Obtaining indefinite leave can be a complex application process due to the range of requirements that are dependent on your circumstances. We get a lot of queries about ILR in the UK. Our trusted team of advisors has the answers to some frequently asked questions.
What is the meaning of indefinite leave to remain (ILR)?
Indefinite leave to remain is an immigration status that allows you to stay in the UK for an unlimited period. Once you obtain this status, you no longer need to extend your visa or apply for a visa to remain in the UK. This status also allows you to live and work in the UK without any restrictions.
A key benefit of having ILR is that after 12 months you may be eligible to apply for British citizenship.
How to get indefinite leave to remain
You may apply for indefinite leave to remain under any of the following circumstances:
- After five continuous years on a spousal visa
- Shortly prior to the expiry of a five-year Ancestry visa
- After having held a work permit in the UK for five years
- After legally staying in the UK for 10 continuous years
- After spending five continuous years in the UK as an investor
- After spending five continuous years as a dependant (married partner, unmarried partner, child under 18 when first applied) under the points-based system
- After spending five continuous years in the UK on a Temporary Worker - Creative and Sporting visa (T5)
Before you can apply, you must pass the Life in the UK Test and prove you have sufficient English language skills. Individuals from certain countries are exempt from having to take this test.
Frequently asked questions about indefinite leave to remain
If you’ve got a question about ILR and don’t find your answer here get in touch with our immigration advisors and they will assist with your query.
1. How long can I stay outside the UK with indefinite leave to remain?
You may not leave the UK for more than two years at a time or your ILR will automatically end. If this happens, you will need to apply for entry clearance as a returning resident before you can return to the UK to live.
You should take your biometric residence permit with you whenever you travel outside of the UK or you may be refused re-entry to the UK.
2. How long does the application process take and when will I receive an answer?
You must apply online and pay the fee. You’ll usually receive a decision within six months.
You can get a faster decision by paying an extra fee to use the priority service, then you’ll usually receive a decision within five working days.
The super priority service comes at a higher extra fee, but you’ll receive a decision much sooner:
- By the end of the next working day after providing your biometric information if your appointment is on a weekday
- Two working days after providing your biometric information if your appointment is at the weekend
3. Does ILR have any salary requirements, and can my spouse and I combine our income to meet these requirements?
If you’re on a Skilled Worker visa (previously called the Tier 2 visa), you will need to earn at least £25,600 per year unless the “going rate” for your job is higher than this. For example, if your salary is £26,000, but the annual going rate for your job is £30,000, then you do not meet the salary requirement.
You cannot combine your income with your spouse’s to meet the salary requirement. The holder of the work visa must meet the salary requirement based on their salary alone.
4. How do I make the change from a Skilled Worker visa/Tier 2 to ILR?
If you are currently in the UK on a Tier 2 visa and you want to extend your visa to be able to be eligible for ILR, you will need to apply for a Skilled Worker visa and meet all of the requirements. You do not need to apply now, only when you want to extend your visa.
If you’re eligible for ILR and are on a Tier 2 visa, your time spent in the UK on a Tier 2 visa will still count towards ILR.
There are some specific requirements that work visa holders need to fulfil. You can apply if:
- You’ve been living and working in the UK for five years and spent no more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12 months
- Your employer still needs you for your job (your employer must provide proof)
- Your job meets the salary requirements
You also need to pass the Life in the UK Test and the English language test – proof will be required for both tests.
Meeting the continuous residence requirement
You need to have spent five continuous years in the UK. This can be fulfilled under the combination of different visa routes, including:
- Tier 2 (General) or Skilled Worker
- Minister of Religion
- Tier 1, but not Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
- Representative of an Overseas Business
- Global Talent
If you have been in the UK for 10 years under different routes, you may be eligible to apply for the 10-year route.
ILR salary requirements
You must earn at least £25,600 per year unless the “going rate” for your job is more than this.
There are different salary rules if your occupation is in healthcare or education. If you earn less than the required amount, you should speak to an immigration specialist as there may be other options available to you.
Work visa dependants
If you have dependants on your visa, they must apply the same time as you and can do so on the same form. If your dependants are over 18 years, they will also need to pass the Life in the UK Test and meet the English requirements.
5. Does ILR expire or can you renew your ILR?
To ensure your ILR remains valid, you must continue to live in the UK. Your ILR status does not expire, but it is possible to lose it when you leave the UK for more than two continuous years. After being absent from the UK for two years, you are no longer considered present and settled in the UK and your status will automatically lapse.
Absences of less than two years will not affect your ILR status.
6. What if I lost my ILR?
If you leave the UK for two or more years, your ILR will automatically be lost. When you return, you’ll be classified as a “returning resident”. To re-enter the UK, you must apply for a Returning Resident visa. To be eligible for a visa you must:
- Plan to return to live in the UK permanently
- Have been settled in the UK before you last left
- Not have been given public funds to help you leave the UK
You will need to provide evidence of:
- Your strong ties to the UK
- Your current circumstances and why you’ve lived outside the UK
Your dependants (partner and children under 18) need to apply separately for a Returning Resident visa if they’re eligible.
