If you have lived in the UK with lawful status for more than 10 years, you may be eligible to apply to settle here, which is known as Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).
In this long residence guidance, we explain the rules on ILR eligibility under the 10-year route, and the application process you will need to follow. We also consider some of the common pitfalls in applying for settlement on the basis of long residence and how these can be overcome.
Long residence eligibility
You may be eligible to apply to settle in the UK if you have lived in the country legally for a period of 10 continuous years. This is known as ‘long residence’. The rules on long residence are designed to recognise the ties that a person may form with the UK having lived in the country over such a lengthy period of time.
If granted ILR, you will be permitted to stay in the UK indefinitely, and free from immigration restrictions.
To qualify for settlement on this basis, you must meet all of the ILR eligibility requirements.
Note that EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who have lived in the UK prior to 1 January 2021 would follow the EU settled status route to settlement, rather than ILR.
Long residence requirements
The eligibility requirements for settlement on the basis of long residence are set out under section 276B of the Immigration Rules. To apply for settlement on this basis, you must satisfy all of the following requirements:
- You must have spent at least 10 years residing in the UK both continuously and lawfully
- You must demonstrate sufficient knowledge of language and life in the UK (KOLL)
- There must be no public interest reason to refuse your application
- You must not fall for refusal under any of the general grounds for refusal
- You must not be in the UK in breach of immigration laws.
The continuous lawful residence requirement
To apply for settlement on the basis of long residence, you must have at least 10 years continuous lawful residence in the UK, although this can be in any immigration category or a combination of different categories.
However, any time spent in either the Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man will not count as residence in the UK for the purposes of the long residence rules even though these places form part of the common travel area.
‘Lawful residence’, as defined in paragraph 276A of the Immigration Rules, includes a period of continuous residence in which a person has had:
- Existing leave to enter or remain in Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- Temporary admission where leave is subsequently granted, or
- An exemption from immigration control.
There are, however, limited circumstances in which short breaks in lawful residence can be disregarded. These include gaps of no more than 28 calendar days through making previous applications out of time where those gaps ended before 24 November 2016, or short gaps in lawful residence on or after that date but leave was granted in accordance with paragraph 39E of the Immigration Rules.
Paragraph 39E provides limited scenarios as to when short periods of overstaying can be disregarded for the purposes of continuous lawful residence, including a COVID-19 pandemic grace period of between 24 January and 31 August 2020, provided the applicant has made a subsequent application to regularise their stay in the UK.
In respect of ‘continuous residence’, the 10-year qualifying period shall not be considered to have been broken where you have been absent from the UK for a period of 6 months or less at any one time, provided you had existing limited leave to enter or remain upon your departure and return. However, continuous residence will be broken if:
- You have been absent from the UK for a period of more than 6 months at any one time
- You have spent a total of 18 months outside the UK throughout the 10-year qualifying period
- You left the UK without valid leave to remain and did not apply for entry clearance within 28 days of that leave expiring.
Your period of continuous residence may also be broken if:
- You’ve been removed, deported or left the UK having been refused leave to enter or remain
- You’ve left the UK and, on doing so, evidenced a clear intention not to return
- You left the UK in circumstances in which you could have had no reasonable expectation that you would lawfully be able to return at the time of leaving
- You’ve been convicted of an offence and sentenced to time in prison, a young offenders institution or a secure hospital, provided the sentence was not suspended.
English language and life in the UK test
The requirement is to show you have sufficient knowledge of the English language and knowledge about life in the UK. You must meet both parts of this requirement as set out under Appendix KOLL (Knowledge of Language and Life in the UK) of the rules to apply for settlement under the long residence route, unless you are exempt.
This means you will usually be required to have either a recognised speaking and listening English test qualification at level B1 or above from an approved test centre, or an academic degree that was taught or researched in English. You will also need to prove you have passed the Life in the UK test with an approved test provider.
If your passport shows you are a national of a majority English-speaking country, you will be considered to meet the English language part of the ‘KoLL’ requirement. You will also be exempt from proving both knowledge of language and life in the UK if you are aged 65 or over, or have a long-term illness or disability which prevents you from meeting these requirements.
Long residence application process
To apply on the basis of long residence, you will need to do so on the GOV.UK website. You must be in the UK to submit your application.
You do not need to wait until your current visa expires before applying, although the earliest you can apply is 28 days prior to completing your 10-year qualifying period of continuous lawful residence.
