Simplify Immigration Rules, proposes Law Commission

  • Law Commission proposes to simplify how the Immigration Rules are drafted and presented, so they are easier to follow and more user friendly.
  • The Rules have grown from 40 pages in 1973 to around 1,100 pages today, becoming increasingly complex. They have been criticised by senior judges as labyrinthine.
  • The Law Commission is seeking views on its proposals for simplifying Immigration Rules. The consultation begins on 21 January 2019.

The Law Commission has today (21 January 2019) formulated proposals and questions aimed at simplifying the UK’s Immigration Rules. The proposals affect the Rules that set out the policy and practice of the Home Secretary to regulate the entry and stay of people in the UK. This project does not consider any issue of substantive immigration policy, but is focused on how the Rules are drafted and presented, helping to implement that policy.

Since their introduction in 1973, the Immigration Rules have grown to around 1,100 pages. They have become highly prescriptive and been criticised for being too long, complicated and difficult to follow. This has an adverse effect not only on applicants, but also on Home Office caseworkers.

The Commission’s consultation paper looks to provide a more logical structure, remove unnecessary repetitions and improve the drafting. We also ask for views on whether and where a less prescriptive approach might be preferable. The objective is for a set of Rules that are clear, accessible, and organised in a way which meets the needs of users.

Law Commissioner for Public Law, Nicholas Paines QC, said:

“As the Immigration Rules have become longer, more detailed and more specific, they’ve also become more complicated and harder to follow for applicants.

“The Home Office has asked us to help put things right. Our proposals would introduce clearer language, and improve the presentation of the Rules so they’re easier to understand and follow.

“We seek the public’s views on how to make the Immigration Rules simpler and more accessible.”

Issues with the Immigration Rules

In recent years, a policy of making the Rules more prescriptive has been implemented, with an intention to produce more transparent outcomes for applicants. However, this has made the Rules longer, more complicated and harder to follow. For example:

  • Following their introduction in 1973, they have grown from 40 pages to 1,100 pages in 2019.
  • In the last ten years, the Rules have almost quadrupled in length.

The Rules have also been criticised for being poorly drafted and hard to follow for users. The structure of the Rules is confusing and the numbering system is inconsistent. There is duplication between different types of application and unnecessary repetition or near-repetition within these categories.

These issues make it difficult for applicants to correctly follow the Rules. It can therefore be necessary to get expensive legal advice in order to correctly navigate the system.

The proposals for reform

The proposals, which we’re seeking views on, aim to simplify the Immigration Rules and make them clear, comprehensible, and organised in a way which is suitable to the needs of users. The proposals include:

  • An audit of overlapping provisions within the Rules. Where possible, a standardisation of wording could be introduced to reduce the possibility of confusion.
  • Considering the frequency of changes. We ask whether, except in urgent cases, changes to Rules should be made on two common commencement dates a year.
  • A uniform approach to the organisation of the Rules and drafting style, including with regard to headings, the inclusion of definitions and section numbering.
  • Ensuring that simplification is maintained in years to come by keeping the Rules under review, and improving how amendments are presented and earlier versions of the Rules archived.
  • Investigating whether technology could improve an applicant’s experience, for example: through the online presentation of the Rules including an initial route map, hyperlinks and signposting; and by using interactive tools to guide them through the application process and alert them if the application is defective in any way. Online tools might be created to sequence the exact set of Rules which apply to an applicant.

We seek views on whether introducing less prescription in the Rules, or parts of the Rules, would aid simplification by creating a structure of shorter, more general Rules supported by non-exhaustive or illustrative guidance which is not mandatory. This would give caseworkers more discretion.

If the Rules were simpler and more accessible for the user, this could increase transparency for applicants and lead to quicker decision-making by Home Office caseworkers. The creation of a simpler system which is easier to keep up to date could also lead to a reduction in appeals and judicial reviews. These efficiency gains could save time and money.

Find out more about the project, and respond to the consultation here.