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I have come to the UK in the course of fleeing my abusive family and thus ata time in my life which was quite uncertain, unclear, and precarious. As my family is already an expat one (Americans living abroad in the third world), I had no definite ties to anywhere in the world including the US and not much of a clear life trajectory, either. When I landed in London my understanding was that as an American I would be allowed to stay as a visitor but not to work for 6 months. On my entry card I wrote 6 months as my intended departure date, thinking that this wouldn't be a problem, but I had no clear forward plans. As a result of my murky life circumstances and unexceptional finances, I was denied entry at the border, and flown back to the US where I'd already given up my room and had no place to stay.

I got a bed in a hostel and contacted the British embassy to see if I could get any kind of explicit visa in advance of traveling, or how I otherwise could enter the country. I was told repeatedly that since I was an American, I didn't need a visa and thus was not eligible for a visa to enter, but when I asked them what of my previous denial if entry they said that that was their only advice that was available.

I rang around to some British law firms in the US, and they quoted me like $1000/hour for advice but said the same, that I didn't need any visa to get in.

I soon gave up and got a cheap flight to Ireland. There i spoke to the local UK embassy with no other insights but to just try my luck at the border and see how it goes. I got a sail-rail ticket through Scotland and onto London. In Scotland an official uniformed UK border agent asked me for ID, I held out my US passport card, he briefly squinted at it in the corridor without recording anything, and waved me through saying thank you.

I was quite traumatized by family abuse and took a while to find my bearings during which I forgot about looking into my visa status. I have tried to find help in possibly claiming asylum because I don't really feel safe in the US or where I grew up as my family are connected with authorities in both places, but that has led nowhere and I'm ready to give up. In the three years since that time I have developed some roots and life here, and also lost my passport card, left with a passport that contains an ugly stamp indicating my previous refusal of entry to the UK. Meanwhile I have (decent) family in the US that has invited me to visit who I might not have that many more chances to see. I'm pretty worn out from being completely on my own over here for these years and could really use the rest, so I might actually go.

My passport should be coming up for renewal soon, anyway, so if I simply apply for a new one once I'm back in the US again, then it won't have that ugly denial of entry stamp and I could presumably just enter as any other American would, especially since I'm in a better position now financially. I also have some ideas about how I could convert that into some more lasting types of visa to stay even longer.

I gather that the UK does have immigration checks upon exiting the border at airports, and I imagine some awkward questions if I pass through there on my old passport. What consequences could there be here? I'm most worried that I could be explicitly and unequivocally notified that I'm officially banned from the UK. I don't think that would ruin my chances of being granted once again discretionary entry in the future if I had a fresh new passport and more favorable financial circumstances that are demonstrable, but if I've been explicitly and unmistakably informed that I'm no longer allowed in, then it could be awkward if I enter again and have to fill out forms.

But could these awkward conversations likely be avoided by leaving through, let's say either Ireland via the ferry, or by France or Holland via the train and attempting to travel simply on my driver licence until I must fly across the Atlantic?

Which of these options would be the least stressful in terms of time effort and distance?

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    Refusal history doesnt go away with a new passport, it will have been recorded by UK immigration and be just as much an issue with your new passport. How long have you been in the UK since you arrived from Ireland? – Moo Jun 15 at 11:36
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    "I gather that the UK does have immigration checks upon exiting the border at airports": There are no such checks. There will be no such questions. "If I simply apply for a new [passport] once I'm back in the US again, then it won't have that ugly denial of entry stamp and I could presumably just enter as any other American would": UK immigration officers have a database with your history in it. They will almost certainly connect you to that history when you try to reenter. – phoog Jun 15 at 11:40
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    Is a US passport card valid for entry in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland? If not, the check in Scotland probably mistook the card for an European ID. – Mark Johnson Jun 15 at 12:55
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    Also you can probably forget about using the Irish route again, as Ireland will almost certainly be appraised of the situation and you will probably be met with refusals there as well. – Moo Jun 15 at 13:06
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    @JosephP. no checks does not mean no records. As phoog said, there are no border checks (i.e. you will not have to present your passport or speak to any border agent) when exiting the UK by air, but airlines are required to provide passenger data electronically. – Chris H Jun 15 at 14:15
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You might be in a difficult position.

Edited to add: You are most definitely in a difficult position, the original answer below was based on a first reading of your question - I missed the point where you say you have spent 3 years in the UK after entering via the CTA without leave to enter. To compound matters, unless you have been living on savings for that three year period, you have been illegally working. You are at this point an illegal immigrant and are going to find it next to impossible to return to the UK after leaving it now.

I will leave the rest of my previous answer below for future reference.

You entered the UK via Ireland using the Common Travel Area route - as a non-visa national, that would normally grant you 90 days (not six months) legal entry into the UK.

However, you have previously been refused entry, which complicates matters.

The Home Office Guidance for the Common Travel Area, updated in April 2020, has this to say about your situation:

People without leave who have previously been refused leave to enter the UK

A person who has been refused entry and has not since been given leave to enter or remain requires leave to enter. Where you notice such a person arriving in the UK from within the CTA, you must submit them to further examination in the usual way. If you decide to refuse leave to enter, you must give directions for removal either to:

  • the place within the CTA from which the passenger arrived
  • another appropriate country

If such a person enters without leave and is subsequently noticed, they are an illegal entrant and they may be removed without refusal of leave to enter under paragraph 9 of schedule 2 of the Immigration Act 1971.

It does not sound like you were granted leave to enter (you would know it if you had been - the brief encounter you had with UK immigration in Scotland does not sound like that was what occurred).

I’d suggest you speak to an immigration solicitor or Citizens Advice to determine what your next steps are.

I doubt that leaving the UK at this point is an issue (as phoog noted in the comments, the UK has no explicit exit checks, but your exit will be noted by UK immigration as they are still informed - your exit, correlated with with no corresponding leave to enter and an outstanding refusal, will all go on record) - returning might be very very difficult indeed, however.

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    @JosephP. How have you supporting yourself for 3 years without working and without recourse to public help? How have you been paying for anything? Do you have a bank account in the UK? Did you rent a place? Did you get a mobile phone? There are probably hundreds of pieces of evidence proving your presence in the UK during that period... – jcaron Jun 15 at 14:27
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    @JosephP. Your initial refusal is not the main problem, it is your illegal stay of 3 years that will cause a 10 ban. We cannot give advice (or hints) on how to avoid this. – Mark Johnson Jun 15 at 14:37
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    @JosephP. I’d be very interested to learn how your finances are better now, after 3 years of not working illegally in the UK - how exactly are you going to show improved finances? Unfortunately, the simple fact of the matter is that if you leave the UK now, you almost certainly wont be getting back in - so leave the UK on that basis. Dont leave any loose ends that need to be cleaned up, property etc, because you wont be let back in to sort that out. – Moo Jun 15 at 19:51
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    @JosephP. neither - marriages of convenience for entry to the UK are very much something watched out for, and given you have a history of illegally overstaying a student visa is completely out of the question. You are precisely the person they watch out for, and they will know about you when you leave. – Moo Jun 16 at 6:27
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    @JosephP. There are records of your refusal, there are records of your arrival into the CTA, there are records of your travel from Ireland to Scotland, there are no records of you leaving the CTA yet. You cant leave without records being made, unless you somehow have ties with organised crime who can smuggle you out. When you do leave, you will almost certainly leave a trace in an exit database, and that sets the scene for your future travel attempts. The reason people are “berating“ you is because you are asking for help in committing immigration fraud. – Moo Jun 16 at 11:08

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