What is Asylum?

Asylum is a form of protection extended to individuals by the UK government. Granting ‘asylum’ means giving someone permission to remain in another country. Asylum Seekers must prove that they are being persecuted in their own country, based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, and/or political opinion.

The terms ‘asylum-seeker’ and ‘refugee’ are often mistaken for the same thing. An Asylum-seeker is someone claiming he or she is a refugee, but whose claim has not been evaluated yet.
The right to claim asylum is an international law. The UK government is obliged to provide protection to people who meet the criteria.

Asylum-seekers are not allowed to work unless they have been waiting for a decision on their case for more than a year. In that case, they can apply to the UK Border Agency for a work permit.


There are three pieces of international law that can be used to support an asylum application in the UK:

  • Under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees asylum seekers must prove that they are in fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political views, etc and are unable or unwilling to seek protection in their own country. In order to be evaluated as a refugee, there has to be a future risk. You can’t get asylum for having suffered harm in the past (read more).
  • The 1950 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) allows asylum seekers to apply to remain in the UK if removing them from the country would result in a breach of their rights. The ECHR has a number of Articles of protected rights, however, most human rights claims are based on Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhumane or degrading treatment) (Read more).
  • European Union Asylum Qualification Directive adopted by all EU members, it is intended to ensure a common criteria for identifying refugees is applied. (Read more).

Refugee Status Granted

If you get refugee status on the grounds of the 1951 Geneva Convention, it lasts for five years. If the circumstances in the country of origin have changed, the UK Border Agency can review your refugee status. If after five years it is still unsafe for the refugee to return to their own country they will be able to apply for a legal status known as ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK’.

Once an asylum-seeker is granted refugee status in the UK, they have the right to work, reunite with their spouse and children under 18, and claim benefits. However, a child under the age of 18, recognised as a refugee, does not have the same right to be joined by their parents or siblings.