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Immigration and Asylum Seeking

Immigration refers to the movement of people from one nation-state to another and is a major political issue in the UK. An immigrant is a person who leaves their home country to settle temporarily or permanently in another country.

  • In 2011, around 13% of the population of Wales and England were born abroad, approximately 7.5 million people
  • Wales falls under UK immigration law and standards but the Welsh Government is responsible for the services that individuals receive in Wales in relation to education, housing and healthcare
  • Immigration is a life changing and challenging process often involving leaving behind family and friends
  • Immigrants need to adapt to new laws, a new culture, new language and search for a job and a home
  • In some cases, immigrants may experience racism, hostility and conflict in their new country
  • Immigration status is important when applying for hospital treatment, a bank account, social security benefits, housing from the local authority, education, a marriage license or a job

Types of visitors to Wales and immigrants

Being an immigrant can mean a number of different things depending upon circumstances, reasons for being in this country and how long an individual intends to stay.

An economic migrant is someone who has moved to another country to work.

European Nationals

If you come from the European Economic Area (EEA) or country within the European Union and have a valid passport or identity card you are entitled to enter, live or work in the UK or Wales.

These countries include:

  • Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, the Republic of Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and Switzerland
  • Although Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are not members of the European Union (EU), their citizens have the same rights as EU citizens to enter, live in and work in the UK
  • Citizens of Bulgaria and Romania must still obtain permission to work in the UK


  • If a person from a non European Union or EEA country plans to stay in the UK or Wales for less than six months then they are classed as a visitor
  • General visitors to Wales and the UK may be tourists, or need visas to take part in education or work
  • The duration of the visit will be stamped into their passport
  • If they intend to stay longer then they are classed as an immigrant and need to apply for an immigration visa
  • There are some circumstances where general visitor and immigration visas can be refused

Asylum seekers

Asylum seekers are often fleeing from persecution, torture, human rights violations or conflict and war in their own country.

  • The UK and Welsh Government proudly uphold the European Convention on Human Rights to protect asylum seekers who come to this country seeking refuge
  • In 2009 there were 2,322 asylum seekers living in Wales. Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Wrexham are included in a network of 16 ‘Cities of Sanctuary’ throughout the UK providing a place of welcome and safety for people seeking sanctuary from war and persecution

However, it is important to make an application for asylum as soon as possible after entering the UK, otherwise support may be difficult to obtain.

  • An asylum application must be submitted to Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) in the Home Office to make the initial decision on whether an individual can remain in the UK
  • While an application for asylum is being considered there is support available from the UK Border Agency
  • A case owner (a person who can be contacted about the application) is allocated to explain the processes
  • An application registration card (ARC) will be issued as a means of identification, with personal details and a photograph
  • An Asylum Support Agreement will be made if a family or individual are unable to support themselves and meet the eligibility requirements
  • An Asylum Support Agreement sets out the conditions of staying in contact with the case owner and UK Border Agency and any accommodation or financial support provided
  • Asylum seekers are not allowed to work while their application to live in the UK is being considered

Asylum Seeker Young People
  • Young people often arrive with their asylum seeker families and stay with them whilst the Home Office considers their application
  • However, there are around 3,000 children arriving in the UK alone every year seeking asylum that have either been separated from their family or don’t have a family anymore
  • These unaccompanied young people have to make an application to the Home Office in the same way that adults do
  • It can often be a confusing and traumatic experience for children fleeing war, turmoil and violence in their own country, with no knowledge of the language, customs and culture of the UK
  • It can be particularly confusing and traumatic for children and young people arriving alone who might need extra support from their case owner
  • All children and young people seeking asylum either with their families or alone, have the right to receive a full-time education in the UK between the ages of 5 and 16
  • The Welsh Government has a commitment to the UNCRC and upholding young peoples rights in Wales and this extends to asylum seeking young people

The Home Office considers all applications to live in this country from asylum seekers within six months, at which point if successful they will begin their life in the UK.

A failed asylum seeker is someone whose application has been unsuccessful and who is waiting to return either voluntarily or by being forcibly sent back to their country of origin.


If the Home Office considers an asylum application for the UK to be successful then the person achieves 'refugee status'.

  • A refugee is allowed to stay in the country having proved they would face persecution back home (race; religion; nationality; political opinion; sexuality; orientation)

The Welsh Refugee Council is an independent charity helping all refugees and asylum seekers in Wales, offering specialist advice and support face-to-face, online and via telephone. If you have any queries concerning your asylum or the support that may be available to you then contact them as soon as possible.

Illegal Immigrants

  • An illegal immigrant is someone who has arrived from another country and has intentionally not made themselves known to the authorities
  • An illegal immigrant can also be considered someone has stayed longer than six months with a general visitor visa without obtaining permission to extend their stay
  • An illegal immigrant in this circumstance has no legal basis to stay in the country
  • If discovered they can be arrested, detained and sent back to their country of origin

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is an increasingly worrying problem in the UK, Europe and rest of the world. The police estimate that there are around 4,000 children, young people and adult trafficking victims in the UK at any one time.

  • If an individual has been brought into the UK or Wales by deception, fraud or by force or threat or violence by another then they are considered to be a victim of Human Trafficking
  • This is a form of modern day slavery where a person has been taken against their will or by deception, into another country to be exploited by their captor
  • Sometimes they have been brutally abducted against their will, drugged, beaten, raped or abused
  • Sometimes individuals have been transported into the UK on the promise of a better life, deceived into paying sums of money or agreeing to pay their wages to their captors once they get a job
  • Once trafficking victims are in the UK, they are forced to work as servants, slaves, or forced into sexual abuse and prostitution
  • They are essentially imprisoned, forced to work long hours in poor conditions, unable to leave because of their unpaid debt or through fear of violence either to themselves or to family members in their country of origin

For further information, advice and support please see the sections on Law and Rights, Health, Money, Work and Housing. There are also a number of charities and organisations offering help and support to asylum seekers, refugees and trafficking victims.

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