The rules relating to the right of residence in the UK have been changing rapidly over the last few years, which has led to a considerable degree of uncertainty as to which rules apply in some circumstances. A recent case in the House of Lords, in which the law lords were asked to rule on an application by a woman to vary her leave to remain in the UK, has clarified the position somewhat.

The decision turned on a simple question: were the immigration rules which should apply in the woman’s case those that were current when her application was made, or those in force when the decision of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal was made?

In the case in point, the applicant was a doctor whose leave to remain was denied because her medical degree had been obtained in Nigeria, not the UK. The restriction on those not having a UK medical degree came into effect in April 2006. She had applied for leave to remain in January 2006, but the application was not dealt with until June of that year.

As the new rules did not specify that they did not apply to applications that were pending, the Lords judged that the applicable rules were those in existence when the decision was made.

With the rules governing leave to remain being progressively tightened, the practical effect of this case is that speed may be important in any immigration matter.