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Women's Aid - The Survivor's Handbook - Immigration

Immigration issues

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The information in this section will help you if you are experiencing domestic violence and your immigration status is insecure.
If you have insecure immigration status, you are still entitled to protection from domestic violence, just like anyone else in the UK. Your abuser will also be subject to the same sanctions as anyone else, whatever his or her immigration status.
Did you come to the UK to marry or join your partner?
If you came to the UK in order to marry or join your partner who is already settled here, current immigration rules state that you have to complete a two-year probationary period - during which time you must stay with your partner - before you can make an application for indefinite leave to remain in this country.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, your abuser (and/or his family) may use your insecure immigration status to abuse you further. He may have taken your passport and other documents from you, denied you any information about your rights, and isolated you from outside contacts. Even if you have completed the two-year probationary period, you may never have had your immigration status confirmed because you have been kept unaware of the procedures. Furthermore, you may be afraid of reporting the abuse to anyone, or to leave your home, in case you are deported.
If you are subject to immigration control, you will usually be unable to claim most state benefits (4), including Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance, Housing Benefit, homelessness assistance, Child Benefit, disability allowances or Working Families Tax Credit. This is known as having 'no recourse to public funds'. Therefore you will almost certainly be reliant on your husband, partner or family to support you, and so you will be even more dependent on them. See 'If you have no recourse to public funds' section for more information and some alternative sources of support.
Domestic violence and the immigration rule
If you are a survivor of domestic violence and can produce clear evidence of this, and are also subject to the two-year probationary period, you may be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK (1). To qualify for leave to remain in the UK as a victim of domestic violence, you have to show all the following:
  • You have been given limited leave to enter or remain in the UK as the spouse or partner of someone already settled here.
  • You are still subject to the two-year probationary period.
  • Domestic violence occurred during this probationary period.
  • You are no longer living with your partner (that is, your 'sponsor').
  • Domestic violence was the reason for the breakdown of this relationship.
You must also have clear evidence of domestic violence supported by one of the following forms of 'proof':
  • A non-molestation order or other protection order.
  • A relevant court conviction against your partner.
  • Full details of a relevant police caution.
If none of the above is available, however, then you will need to produce two or more of the following:
  • A letter from a refuge organisation or other domestic violence service confirming your experience of domestic violence.
  • A medical report from a hospital doctor confirming that you have injuries consistent with being the victim of domestic violence.
  • A letter from a GP who has examined you and is satisfied you have injuries consistent with being the victim of domestic violence.
  • An undertaking given to a court that your abuser will not approach you.
  • A police report confirming their attendance at your home due to domestic violence.
  • A letter from social services confirming their involvement in connection with domestic violence.

It is your responsibility, or that of your legal representative or other advisor, to provide this evidence as part of your application. If you want to apply to stay in the UK under these immigration rules, application forms are available at  the Border and Immigration Agency you could ask one of the organisations listed under Further information to help you. If your initial application is refused, you have the right of appeal.

It may take time to find expert legal representation on immigration issues, and in some areas, access to such representation is particularly difficult. Time will then be needed for the advisor to gather evidence in support of your application, and for the Border and Immigration Agency (previously the Immigration and Nationality Department) to consider it and make its decision. Until your application to remain has been accepted (either initially, or on appeal) you will continue to have no recourse to public funds. See also Further information for contact details of domestic violence support services.

New rules from 2nd April 2007 mean that most applicants for indefinite leave to remain now have to show they have sufficient knowledge of English and of "life in the UK", in addition to meeting usual requirements.  However, those who apply under the Domestic Violence rule do not have to fulfil these new requirements.  There is new application form for use in domestic violence applications, only (2) .  Otherwise the rules remain as above .
If you have over-stayed your leave to remain in the UK because you were unaware of your rights under these rules, you may still be able to apply on discretionary grounds. Consideration will be given to your application if it is submitted not long after your probationary period has expired, but you will not have a right of appeal.

