ilr timeline

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Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) is how you permanently settle in the UK. Commonly referred to as settlement, ILR will give you the right to live, work and study here for as long as you like. With ILR status, you can also become eligible to apply for British citizenship.

The following guide closely examines the timings of the stages when applying for ILR, from how long you need to have lived in the UK to be able to apply to settle, to the time it will take to complete your application and wait for a decision from the UK’s Home Office.

 

How long do you need to have lived in the UK to apply for ILR?

The length of time that you need to have lived in the UK to apply for ILR will depend on your immigration route. This is known as the qualifying residence requirement.

Certain routes do not provide a direct path to settlement and nor do they count towards any qualifying residence requirement on a different immigration route. However, there are various routes that will allow you to settle in the UK on a permanent basis, provided you have lived in the UK long enough on that or any other qualifying routes. In some cases, you may need to return to your country of residence to switch into a route to settlement, although you may be eligible to switch to a different route without having to leave the UK.

Below we set out some of the key immigration routes that provide a path to settlement in the UK based on continuous residence requirements of either 3, 5 or 10 years:

 

3 years

You may be eligible to apply for ILR after just 3 years if you are in the UK on either the Innovator Founder or Global Talent route. The Innovator Founder route is aimed at overseas nationals looking to set up an innovative business in the UK that has the potential for growth and for creating UK jobs. The Global Talent route is aimed at those with exceptional talent or promise looking to work in the UK within their specialised field.

The Innovator Founder route has replaced the Innovator route, although you can still apply for ILR if you have an Innovator visa and you meet the requirements. To be eligible to settle on this route, you must have lived in the UK for 3 years on either an Innovator Founder or Innovator visa, where you cannot include time spent in the UK using any other visa. You will also need, among other things, a new endorsement by a Home Office approved body that shows you have met the relevant requirements for growing your UK business.

The Global Talent route has replaced the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route, although you can apply for ILR on this replacement route if you have a Tier 1 Talent visa. To be eligible to settle on the Global Talent route, you must have lived in the UK for either 3 or 5 years, although this can be on one of a number of different routes, including the Innovator Founder route. The qualifying residence requirement, either 3 or 5 years, will depend on which field you work in or how you were endorsed, although you can apply after 3 years if you did not need an endorsement for your visa because you had won an eligible award.

 

5 years

You may be eligible to apply for ILR after 5 years if you are in the UK on either the Skilled Worker or Partner route. The Skilled Worker route is for overseas nationals looking to undertake a sponsored job role in the UK with a licensed sponsor which meets the minimum skill and salary requirements for this route, while the Partner route is for the foreign spouse or partner of a British citizen or someone otherwise settled in the UK.

A Skilled Worker visa can initially be issued for up to 5 years, although visas of a shorter duration can be renewed from in the UK. After 5 years of holding leave on this route as a Skilled Worker, you can apply for ILR. In contrast, a Partner visa will initially be granted for a period of 33 months if applying from outside the UK or for 30 months if applying to switch from a different immigration route from inside the UK. You can then apply to extend this visa prior to its expiry, before making an application to settle after 5 years.

 

10 years

You may be eligible to apply for ILR after 10 years if you are in the UK on either the 10-year Family Settlement or Long Residence route. The 10-year Family Settlement route is aimed at partners of British nationals or those settled in the UK where the relevant requirements cannot be met for the 5-year Partner route. The Long Residence route also provides a path to settlement after 10 years, where permission to stay in a combination of different routes can count towards ILR, provided you have been in the UK legally for 10 continuous years.

 

Additional ILR requirements

In addition to meeting a continuous residence requirement for settlement, there are various other requirements that must be met to be eligible for ILR. The relevant requirements may vary, depending on your route to settlement, but will typically include being able to demonstrate your knowledge of life in the UK. Unless classed as exempt, you must take a ‘Life in the UK’ test with an approved test provider, answering questions about British traditions and customs. You will be exempt from taking the test if you are under 18 or over 65, or have a physical or mental condition preventing you from meeting this requirement.

You will be tested on information in the official ‘Life in the UK’ handbook, where you should study this to prepare. The handbook is available as a book, eBook, e-Learning subscription or in audio formats. Once fully prepared, you should book your test online at least 3 days in advance. During the test, you will have 45 minutes to answer 24 questions based on the official handbook, where you must score 75% or more to pass the test.

In some cases, unless exempt, you may also need to pass an English language test with an approved test provider, although you may be able to prove this requirement in other ways.