You will not lose your ILR status after two years outside the UK if your spouse or partner is:
- A member of the UK armed forces and you’ve joined them on an overseas posting
- A British citizen/settled in the UK and a permanent member of the Diplomatic Service
- A British citizen/settled in the UK and a UK-based British Council employee who works outside the UK
- A British citizen/settled in the UK and a Department for International Development (DFID) employee
- A British citizen/settled in the UK and a Home Office employee
You can prove your ILR status with your letter from the Home Office or stamp in your passport. You could also use the vignette (sticker) or biometric residence permit.
Should you find yourself in this situation, please seek assistance from a UK immigration specialist who can advise you on the best course of action.
7. What happens if my application for indefinite leave to remain is refused?
If your application for ILR is refused, you will receive a letter explaining the grounds of refusal and whether you can appeal. There is a specific time period in which you can appeal - this will be indicated in your letter.
It’s important to first understand the reason for the refusal. Is it due to a minor error on your application, not submitting sufficient or the correct documents, failure to meet the ILR requirements, a breach of immigration laws or a criminal offence? Some reasons can be easily rectified while others may require you to seek professional help.
8. I am now eligible to apply for ILR, but I have family members that are on dependant visas. Should my dependants apply for ILR at the same time as I do, regardless of whether or not they qualify for ILR?
Your dependants must change their status when you change yours, if they don’t, they’ll lose their dependant visa. This means it could take another five years (from the date of issue of their new visas) for them to become eligible to apply for ILR.
Please be aware that these applications can be complex. If you are applying for ILR with dependants, speak to an immigration advisor for help and advice.
9. I am a British citizen, and my non-British spouse has been living with me on a spousal visa. How many years do they have to be in the UK before they are eligible for ILR?
They will have to be in the UK for five continuous years to be eligible to apply for ILR. A spousal visa, however, is only valid for two and a half years so they will have to renew their visa before their current one expires.
Remember, if you are on a spousal visa, and you spend more than 180 days outside of the UK your five-year residency period will reset.
10. If I study in England for five years on a Student visa (previously Tier 4 visa) can I apply for ILR?
No, Student visas/Tier 4 visas are not eligible for settlement purposes. You will need to switch from your Tier 4 visa to a different visa category that leads to ILR to qualify. Your qualifying years (time spent in the UK) will reset when you switch to your new visa, which means that you will need to remain in the UK for a further five continuous years to be eligible for ILR.
However, you may be eligible for the long residence route if you’ve been in the UK legally for 10 continuous years. You should consult an immigration specialist should this be your circumstances.
11. I have studied in the UK on a Student visa/Tier 4 visa. Since completing my studies, I have been living in London on a Skilled Worker visa/Tier 2 skilled visa. Altogether, I have stayed continuously in the UK for more than five years now, can I apply for ILR?
Unfortunately, no. When you switched to the Tier 2 visa/Skilled Worker visa, your Tier 4 visa/Student visa expired automatically. The five years you need to accrue before applying for ILR begin on the start date of your most recent visa.
12. I have been in the country for five years on different valid visas with no breaks between each visa. Can I apply for ILR?
No. To be eligible for ILR you must have been on the same visa for at least five years. However, if you stay in the UK for another five years you may be eligible for ILR via the long residence route.
13. I’m hoping to apply for ILR via the 10-year long residence route, what are the basic requirements for this route?
To qualify for ILR through the long residence route, you must have had continuous residence (with no break in visas) in the UK for 10 years and kept to the terms of your visa. You are also not allowed to have spent more than 180 days (at one time) outside of the UK and you must not have spent more than 540 days outside of the UK during the 10 years.
You will need to pass the Life in the UK Test and prove you have sufficient English language skills.
The requirements in situations like this can be tricky, especially if you have held multiple continuous visas over a 10-year period. You should speak to a UK immigration expert if you want to pursue this route.
14. What are the requirements to apply for indefinite leave to remain after five years on a spouse visa?
The requirements are dependent upon your and your spouse or partner’s circumstances. Is your spouse a British citizen, did they become a British citizen or are they settled? It also depends on when you got your spouse visa in relation to their status in the UK.
Aside from the requirements that are specific to your situation, you must be able to prove one of the following:
- You’re married
- You’re in a civil partnership
- You’ve been in a relationship for two years
You must prove that you’ve been living together since your last visa renewal and you and your partner must intend to continue your relationship after you apply. You must also pass the Life in the UK Test and meet the English language requirements.
For unmarried partners, proving the legitimacy of your relationship can be burdensome, so it’s a good idea to consult with an immigration advisor before making your application to ensure you have completed it correctly. Submitting insufficient information could result in your application being delayed, or worse refused.
15. My visa is set to expire in a few months. What is the earliest date I can apply for ILR?
You can apply 28 days before the expiry date of your current visa.
16. Must I pay the NHS surcharge when I apply for ILR?
No, you do not have to pay the surcharge when applying for ILR.
17. What can I do if I have more ILR questions?
If your question is not listed above, please feel free to get in touch with our immigration team for ILR guidance. They’ll be happy to answer any query you may have or assist with your application for a visa or ILR.
Get touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 (0) 20 7759 5330.
We are a professional services company that specialises in cross-border financial and immigration advice and solutions.
Our teams in the UK, South Africa and Australia can ensure that when you decide to move overseas, invest offshore or expand your business internationally, you'll do so with the backing of experienced local experts.