If you have made an application for asylum which is outstanding or has been turned down, or your insecure immigration status is for some other reason, then regrettably you cannot benefit from these rules.
If you are an asylum seeker
If you are an asylum seeker or a dependent of an asylum seeker and you are experiencing domestic violence, reporting this should not affect your claim for asylum in any way (2). Try to keep all relevant papers, including your passport and those of your children, with you at all times if you possibly can. If you are being accommodated as an asylum seeker, your safety and that of your children should be paramount. If you report domestic violence, your accommodation provider should ensure that, with your consent, you are transferred immediately to alternative accommodation that is safe and secure. The National Asylum Support Service (NASS) should pay all reasonable costs of alternative safe accommodation (including refuge accommodation). They should also refer you to other appropriate agencies for support. You should also be able to claim emergency support for your essential living needs for a short period of time.
A case conference will probably be arranged to agree on a plan of action. You - but not your abuser - will be invited, and it should be held at a place and time that is convenient and safe for you. If you need an interpreter, your accommodation provider should arrange this. Among other things, the case conference will:
  • Consider your future accommodation needs.
  • Encourage you to report incidents of violence to the police.
  • Suggest you obtain legal advice (for example, on getting an injunction).
  • If you have children, suggest social services are informed.
They will also consider whether to withdraw support from your abuser, or whether he should be transferred to alternative accommodation.
If you are not the principal asylum seeker (that is, your abuser has made the initial claim for asylum and you are a dependent) then you should consider whether you wish to apply for asylum independently of him.
If you are making a separate application for asylum, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate should - in addition to your grounds for asylum - take into consideration the risk of your return to your country of origin as a woman alone. For example, you may be subject to social rejection, stigmatisation, loss of status or economic resources, and in some cultures you may even be at risk of an 'honour killing'.

