Migrants and students who have overstayed their visa terms may be able to take advantage of one of the ‘Assisted Voluntary Return’ schemes, which pays for flights home and expenses from public funds, but watch out for the ‘sting in the tail’. Despite leaving voluntarily, you will still be banned from returning to the UK under Paragraph 320 of the Immigration Rules.
The Home Office recently reported that, since May 2012 in London alone over 2,000 illegal visa overstayers and students have returned home following the UK Border Agency’s ‘Operation Mayapple’ campaign to tackle visa abuse in the capital.
A third were forcibly removed, with two thirds leaving voluntarily.
The Home Office said that bout 800 ‘left of their own accord’, with 400 leaving after being contacted by UKBA. Around 700 overstayers were forcibly removed following UKBA raids on businesses and residential premises in London.
Only 58 out of 2,000 overstayers chose to leave under the Assisted Voluntary Return scheme, now run by Refugee Action (formerly IOM) under the banner of ‘Choices’.
There are three ‘Choices’ schemes under which you may qualify depending on your circumstances:
- Assisted Voluntary Return for Irregular Migrants programme
- Assisted Voluntary Return for Families and Children Programme
- Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme
You can find full voluntary return programme details on the Choices website.
However, whilst you will see plenty of nice photographs of happy families who have been assisted to return home, you may not be aware that overstayers who use this scheme will normally be banned from returning to the UK for up to 2 years.
You will also be fingerprinted and asked to sign a form agreeing to allow your prints to be shared on a European Union database available to EU member states.
Even more worrying is that if you take advantage of the scheme and subsequently return to the UK and try to use it again, you could be liable to a 6 months prison sentence.
New Immigration Rules effective 1 October 2012 means that overstayers who leave the UK at their own expense will not be liable to a re-entry ban if they overstay for less than 90 days (previously 28 days).
The 14 year long stay concession has gone – you now need 20 years or 10 years legal stay!
Many overstayers are holding out in the hope of qualifying for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or permanent residence under the ‘14 year long stay rule’, which no longer applies following recent changes to the Immigration Rules on 9 July 2012.
You may still have grounds to stay under human rights in particular Article 8 – right to a private or family life.
Automatic bans do not apply if you are applying to join a family member in the UK, or if you were under 18 at the time of the breach of immigration law.
If are deported (rather than ‘removed’) from the UK can only apply to return you’re your deportation order has been revoked.
The 90 day ‘grace’ period, in which you would not receive an automatic ‘320’ ban, does not mean you will not be recorded as a person who has broken the terms of their visa, it just means you will not be banned!
The ban on overstayers returning to the UK formalised into law what Entry Clearance Officers (ECO’s) were already practicing – refusing visas if you previously broke the rules. So whether you overstay by 1 day or 91 days, you have still overstayed past your visa.
Cynthia Barker of Immigration Advisers Bison Management warns overstayers not to be complacent or casual about overstaying your visa. She said:
“Many people ask me whether it’s ‘ok to overstay a few days’ at the end of their visa to ‘clear up a few things’ or ‘visit a friend’.
“The answer is ‘NO’! You’ve had long enough to sort your life out and visit Buckingham Palace, so do those things within the term of your visa.”
Cynthia added that children are the key to many human rights appeals:
“Under the 1981 British Nationality Act, any children who were born in the UK and have lived in the UK for more than 10 years – even to parents in the UK illegally – are eligible to apply for British Citizenship.”
If you need any immigration advice or are worried about the new immigration rules or need help with Sponsorship or Tier 2, Tier 4, applying for university if your college has closed down, Visa, ILR, Settlement, Citizenship, Dependant Visa or an appeal against a UK Border Agency or British Embassy refusal, or if you have been waiting for a reply from the Home Office for longer than a year, please email: