What is Regularise?

Regularise is a campaign whose primary goal is to obtain rights for undocumented migrants who are already living in the United Kingdom. This is so they may work, marry, and access housing, healthcare and other services that are currently denied to them. This is so they may live without fear of being detained or forcibly removed (or deported), and without danger of being exploited & discriminated against due to not having regularised immigration status.

What do we want?

Regularise would like the UK government to implement a regularisation scheme for all migrants currently in the UK, regardless of status, and for undocumented migrants who have lived in the UK for at least 5 years to be settled permanently. This must include people who have overstayed their visas, people who have never applied for asylum or visas, asylum seekers with active applications, and those who had their asylum claims and other visas refused or rejected but have been living in the UK regardless of their status.

What will regularising achieve?

Regularising undocumented migrants will grant these marginalised members of British society some fundamental human rights, and will mean that they can live with dignity and participate in society fully and freely. Regularising undocumented migrants will ensure that they gain a safe, lawful and defined route to settlement in the UK.

What about the 20 Year Long Residence route?

The 20 Year Long Residence route that was introduced by the government in 2012, to replace the previous 14 Year Long Residence route, has left a lot of people in extreme and sustained hardship. The 20 Year Long Residence route doesn’t automatically grant settlement to undocumented migrants and requires a further 10 years of ‘lawful residence’ (making it a total of 30 years) for someone to become settled. This is if they can, in the first instance, prove they have been living here continuously for the whole period of being undocumented, which can be difficult to do in many cases. We would instead like a route that puts humanity and justice at the forefront of this very fundamental human rights issue.

Who are we?

We are a collective of humans made up of migrants, British citizens and allies who are committed to centreing and amplifying the voices and needs of undocumented migrants. We are committed to ensuring that their voices are heard clearly whilst we work towards their needs being met and their rights being granted. We proclaim equity, equality and human rights for all!

Regularise was founded in late 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, to address the years of sustained hardships that undocumented migrants experience in the UK. Since then, we have been organising and campaigning for justice and for the rights of undocumented migrants whose home is the UK.

#SaferPathToSettlement #PathToCitizenship


An undocumented migrant is a foreign-born person or child of foreign-born parents who resides in a country without the appropriate legal documentation to live in that country. In the UK, this would usually consist of a visa (aka ‘leave to remain’); grant of status (e.g. refugee status); or citizenship. This term is usually applied to people from outside the European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA), as up to the end of 2020, people with passports from member states can move freely to-and-from the UK.

Most migrants who become undocumented would have: 

  1. Entered the UK with some form of a visa (e.g. student, visitor, spouse or other temporary visa) and overstayed the duration of the visa, knowingly or unknowingly (e.g. due to a loss of sponsorship from a university or employer, a broken/abusive relationship, or not being able to afford fees due to economic hardship);
  2. Been refused the appropriate documentation from the Home Office when they got here, as in a case of asylum or when they apply for an extension, but continue to stay here;
  3. Been born here to undocumented parents or parents who become undocumented before the child gained indefinite leave to remain;

A smaller number would have:

  1. Entered the UK without any visa by taking dangerous and precarious routes (e.g. via people-smugglers), as it is very difficult for most people outside of the European Union or other rich countries to obtain even a visitor’s visa to come to the UK (remember the Essex 39);
  2. Been trafficked for labour or sexual exploitation.

According to the Pew Research Centre, as of 2017 there are an estimated 800,000 to 1.2 million undocumented migrants currently living in the United Kingdom. This includes approximately 215,000 children, according to a report commissioned by the Mayor of London in 2020 [pdf]. It is estimated that around half of all children with insecure immigration status were born in the UK.

Getting exact numbers is complicated by various factors like the hidden nature of  such populations and how easily some people can become undocumented.

Regularising is a procedure or scheme by which migrants, who are living in a country without the appropriate documentation, are offered regular status or settlement.

Regularising will allow undocumented migrants, who are already in the UK, to:

  1. gain fundamental rights so that they can live with dignity and participate in society fully and freely,
  2. work openly and safely and, through taxes, contribute even further to the economy and the public purse – view our report ‘Building Back Better with Undocumented People‘ [pdf],
  3. access housing and be able to rent without the risk of being discriminated against or exploited by landlords (thereby preventing homelessness),
  4. access healthcare allowing better management of personal and public health issues,
  5. access other services that are currently denied to them, including being able to marry who they love,
  6. live without fear of being detained or deported,
  7. live without the dangers of being exploited and discriminated against by employers, sexual predators and others, due to living without secure immigration status,
  8. gain a safe, lawful and defined route to settlement in the UK.

Yes, here are two examples:

  1. Until 2012, the UK had a de-facto (rolling) regularisation programme that allowed undocumented migrants to apply for indefinite leave to remain if they could prove that they have lived in the UK for 14 years continuously.
  2. From 2007 to 2011, the UK government ran a programme to deal with the legacy of unresolved asylum cases. This was introduced as a result of a backlog of cases that had left approximately 450,000 people in limbo. This granted asylum seekers with unresolved cases, whose applications were concluded as successful, indefinite leave to remain (permanent residency).

According to the Pew Research Centre, it is estimated that more than half (57%) of undocumented immigrants living in the UK have lived in the country for five years or longer.

The EU Settlement Scheme allows EU migrants who have lived in the UK for 5 years or more to settle. This is an indication that it is possible to implement a successful settlement scheme for millions of migrants.

Therefore, a similar settlement scheme that allows all undocumented migrants that have been in the UK continuously for 5 years or more to apply for settled status, gaining indefinite leave to remain, is practically viable. If implemented, it would ensure safety and dignity for an estimated 400,000-600,000 migrants.

We are also campaigning for undocumented migrants who are currently in the UK and have been living here for less than 5 years to be given a ‘right to remain’ for 5 years. This is similar to the pre-settled status in the EU Settlement Scheme and will allow them to apply for settlement (Indefinite Leave To Remain) after they reach the same period of ‘continuous residence’ (5 Years).

Excluding seeking asylum, the options that are currently provided by the Home Office for an adult with no leave to remain (an undocumented migrant) are under the private life immigration rules which state that someone can have their application for leave to remain considered if they:

  1. have lived continuously in the UK for at least 20 years and they can prove this; or
  2. are aged between 18 and 25 years and have spent at least half of their life living here; or,
  3. have lived continuously in the UK for less than 20 years but there would be very significant obstacles to their integration into the country of return;

And for children under 18 years of age they:

  1. can apply for leave to remain if they have lived continuously in the UK for 7 years where it would not be reasonable for them to leave the country or be deported.

These routes only grant a temporary right to remain and have visa and legal fees that are often out of reach for a lot of undocumented migrants, who already lead precarious lives and may already be living in or close to poverty.

For example, in order to regularise the immigration status of a child under the age of 18 or as an adult who has lived here for 20 years continuously, the fees currently stand at £1033 per application, plus an additional £1000 Health Charge paid in advance. This is excluding legal fees. In order for a person to retain their immigration status, successive applications would need to be made and monies paid every 30 months (2.5 years) until they can settle.

There is also a family life route where families can regularise their status if there is a qualifying partner or child. The child would need to be either British or have lived continuously in the UK for at least seven years. This can only be granted if it is deemed unreasonable to expect their family life to continue outside the UK or if it is deemed unreasonable for the child to leave.

For those who do not meet the grounds for seeking asylum or the above requirements, the UK government states that there is provision for regularising on an individual basis under “exceptional circumstances” or “compelling compassionate grounds”. This falls within family life and only applies if refusal would result in “unjustifiably harsh consequences” for the applicant. There are no clear indications from the Home Office as to what “exceptional circumstances” are or what they mean by “unjustifiably harsh consequences”.

The 20 Year Long Residence route provides the option for undocumented migrants to regularise their status after 20 years of continuous residence in the UK. There are various criteria that need to be met, and if successful, the Home Office grants a temporary right to stay for 3 years at a time. The ‘right to remain’ granted will also carry restrictions on accessing public funds – no recourse to public funds (NRPF).

Regularising one’s status in this way often carries costly visa and legal fees that go into thousands of pounds. This route means someone can only settle after an additional 10 years residence from when they are granted ‘leave to remain’, making it 30 years in total until they are eligible for permanent residency. 

For more information, read our report ‘Undocumented Migrants and the 20 Year Rule on Long Residence‘ [pdf].

The term undocumented or irregular migrant is recognised by key institutions including the United Nations General Assembly, European Parliament, European Commission, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [pdf], World Health Organisation and several international media outlets (e.g. Associated Press).

  • The term ‘illegal’ is outdated and increases the risk of prejudicial treatment for migrants.
  • Calling someone ‘illegal’ is inaccurate in the context of migration from a legal perspective and by journalistic standards.
  • No human being is ‘illegal’ and no human being becomes an ‘illegal’ person even if they commit a criminal offense as every state has an international human rights obligation towards all people under their jurisdiction regardless of their migration status. This prevents states from defining any human being as anything less than a legal person and from denying any person their rights before the law whilst respecting due process.
  • Calling someone ‘illegal’ is dehumanising and increases the risks of discrimination and violence in societies that grow suspicious, mistrustful, hostile or hateful of migrants.
  • Calling someone ‘illegal’ promotes systemic violence against undocumented migrants in the form of policing, detention, deadly restraints, enforcement and other violent forms of coercion.
  • Words matter and it is easy to use the words ‘undocumented migrant’ or ‘irregular migrant’. This is also possible in other languages. In Irish (Gaeilge), we suggest using ‘imirceach gan doiciméid’ or ‘stádas cónaithe neamhrialta’.
  • For further explanations on the terminology, please refer to the ‘Why Undocumented or Irregular’ document from the UNHCR [pdf].

This is unlikely. The legacy scheme to deal with a backlog of 450,000 unresolved asylum cases from 2007-2011 (see Q6) didn’t cause an increase in people coming to the UK to seek asylum nor did the de-facto 14 Year Long Residence programme. Implementing a regularisation programme could allow the UK to know exactly who is here, rather than having a large population of people living in the shadows and on the margins of society. This would free up government resources that could then be focused on creating and managing a better and more equitable immigration system.

The costs would probably be similar to those associated with running the EU Settlement Scheme as it’s a similar administrative process, although the government would need to employ and train case workers.

Running such a programme would produce a net benefit to society and to the economy by:

  • eliminating the resources that are wasted in the enforcement and policing of people and communities who simply want to get on with life just like everyone else.
  • allowing an estimated 800,000 to 1.2 million people to contribute more openly than they already do to the economy through paying income tax. This would increase tax receipts by upwards of £1 billion per year. These are people who have already been contributing, engaging and participating in society in many ways.
  • In comparison, it could cost several billions of pounds to attempt to remove everyone, if it were even possible (see Q14).
  • There are simply insufficient resources to locate and deport the estimated 800,000 to 1.2 million undocumented migrants currently living in the UK. According to the Home Office, in 2019, 7,361 people were forcibly returned or deported from the UK. At this rate it would take more than a century to deport everyone.
  • This estimate includes 215,000 children [pdf], many having been born in the UK and having only known the UK as their home.
  • According to a Freedom of Information response provided by the Home Office as requested by No Deportations, from January to March in 2019, the cost of Home Office charter flights for the forced removals of 327 people was £2,465,579.61. This means that the average cost for forced removals was £7,540 per person.
  • According to a report published by the National Audit Office (NAO) in June 2020, the Home Office spent £392 million on immigration enforcement in 2019-2020 to ‘facilitate the departure’ of 13,100 people without leave to remain. This shows that the average cost per person was £30,000 which, in some cases, could also include detention. It would therefore cost billions of pounds to forcibly remove or deport 1.2 million people who are and could otherwise be productive members of UK society.
  • Considering that more than half of undocumented migrants have lived in the UK for 5 years or longer, the majority are already integrated into society. They have built their lives here, even though most live precariously and in fear and anxiety.
  • Most undocumented migrants are already engaging and participating in many facets of our lives whilst living on the margins of society. With many working in menial but vital roles like cleaning and caring for both children and adults, their forced removal would be socially and economically detrimental to British society.

No, undocumented migrants cannot claim and do not receive any welfare benefits in the UK. Section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 states that a person will have ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) if they are ‘subject to immigration control’. People with no leave to enter or remain are subject to immigration control and in this case they are not entitled to any welfare benefits.

Asylum seekers, like other migrants from outside the EU and EEA, are ‘subject to immigration control’ and have ‘no recourse to public funds’. This excludes them from being able to receive welfare benefits like income support, Universal Credit, housing benefit and a range of allowances and tax credits. An asylum seeker with a pending case can, however, apply to receive asylum support in the form of an allowance of £37.75 per week, and they can ask for a place to live while they await a result on their application for refugee status. Not all asylum seekers apply to receive asylum support in the form of an allowance or a place to stay (e.g. if they are being supported by family members or friends who are in the UK).

Regularise is a campaign. We are a small and organic grassroots collective of humans made up of migrants, British citizens and allies, who wholeheartedly believe in equal rights and equity for all humans in the UK and beyond.