For help, information and advice about your particular case, you should contact a registered immigration advisory service, and give them all the details of your circumstances, including incidents of abuse (with dates and times if possible, and any independent evidence, such as police reports). See the contact details of organisations under Further information below.
If you have insecure immigration status for other reasons
Many women experiencing domestic violence may not be eligible to apply under the Domestic Violence Immigration Rule (outlined above). This includes migrant workers, women who are in the UK as dependents of students or workers, or women here temporarily in their own right. If this is your situation, you may be able to apply for financial support from your local authority. You can also contact your local domestic violence support service for help and support by ringing the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247, run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge.
If you have no recourse to public funds
If you are still subject to immigration control, you cannot claim most state benefits, at least until a decision is made on your right to remain in the country. This is called having 'no recourse to public funds'. This rule may force you into total dependence on your husband, partner or family, and may make it much harder for you to leave if you need to. For a variety of reasons, you may be unable to take on paid work, and will have to support yourself financially in some other way.
There are some (minor) exceptions to this rule. Funding is available through Supporting People to allow women with insecure immigration status who are experiencing domestic violence access 'housing related support', either in a refuge or other temporary accommodation, or in the community (through 'floating support'). However, this only covers the cost of support staff and does not cover the rent charged in refuges or other temporary accommodation, nor does it provide you and your children with any living expenses.
Local authorities do have a statutory power under the Children Act 1989 to ensure that children 'in need' or 'at risk of significant harm', are adequately fed, housed and cared for. Some local authorities may use this provision to pay for you to stay with your children in refuge accommodation; whereas others may simply take the children into local authority care. Also, following an amendment in December 1999, you will not be able to get this assistance if you are eligible for support under the asylum provisions. (See above.)
Local authorities also have the power under section 21 of the National Assistance Act 1948 to assist victims of domestic violence, but - for those subject to immigration controls - only if they are particularly vulnerable, or have additional special needs (3); and again this is subject to local discretion.
Women's Aid's Last Resort Fund - which provided financial assistance for up to eight weeks for women experiencing domestic violence and who had no recourse to public funds - is currently suspended due to lack of money.
Some refuge organisations will provide you with accommodation and support even if you have no recourse to public funds, though they will have to cover the costs from their own reserves, and therefore may have to place limits on the number of women in this situation that they can take at any one time.
Some domestic violence organisations have workers or volunteers who speak a variety of languages, or they may have access to Language Line. There are also a number of specialist services for women from Black and minority ethnic communities, where you may be able to get support from women from the same ethnic, cultural or religious group as yourself. To contact these services, ring the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247, run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge. The Helpline is a member of Language Line and can provide access to an interpreter and suggest organisations in your area which may be able to help you.
Further information
These are some organisations which may help you, and provide free and confidential services:
Southall Black Sisters: Provides advice and information on domestic violence, racial harassment, welfare and immigration, primarily for Asian, African and African-Caribbean women. Casework primarily undertaken in London Borough of Ealing, but deals with enquiries on a national basis. Phone: 020 8571 9595. Website: www.southallblacksisters.org.uk
Asylum Aid: Gives free legal advice to asylum seekers and runs the Women's Resource Project. Legal advice line: 0207 3549 264 or 0207 3549 631.
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants: For information on immigration and asylum. Advice line: 020 7251 8706, Tuesday and Thursday 2pm - 5pm. Email: info@jcwi.org.uk. Website: www.jcwi.org.uk
The Refugee Council: The Refugee Council provides advice and assistance to asylum seekers and refugees. It has a range of services for asylum seekers recently arrived in the UK, asylum seekers settled in the UK, and also offers advice to those who have received an asylum decision. Its offices can be visited in person or advice can be given by telephone, subject to the availability of interpreters. The Refugee Council website gives up to date information on legislation relating to asylum. Phone: 020 7346 6777, open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays: 10am – 1pm and 2 – 4pm, Wednesdays 2-4pm. Email: info@refugeecouncil.org.uk. Website: www.refugeecouncil.org.uk
National Asylum Support Service (NASS): Offers housing and financial support if you have made an application for asylum or on human rights grounds. NASS main switchboard: 0845 602 1739. Website: http://www.asylumsupport.info/nass.htm. To obtain NASS support, you will need to go to the Refugee Council One Stop Service in your area (check your phone book for your local number, call 020 7346 6700 or visit their website www.refugeecouncil.org.uk). Unless there are really exceptional reasons to stay in your locality, in an emergency, you are likely to be housed anywhere in the country.
AsylumSupport.info (part of the National Asylum Support Service): This website focuses on all matters that concern people seeking asylum, and includes a directory of hundreds of online resources relating to asylum and refugees, conflict, country data, court cases, deportation, detention, discrimination, funding, gender, government, human rights, human trafficking, law, media, migration, policy and studies. Website: www.asylumsupport.info
Multikulti: Provides information in a number of community languages (as well as English) on issues such as immigration, claiming asylum, health, housing, welfare benefits and employment. Website: www.multikulti.org.uk
Immigration Advisory Service: An independent non-governmental organisation, giving free and confidential legal advice and representation on immigration issues. It provides offices throughout the UK, and its website offers information on relevant legislation, and contact numbers and opening times for local offices. It may be very difficult to get through on the phone, and there is no answer machine during office hours. Phone: 0207 967 1200, Monday through Friday 9am - 6pm. Message phone outside office hours: 0207 378 9191. Email: ukadvice@ias.org. Website: www.iasuk.org
Additional organisations are listed in the section on General telephone support and internet resources in the Useful links page.  Ones that may be of particular interest are information for black and ethnic minority groups, forced marriage, immigration issues and trafficking

1. Immigration Rules, 2002.
2. The National Asylum Support Service (NASS) has developed guidance for those providing accommodation and other services to asylum seekers when they receive a report of domestic violence. See NASS Policy Bulletin 70.
3.This section of the National Assistance Act was amended from December 2000 so that those subject to immigration controls would no longer be eligible for assistance if the need solely arose out of 'destitution'.
4. One exception to this is if you are living with someone who is an EEA (European Economic Area) national – for example, if you have a child who is a citizen of one of the relevant European countries.  In this case, you are eligible for Child Benefit, Social Fund payment, disability allowances and some other benefits. 
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(2) SET (DV)