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UK Immigration Rules Not Fit For Purpose

"Overly complex and unworkable." This is how the UK's independent legal review body has described the Immigration Rules in a report released on 14 January 2020.

The Law Commission's conclusions following extensive consultations were not positive and highlighted what immigration lawyers, judges, and support groups have been saying for years - the system is not fit for purpose.

Now extending to 1,100 pages, the Immigration Rules is the statutory instrument that governs immigration law in the UK. It sets out the criteria for non-UK citizens being able to enter and remain in the country.

The last time the Immigration Rules were comprehensively redrafted was in 1994. Since then, amendments and changes have been tacked onto various parts and sections, making it virtually incomprehensible for ordinary people.

Public law commissioner Nicholas Paines QC stated of the quadrupling of the size of the Rules in the last ten years: "This has resulted in mistakes that waste time and cost taxpayer money."

Stating that the Rules need to be streamlined, Mr Paine QC commented: "By improving the drafting, restructuring the layout and removing inconsistencies, our recommendations will make a real difference by saving money and increasing public confidence in the rules."

Distrust Among Migrant Groups

Consultation respondents told the Law Commission that many people distrusted the current immigration system.

"Coram Children's Legal Centre and Let Us Learn referred to longstanding and historic distrust of the Home Office amongst their client group, young vulnerable asylum seekers and migrants, with clients in outreach advice sessions expressing anxiety at the decision-making process and the perception that the Home Office tries to refuse applications rather than looking to allow them.

"They referred to the high success rate in tribunal appeals. Similarly, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants expressed distrust of the culture within the Home Office, and the pressure under which caseworkers operate, saying that 'caseworkers have very little training', are often very short term, and are under clear pressure, even if denied by ministers, to refuse applications."

Last year, figures showed that over half of all immigration and asylum appeals succeeded. This illustrates the poor quality of Home Office decision making. And these incorrect decisions have catastrophic consequences for migrants. Unable to work, access healthcare, rent a home - they often live in limbo for years. Some are unfortunate enough to be left languishing in detention centres for months, waiting for there appeal to progress through the Tribunal.

This is the human cost of the UK's messy, virtually unfathomable Immigration Rules.

Shorter, Smarter, Simpler

The Law Commission recommends that the Immigration Rules be redrafted using language and structure designed for a non-expert user. However, the Commission pointed out that the term 'non-expert user' did not fit nicely into a specific category. Some migrants may be particularly vulnerable, having been abused or trafficked. Others may not speak English well or have mental health issues. Therefore, there is no "one size fits all" approach."

Most of those who responded to the consultation which proceeded the report stated that the complexity of the Immigration Rules led to mistakes. Bear in mind that respondents included immigration caseworkers deciding on applications.

"The view most clearly expressed was that their complexity results in applicants failing to understand the eligibility criteria and evidential requirements for a successful application. Mistakes not only arise from the internal complexities of the Rules, but also from difficulties in navigating guidance and application forms."

Benefits of shorter, simpler Immigration Rules containing fewer amendments would include easy navigation, reduced costs, and a more common-sense approach to decision-making. However, respondents to the consultation recognised that these benefits would need to be balanced with the requirements for consistent decisions and full transparency.

The Law Commission's recommendations for Improving the Immigration Rules

The report makes 41 recommendations, including:

  • "Overhaul" the Immigration Rules.
  • The following principles should underpin the redrafting of the Immigration Rules:
  • suitability for the non-expert user;
  • comprehensiveness;
  • accuracy;
  • clarity and accessibility;
  • consistency;
  • durability (a resilient structure that accommodates amendments); and
  • capacity for presentation in a digital form.
  • A less rigid approach should be given to evidence requirements - for example, non-exhaustive lists can be included in some categories where documentary evidence is required.
  • Where evidence requirements are less prescriptive, there should be details of categories of evidence the decision-maker may consider.
  • The creation of a booklet of definitions.
  • Subheadings should only be used if they add to the clarity and understanding of the text.
  • Each Part should include a table of contents.
  • Drafting should use everyday English and concise language.
  • Reduce Statements of Change (which amend the Rules) to two per year.
  • Avoid cross-referencing paragraphs and ensure the wording "states directly what they [the paragraphs] intend to achieve."
  • A structured process for feedback should be designed to ensure identified problems are swiftly rectified. This could be in the form of an online portal.
  • An exercise of simplification of guidance should be undertaken in tandem with the simplification of the Immigration Rules.
  • The Guidance should not simply repeat the Rules but detail how a particular Rule should be applied.

Protecting future Immigration Rules from becoming unwieldy

The Law Commission recognised that a one-off fix of the Immigration Rules will not be of much use if they are allowed to become monstrously clumsy within a few years. To avoid such an occurrence, it is recommended that discussions with expert groups "could play an important role in controlling complexity and promoting consistency and certainty".

Will the Recommendations be Implemented?

The Home Office has a LOT of work to contend with at present. An entire new immigration system is being designed to deal with EU/EEA nationals who theoretically, from the end of December 2020, will need to apply for a visa if they wish to stay in the UK to work or live for more than six months.

Given that the recommendations provided by the Law Commission are comprehensive, and that nothing is achieved at speed by Whitehall, we will have to live with the Immigration Rules as they are for some time yet. For expert assistance with your immigration matter, get in touch with our experienced immigration solicitors.

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O.L

Andy Tieu is absolutely amazing.

As a lawyer myself I can categorically say that he knows his stuff, gentle, responsive, cares about you and not just about the money, very professional.
I mean I can go on and on!

Andy and the entire team at Reiss Edwards are amazing!

Thanks again Andy.

Kiran Sardar


I found Joe very helpful and tremendous patience which is a must in this professional as there are lots of emotions always involved in each and every case.

The way they dealt with my case during COVID19 Situation is highly appreciable. I would definitely recommend Joe D. and Anna F. Anna is an amazing lady, her patience is beyond my words.

Her hard work and professionalism have no boundaries. She is the right person for all type of cases.

Thanks to Anna and Joe for all your support and guidance which helped me fulfill my dream.

I would say Reiss Edwards is lucky to have Joe D. and Anna F. Great job Reiss Edwards.

thanks once again. Anna you’re a Gem and a Star.

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"The help, the professionalism, the kindness from this team is phenomenal. A massive thank you to Anna Foley.

I have had a really tough time with getting my husband’s visa. My last immigration lawyer made many mistakes that caused stress, disappointments and sadness.

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Top Notch Immigration Service

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Gallagher Jones

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Fong Li

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Salisu Ibrahim

"Fantastic Solicitors!!! My wife's spouse visa extension application was refused by the Home Office and they gave her 14 days to leave the country. We contacted Reiss Edwards and they said "OK don't worry we will sort this out". They put together the list of documents for me to obtain and they prepared a bundle which was as thick as the printer it came out from.We followed everything they asked us to do and in the end we won our appeal and got our spouse visa. We can't recommend them enough and we have promised ourselves never to make any more UK visa applications without them".

Amir Sandeep

"The team of lawyers at Reiss Edwards are very professional and friendly people. Their experience in and around UK immigration law is quite extensive; be sure that you application is in safe and competent hands. My immigration matter was an indefinite leave to remain application based on Tier 1 on a self-employment basis. The immigration lawyers at Reiss Edwards made sure that the application was perfect and ready to be accepted. I got a positive decision and I recommend them highly for anyone who needs a UK immigration help".

Reiss Edwards Reviews

O.L

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"Anna Foley was the lawyer helping my partner obtain an EEA EFM visa. She was ou...

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Gallagher Jones

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Fong Li

"Investing over 2 million pounds is defintely not a routine decision. We had to ...

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