This post looks at applying to stay in the UK based on the length of time you have already spent in the UK.
The immigration rules allow people to apply for leave to remain in the UK if:
- you are between 18 and 24 years old and you’ve lived continuously in the UK for more than half your life, or
- you are under 18 and you’ve lived in the UK continuously for at least 7 years, and it would be “unreasonable” to expect you to leave the UK. See more here.
An application under these criteria is described by the Home Office and in the immigration rules as “applying on the basis of your private life”.
Suitability criteria and exclusions
There is a “suitability” requirement to meet the criteria for this application, meaning that criminal convictions, “bad character”, poor immigration history or unpaid NHS debts could disqualify you.
The immigration rules currently state that an application may be refused if you have failed to pay charges “in accordance with the relevant NHS regulations on charges to overseas visitors and the outstanding charges have a total value of at least £500.”
The time periods used to calculate your length of time in the UK to meet the criteria above cannot include any periods of imprisonment in the UK.
You can find the “private life” application form and guidance notes on the government website here.
There is a fee for the application: £1033 for a single person for a standard application online or by post. The fee increases by £1033 for each dependent applying with you.
It costs £610 more per person to apply in person at a visa premium service centre. Read more about that here.
You will need to pay the health surcharge as part of this application, unless you fall into one of the exempt categories. To find out more about the health surcharge, see here.
If you are destitute and cannot afford to pay the application fee and health surcharge, you can apply for a fee waiver.
The Home Office guidance states this may apply if you do not have a place to live and you cannot afford one; you have a place to live but cannot afford your essential living costs like food or heating; or you have a very low income and paying the fee would harm your child’s wellbeing. See here for more information about applying for a fee waiver.
Ten year route
If you are successful in applying for leave to remain based on your time spent in the UK as a young person (the criteria above), you will be granted 30 months’ leave to remain.
You will have begun what is called the “ten year route” to settled status in the UK. It is called the ten year route because after four periods of this 30 months’ leave to remain, you will have passed a probationary limited leave period of 120 months – ten years – and will be able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.
People can also apply for leave to remain and enter this “ten year route” if they are wanting to join their spouse or partner in the UK but do meet the requirements of the visa that entails just a five year probationary period. Read more here.
You also need to demonstrate there are serious reasons you and your partner can’t live together as a couple in another country, if you’re applying based on family life with a spouse/partner.
There is no access to public funds such as welfare benefits (apart from in exceptional circumstances) during the probationary period.
Applying for ILR from the ten year route
This route to Indefinite Leave to Remain (settled status) in the UK is for people who can prove ten years’ continuous legal residence in the UK – including people who have completed the ten year probationary period based on their private life, or their spouse/partner in the UK (see above).
There are rules around permitted length of absence from the UK during this period. You cannot remain outside the UK for more than six months at any one time; or more than 18 months outside the UK in total (540 days).
Time spent in prison would break the period of continuous residence – on release from prison, you would again need to accrue ten years’ continuous residence and the time spent in the UK before you were imprisoned would not count towards that.
Read more in the Home Office guidance here.
The guidance also sets out the circumstances in which short gaps in lawful residence during those ten years may still mean the application is granted.
There are other criteria that must be met, such as having passed the Life in the UK test; speaking English at level B1 and the Home Office determining that there are no reasons why granting leave is “against the public good”.
You can find the application form and information on fees and checking your eligibility on the Home Office website here.
20 years’ long residence rule
Previously the immigration rules allowed for applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain if you could show you had been in the UK continuously for 14 years – including if some or all of that time was without leave to remain.
The immigration rules now require twenty years’ continuous residence if some or all of that residence was not “lawful”, and this only enables you to enter the ten-year route to settlement described above (if your application is successful you will be granted leave to remain for 30 months, and will then need to have four periods of this before applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain).
This route is for people over the age of 25. If you are younger than 25 years old, see the rules regarding young people above, and the rules regarding leave to remain based on the rights of a child here.
Time spent in prison cannot be counted towards the twenty years spent in the UK, but does not break the period of continuous residence (you can use the time you spent in the UK before you were in prison, and add it to time spent in the UK after release from prison).
You can find the application form and guidance notes for this application on the government website here.
Bear in mind it is difficult to provide evidence of twenty years’ continuous residence if periods of that have been without regular immigration status. You may not have had formal accommodation or income. Think about who can provide statements to evidence your presence in the UK.