As part of the application process under the rules, you will be required to apply for a biometric residence permit (BRP). When you submit your application, you will be instructed to book an appointment at a UK Visa & Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point. You will provide your biometric information at this appointment. This will comprise a scan of your fingerprints and a photograph of your face.
You will also need to submit your supporting documents. You can either upload your documents into the online service or have them scanned at your UKVCAS appointment.
Long residence supporting documents
In support of your application you will need to provide a current passport or other valid travel document, together with all the passports you have held during your time in the UK, and your biometric residence permit if you have one.
You should also provide documents to demonstrate your continued lawful residence in the UK, including evidence of accommodation, education and/or employment. The evidentiary requirement is extensive and applicants are generally advised to ‘over-evidence’ to support their eligibility and pre-empt any queries or potential objections from the Home Office.
You may also need to provide additional documents depending on your circumstances, for example, a completed exemption from a doctor confirming any physical or mental condition that exempts you from the KOLL requirement under the rules.
How much does a long residence application cost?
The cost of applying for settlement under the long residence route is £2404. You will also need to pay £19.20 to provide your biometric information.
If you want a faster decision, you may be able to pay an extra £800 for the super priority service. This means you will usually get a decision by the end of the next working day after your UKVCAS appointment, if that appointment is on a weekday, or 2 working days after any weekend appointment.
How long are long residence processing times?
An application under the long residence route will take around 6 months to process if you use the standard service. You should be contacted by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) if your application is complex and could take longer, for example, if your supporting documents need to be verified, if you need to attend an interview, or because of your personal circumstances, for example, you have a criminal conviction.
You must not travel outside of the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man until you have been given a decision on your application. If you do travel outside of these areas, your application for settlement will be withdrawn. Once you have had your decision letter from UKVI, your BRP will take up to 10 working days to arrive.
Challenges with long residence applications
There are various eligibility requirements when applying for settlement on the basis of long residence. However, one of the most common pitfalls with long residence applications is in demonstrating that residence over a period of 10 years has been both continuous and lawful. This means there must usually be no excess absences, no overstaying and no late applications, where any break in continuous lawful residence will in effect restart the clock.
However, there may be cases where some discretion can be exercised by UKVI in respect of excess absences. The Home Office guidance states that although an application should normally be refused if an applicant’s travel history shows they have been absent from the UK for more than 6 months at any one time, or 18 months in total, there may be compelling or compassionate circumstances to support the grant of the application. This could be where the applicant was prevented from returning to the UK through unavoidable circumstances.
The guidance also indicates that in assessing whether or not lawful residence has been broken, caseworkers can take into account any evidence of exceptional circumstances where an applicant has overstayed by more than 28 days prior to 24 November 2016. Although the threshold for what constitutes ‘exceptional circumstances’ is high, this could include delays resulting from unexpected or unforeseeable causes, such as serious illness or postal delays.
There may even be other routes available to applicants who are unable to meet the long residence requirements, including an application for limited leave to remain under the 20 year rule. Under this alternative route a person does not need to have lived in the UK lawfully, but simply continuously. In these cases, residence can be lawful, unlawful or both.
By seeking expert legal advice on meeting the requirements for long residence, and by exploring all alternative options, you will be able to maximise your chances of a successful outcome or find the most suitable immigration route to secure your stay in the UK long-term.
UK long residence FAQs
Can I get indefinite leave to remain after 10 years?
To apply for indefinite leave to remain on the basis of 10 years’ residence, you must have resided in the UK on a lawful basis for at least 10 continuous years. You must also satisfy all the other eligibility requirements under the long residence rules, including proving your knowledge of language and life in the UK.
What is the 10-year private life route?
The 10-year private life route refers to where an applicant has lived in the UK for a period of at least 120 months with continuous leave on the grounds of private life. Under this route, an applicant will be granted indefinite leave to remain where they can show 10 years’ continuous leave in this category and satisfy all of the other requirements under the rules.
Can I apply for indefinite leave to remain after 20 years?
You will be eligible for indefinite leave to remain, or settlement, after just 10 years of living in the UK, provided you were residing in the UK on both a continuous and lawful basis throughout this period. Under the 20 year rule, you can only apply for limited leave to remain, but you will not need to show you have lived in the UK lawfully, just continuously.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.