UK visa refusals common reasons

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As immigration solicitors, we normally get approached once things have already gone wrong – for example, when a UK visa application is unsuccessful. An unsuccessful UK visa application causes stress and will cost you time and money. If you applied for a UK visa from abroad, your arrival will be delayed. If you applied from inside the UK for an extension or to switch into a different UK visa category, the stakes are even higher. You risk having to leave the UK or having to endure a lengthy appeal or reconsideration process. It is therefore best that you get it right from the start.

We have set out common reasons for refusal, and what can be done to prevent a refusal.

Who makes the decisions?

All UK visa applications are decided by UK government immigration officials from the Home Office. The Home Office is the organisation responsible for the control of immigration. It makes the rules setting out the requirements for each UK visa category. The Home Office also publishes guidance on how to interpret the rules and when an application should be refused.

Home Office errors

Immigration officials have to make decisions that reflect the Home Office rules and policy. You would therefore expect decisions to be consistent. In practice, they are sometimes unexpected and wrongly made.

What kinds of mistakes does the Home Office make?

We have witnessed several examples of Home Office errors, such as where immigration officials have:

  • wrongly claimed that specific documents had not been submitted;
  • lost documents;
  • overlooked updates in rules leading to outdated decisions;
  • adopted inconsistent or wrong interpretations of the law.

It is therefore important, as a first step, to be critical of a decision and check that it was made correctly, especially if the refusal was unexpected. We closely follow all updates and know, from experience, when a decision has been wrongly made.

Why do Home Office errors happen?

Immigration officials often do not have a background in law. They are expected to hit strict targets and thus have very little time to consider each case. Home Office rules and guidance are voluminous and updated very often to the extent that even the immigration officials lose track.

How can Home Office errors be avoided?

Home Office errors can be reduced by presenting your case clearly. That includes writing detailed representations in which you set out your particular circumstances and how you meet the requirements, with reference to the current, correct rules that you are relying on.  You should also refer to your supporting documents and arrange them in a logical manner. Finally, it is important to keep a record of everything you send, in case you later need to prove that a document was submitted.

Applicant’s errors

In our experience, some common reasons the UK authorities refuse applications are because applicants have made mistakes such as:

Not following the correct procedure

The application process is lengthy, procedural and administration heavy so refusals often happen due to oversights. For example, some visa routes do not allow you to switch into other visa routes whilst in the UK; an application made in the UK would attract a refusal even if all other requirements are met. Some applicants mistakenly fill in the wrong forms or apply under the wrong visa category. In that instance, an application will be refused or rejected. Similarly, people sometimes apply under outdated rules or forms.

Errors and omissions in documentary evidence

The UK authorities are very specific about the supporting documents. If documents are not in the correct format, or not provided at all, then that is a reason to refuse an application. The document lists are spread across different sections of the rules and associated guidance documents so applicants often miss out documents by mistake. We know what the UK authorities want and will ensure that all the supporting documents are correctly submitted to maximise your chance of success.

Not being convinced that the applicant is genuine 

If the UK authorities believe that you are not coming to do what you said you would, they will refuse. For example, if you are coming to the UK to be a student, the authorities will want to be sure that is your main reason for coming to the UK, not to work, set up a business or be close to your family. We will draft detailed representations and prepare your statement with you. You might be asked to attend an interview. It is important to take this seriously and prepare for it, with our help.

Not meeting the requirements

The immigration rules are very specific and must usually be met in their entirety to be granted a visa. Applications that are made outside the rules can succeed in limited circumstances. We know the requirements of each visa route and will always give you an honest opinion on your chances of success.

The rules change several times each year and we therefore ensure that we are always up-to-date. Furthermore, we take care of all matters surrounding the application, including filling-in the relevant forms and arranging your appointments for you.

Grounds for refusal

Within the immigration rules there are mandatory grounds for refusal (i.e. situations where an immigration officer must refuse your application) and discretionary grounds for refusal (i.e. situations where an application should normally be refused).

Mandatory grounds

Your application must be refused if you have been sentenced to imprisonment for a criminal offence. Most people will not be affected by this but many have certainly been caught out. Martha Stewart was refused entry at the airport after having been imprisoned for 5 months in the US for lying to investigators about a share sale. Other examples include Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes and Chris Brown.

You will also be refused if you have previously breached certain UK immigration laws, for example by staying past the expiry of your visa – whether intentionally or not – so always keep a record and make sure you comply with your visa conditions to avoid future problems.

Not all convictions lead to refusals

The length and type of conviction will determine if and how long you will be banned for. For example, if an offence is not recognised in the UK, such as a conviction for homosexuality, then you should not be banned, but you must still declare it when you are applying for your UK visa. We can help you if you are unsure whether you should disclose something to the Home Office.

Discretionary grounds for refusal

The Home Office can refuse you entry if you have been given a non-custodial sentence, are a persistent offender, or because of your poor character, conduct or association. Most people would not think of themselves as falling into any of these categories and can therefore be caught out. Disqualifications from driving, fines, fixed penalty notices and cautions, warnings and reprimands could all lead to visa refusals if they have been recent or if you have received multiple ones.

What should I do if I have received a non-custodial sentence?

Immigration Officials have to look at the specific facts of each case. If you can explain the situation or if it is a single offence then it is unlikely that your application will be refused. In any event, it is always better to tell the Home Office because if you do not and the Home Office find out that you do have something on your record, you may be accused of trying to lie to the authorities. Such an accusation would lead to a refusal of your application and even a ban.

How we can help if your application is refused

Administrative review

If your application under the points-based system is refused, you can challenge the refusal by way of an administrative review. We regularly draft representations setting out why the UK authorities have reached an erroneous decision, based on the evidence initially provided.

Judicial review

An alternative way of challenging a decision would be by pursuing judicial review. Judicial review challenges the way in which a decision has been made, rather than the decision itself. Judicial review is normally a last resort as it is lengthy and expensive.


If your application raised human rights, for example if you made an application as a family member, or if you applied under the European Economic Area Regulations, then you will have a right of appeal. We regularly engage in litigation and work with excellent barristers to ensure your success. Litigation can be a lengthy and we would not encourage you to pursue this path unless we think that you have a good chance of success.

Should I appeal?

Complicated cases that require the exercise of discretion are often decided more favourably in the courts rather than by the UK authorities so it may well be worthwhile pursuing an appeal. This will give you the chance to present your case in person to a judge. In cases where an application was refused because the UK authorities did not believe your story, it can often help to establish that you are genuine, if you are willing to face a judge in person and be questioned.

Merely attending court is not enough, you also need to have a well prepared case. We will ensure that all the necessary evidence is provided and that all the correct arguments are made. Furthermore, we will prepare you for the cross-examination at court.