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.
The legal framework
Immigration applications and appeals are decided with reference to the UK’s Immigration Rules, which are made under the Immigration Act 1971. The Immigration Rules are revised frequently. All changes can be found in the Immigration Rules: statement of changes.
Ministers (and staff in the Home Office’s UK Visas and Immigration directorate) have some discretion to make exceptions to the Rules, but are only likely to consider doing so in very exceptional cases.
When approaching an immigration case, the following checklist will help you gain a better understanding of the constituent’s circumstances and decide an appropriate course of action to take.
1. Diagnose the type of immigration problem you are dealing with
In order to clarify the issue(s) in question, it is important to establish the facts of the case. The best way of doing so is to gather any relevant documentation that the constituent is able to provide, including any correspondence with the Home Office, e.g. a decision/refusal letter or an appeal determination. It is often helpful to liaise with a 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
- A removal direction or deportation order has been served
3. Establish whether the matter is urgent
Immigration casework can be time consuming, and high volumes can be difficult to manage. Identifying urgent cases from the outset will help you prioritise your work.
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. The Library briefing on Constituency casework: asylum, immigration and nationality includes a list of national and regional organisations providing free or non-profit assistance that may be of use, depending on the nature of the case.
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
- Delays, or a failure to respond/act on the part of the Home Office
- Compassionate circumstances
- Applications requesting exercise of discretion
- A potential breach of a person’s rights
Intervention options available to MPs are discussed below.
How you can help
You must use your judgement to determine the extent to which you get involved in a case. It is important to know your limits – remember, there are legal restrictions on giving immigration advice. If in doubt, you should be careful to keep information general and recommend that constituents seek advice from a specialist solicitor or adviser.
Provide general information
Chase progress on an application or appeal
If a pending application or appeal has exceeded UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)’s service standards or visa processing times, you may wish to consider raising this with UKVI or the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal (contact details are available from the hotlines list on the Parliament intranet).
[The hotlines list is an internal resource for use by Members 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 dedicated MPs’ correspondence channels (available from the hotlines list on the Parliament intranet).
Signpost to sources of legal advice or help
A constituent may need to seek legal or professional advice, particularly in complex or urgent cases. The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) has published a collection of pages providing information for consumers who are considering using an OISC regulated organisation, which includes an Adviser Finder tool that lists regulated advisers. The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association publishes a list of specialist practitioners, which may also be helpful.
More generally, the Library briefing on Legal help: where to go and how to pay provides information on sources of legal advice.
Make representations to the Home Office or Minister directly
MPs and their staff can make representations on the behalf of a constituent to the Home Office or a Minister directly. This could be to request a review of an initial decision, support an application for discretion, or to make a special request (e.g. to expedite an application). Ministers may be more likely to intervene in cases with exceptional compassionate circumstances, or where new and compelling evidence has been presented.
The involvement of an MP is not a substitute for exercising a right of appeal or administrative review (see the casework article on Immigration appeal rights for further information), or seeking professional legal advice. It is important that any appropriate legal action is taken by constituents alongside this.
Highlight poor administrative handling of a case
Complaints about the standard of service received or professional conduct can be raised with UKVI by following its complaints procedure. Complaints can also be made through the Home Office complaints procedure. You may wish to consider filing a complaint on a constituent’s behalf, sending a letter in support of the constituent’s complaint, or escalating the matter to the Minister’s Private Office directly.
Unresolved complaints can be referred to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
Constituents applying for visas for other countries
It is usually best to signpost constituents to the relevant Embassy or High Commission. Their websites typically contain general information about visa requirements. Foreign travel advice published by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office may also be of help. These queries are outside of UK MPs’ areas of responsibility/influence and the Library does not have specialist expertise in other countries’ immigration requirements.
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 casework regarding visa requirements for work and travel to Europe since the end of the transition period.
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.