intervention
In some cases, you may feel that intervention is the most appropriate course of action. Relevant considerations may include:
- The urgency of the case
- Previous delays, or a failure to respond/act on the part of the Home Office
- Compassionate circumstances
- Applications requesting exercise of discretion
Possible intervention options
You must use your judgement to determine the extent to which you get involved in a case. Many immigration enquiries come from constituents who need professional legal advice. It is a criminal offence for an unqualified person to provide immigration or asylum advice or representation in the course of a business.
If in doubt, you should respond to constituents with general information and encourage them to seek advice from a specialist solicitor or immigration adviser.
Provide general information
Signpost to sources of legal advice or help
A constituent might need professional advice, particularly if it is a complex or urgent case. The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) has information for consumers who are considering using an OISC-regulated organisation, which includes an Adviser Finder tool. The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association publishes a list of specialist practitioners, and there is a collection of links to additional directories on the Finding a lawyer page on the Right to Remain website.
The Library’s more detailed briefing on Constituency casework: asylum, immigration and nationality includes a list of organisations providing free or non-profit assistance. There is also a general briefing on Legal help: where to go and how to pay.
Chase progress on an application or appeal
If a pending application has exceeded UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)’s service standards, or an appeal heard by the immigration tribunal has not received a decision, you might consider raising this using the MPs’ hotlines list on the parliamentary intranet. The hotlines list is an internal resource for use by MPs and their staff only.
Seek further information about a case
Case-specific queries are often best resolved by contacting UKVI or the relevant Home Office agency via the MP hotlines.
Highlight poor administrative handling of a case
You may wish to support a constituent to complain about the handling of their case, send a letter in support of the constituent’s complaint, or raise the matter directly with a minister’s Private Office.
Constituents can make formal complaints about the standard of service received or professional conduct by using UKVI’s complaints procedure. If people are unhappy with the Home Office’s response they can further complain to the Independent Examiner of Complaints. They can also ask their MP to refer their complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
Make representations in support of a case
MPs and their staff can make representations to the Home Office or a minister on behalf of a constituent if they think it is appropriate. For example, this might be a request to review an initial decision, to support a request for discretion, or to make a special request (such as to expedite an application). However, MPs’ representations don’t automatically carry any more weight with decision-makers than other considerations.
Ministers may be more likely to intervene in cases with exceptional compassionate circumstances, or where new and compelling evidence has been presented. Ministers will not normally intervene if an appeal is outstanding and are unlikely to reverse a decision which has been through the independent appeals process unless new and compelling information has become available.
The involvement of an MP is not a substitute for seeking an appeal or administrative review, or professional legal advice. It is important that constituents take any appropriate legal action alongside contacting their MP.
If a constituent is facing removal or deportation from the UK
Constituents sometimes ask MPs’ offices to intervene when they are facing removal or deportation from the UK. Although people often use the term ‘deportation’ in a general sense, ‘deportation’ and ‘removal’ are distinct legal processes. Generally, deportation is for foreign national offenders. Most migrants in the UK without permission (including refused asylum seekers) are liable to administrative removal.
Intervention by an MP’s office doesn’t automatically prevent a person being administratively removed. But if removal directions have been set, the Home Office must respond to an MP’s representations (PDF) before proceeding with removal.
Ministers have less discretion in deportation cases than in visa decisions or administrative removal cases. Under section 32 of the UK Borders Act 2007, the Home Secretary has a legal duty to deport a foreign national sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment or more, subject to human rights exceptions.
Constituents applying for visas for other countries
These queries are outside MPs’ remit and the Library doesn’t have specialist expertise in other countries’ immigration requirements.
It is usually best to signpost constituents to the relevant country’s Embassy or High Commission. Their websites typically contain general information about their visa requirements. Foreign travel advice published by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office may also help.
The Library briefings After Brexit: visiting, living and working in the EU and EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement: Temporary business travel may be helpful when dealing with questions about visas for EU countries.
The Library’s immigration casework series also includes the following casework articles:
For an overview of the UK’s asylum, immigration and nationality system, and more comprehensive guidance on dealing with casework, see the Commons Library briefing on Constituency casework: asylum, immigration and nationality.
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.