You can submit your application for ILR once you meet all route-specific requirements, including obtaining a unique Life in the UK test-pass reference number and, where applicable, an English language test-pass number. You do not need to wait until your existing visa expires, but you must be in the UK to apply. You can stay in the UK until you have received a decision, as long as you applied before your last period of leave expired.

 

Timeline to apply for ILR in the UK

Once you are eligible, to apply for ILR you will need to submit an online application to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) using the correct form. UKVI is the division of the Home Office not only responsible for the issuance of visas but for also making decisions around settlement in the UK.

As part of the application process for ILR, you must prove your identity, although how you do this will depend on where you are from and the type of passport you hold. In some cases, you may be eligible to use the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app to scan your passport or other identity document. If not, you will need to schedule an appointment at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point to re-enrol your biometric information (a digital photo of your face and a scan of your fingerprints). You will be told if you need to schedule an UKVCAS appointment when you apply for ILR.

You will also need to submit your supporting documents, where you can upload these into the online service or have them scanned at any UKVCAS appointment. The documentation needed in support of your application will depend on the route-specific requirements that must be met, including financial and English language requirements to name but a few.

Additionally, you may need documentary evidence of continuous residence, where there are strict rules around how long you can spend outside the UK to qualify for settlement. For example, on the Innovator Founder, Global Talent or Skilled Worker routes, you must have spent no more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12 months, although certain absences will not count toward this 180-day limit. In contrast, on the Long Residence route, you must not have left the UK for more than 184 days at a time or 548 days in total.

 

ILR processing timeline

Once you have applied for ILR and proved your identity using the ID app or enrolled your biometric information at any UKVCAS appointment, it can take up to 6 months to get a decision from UKVI, although it may be possible to pay for a faster decision.

You must not travel outside of the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man until you receive notification of your decision, where your application will be withdrawn if you do. However, once your application has been approved, you will be able to work on either an employed or self-employed basis, run a business, study, use public services, including healthcare and schools, as well as being able to apply for state benefits and a pension.

You will also be able to apply to naturalise as a British citizen, although you may need to live in the UK with ILR for a further 12 months before being able to do so.

 

Can you expedite the ILR processing time?

When applying for ILR in the UK, you can expect to wait up to 24 weeks for UKVI to notify you of your settlement decision under standard processing times. However, paying for a decision within 5 working days or even the next working day may be possible, depending on your route to settlement and how you are required to prove your identity.

You will be told when you apply if you can pay for a faster decision, although if you are not offered the option to apply for a faster decision, you can still complete a standard application. It is also worth noting that if you are given the option to pay for a priority service, you cannot later pay for a faster decision if you opt instead for standard processing.

If you pay to use the ‘priority’ service, you should get a decision within 5 working days from the point at which you prove your identity using either the ID app or after your UKVCAS appointment. If you pay to use the ‘super priority’ service, you should get a decision by the end of the next working day following your UKVCAS appointment, if your appointment falls on a weekday, or 2 working days if your appointment is at the weekend. Working days are classed as Monday to Friday, but not including bank holidays. Only the priority service, and not the super priority service, is available if you prove your identity using the ID app.

You will be contacted by UKVI if your application will take longer than the customer service standard for expedited processing. This could be if your supporting documents need to be verified, if you need to attend an interview or because of your personal circumstances, for example, if you have a history of criminality or immigration violations. If a decision on your application for settlement takes longer than expected, you will not usually get your money back. You will also not be entitled to a refund if your application for settlement is refused.

If you are eligible to use the priority service, you will need to pay £500 in addition to your application fee for settlement, or an extra £1,000 for the super priority service. The cost to apply for ILR is currently £2,885 for each person applying, plus £50 to take the Life in the UK test.

 

Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris are UK immigration and nationality specialists. For expert advice on ILR eligibility and guidance with an ILR application, contact us.

 

ILR timeline FAQs

How long does ILR process take?

Once you have applied for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) and enrolled your biometric information, it can take up to 6 months to get a decision on your ILR application, although it may be possible to pay for faster processing.

What is the processing time for ILR 2023?

The standard processing time for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK during 2023 was up to 24 weeks, where all UK processing times for decisions by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) are measured against agreed customer service standards.

Can I apply for ILR before 5 years?

You may be eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after 3 years if you are in the UK on either the Innovator Founder or Global Talent route and you meet the relevant settlement requirements for your route.

Can I speed up my ILR application?

You may be offered the chance to pay for expedited processing when you apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), although this will depend on your route to settlement. However, you cannot opt into faster processing at a later date.

Last updated: 14 February 2024

Author

Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

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