From ILR to Citizenship in the UK


If you have indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK, you may be considering applying to naturalise as a British citizen.

In this guide for naturalisation applicants, we explain the process of changing from ILR to citizenship in the UK, the requirements you will need to meet to be eligible and the common grounds for citizenship refusals.


What are the differences between ILR and citizenship?

Indefinite leave to remain (ILR) is the permission granted to non-UK nationals to live and work in the UK with no time limit on their permission to stay, and free from immigration restrictions.

ILR does not provide you with the same rights and entitlements as a British citizen. In particular, although you will be permitted to remain in the UK on a permanent basis, you run the risk of losing this status if you leave the UK for a continuous period of more than two years. In contrast, British citizenship is for life.

Furthermore, having become naturalised as a British citizen, you can apply for a British passport and attain the right to vote in the UK.


When can you apply for citizenship with ILR?

Having been granted ILR, this will put you on the pathway to becoming naturalised as a British citizen. In other words, having held indefinite leave to remain for a qualifying period, and subject to meeting the relevant requirements for citizenship, you can then apply for naturalisation.

Typically, you can apply for British citizenship by way of naturalisation if you are aged 18 or over and have held indefinite leave to remain in the UK for a period of 12 months. If you are the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen, you will be eligible to naturalise as a British citizen as soon as you have been granted ILR, without having to hold ILR for 12 months.


British citizenship requirements

Naturalisation is not an absolute entitlement. A decision will be made by the Home Office to grant British citizenship based on the evidence you provide in your citizenship application and proof that you satisfy certain statutory requirements.

The requirements for naturalisation as a UK citizen will differ depending on whether you are applying on the basis of your marriage or civil partnership with a British citizen, or otherwise.

Citizenship on the basis of marriage

If you are applying to naturalise as the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen, you will need to satisfy the following requirements:

  • Be aged 18 or over
  • Be of full capacity
  • Have sufficient knowledge of English and about life in the UK
  • Be of good character
  • Have lived in the UK for a minimum of three years before applying and meet the other residence requirements

Citizenship on the basis of residency

If you are applying to naturalise other than as the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen, you will need to satisfy the following requirements:

  • Be aged 18 or over
  • Be of full capacity
  • Have sufficient knowledge of English and about life in the UK
  • Be of good character
  • Intend to continue living in the UK
  • Have lived in the UK for a minimum of five years before applying and meet the other residence requirements


Citizenship residency requirement

To meet the residence requirements you must be able to prove that you were in the UK exactly five years before the day of receipt of your application by the Home Office, save except where you are applying as the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen, in which case this period is reduced to three years.

In addition, you must not have spent more than 450 days outside the UK during the five year period before making your application, reduced to 270 days in the qualifying three year period for spouse or partner applications, nor more than 90 days in the last twelve months ending with the date of the application.

You must also be free of immigration time restrictions on the date of application, and must not have been in breach of the immigration rules during the residential qualifying period. In other words, you must have had the necessary permission throughout this period to be in the UK legally.

That said, if there are special circumstances, the Home Office may exercise some discretion over immigration breaches and time restrictions, as well as any excess absences, for example, where these are as a result of exceptionally compelling reasons of either an occupational or compassionate nature.


Good character requirement

The good character requirement is not statutorily defined but, in broad terms, to satisfy this requirement you must have shown respect for the rights and freedoms of the UK, observed its laws and fulfilled your obligations as a UK resident. This includes not having a recent or serious criminal record, where criminal record checks will be carried out for all applicants.

In particular, if you have a conviction within the relevant sentence based threshold you are unlikely to be accepted as a British citizen. By way of example, an application will normally be refused for any custodial sentence of more than four years, regardless of when the conviction occurred, or for any non-custodial offence where the conviction occurred within the last three years.

Every application for naturalisation will be considered on an individual basis on its own merits by a Home Office caseworker. As such, in addition to any criminal convictions, various other key areas will be assessed, including any deception and dishonesty in previous immigration applications.


English language & life

The KoLL requirement refers to ‘knowledge of language and life in the UK’. As part of the application process, applicants need to show they have a commitment to respect the laws, values and traditions of the UK as well as having knowledge of life in the UK and the ability to communicate in English.

You can satisfy the KoLL requirement if you have passed the ‘Life in the UK’ test, a requirement of indefinite leave to remain, together with evidence of your proficiency in English by way of either one of the following:

  • A UK degree or other academic qualification taught or researched in English and deemed to be equivalent to a UK degree or higher
  • An approved English speaking and listening qualification.


If you are a national of a majority English-speaking country you will not be required to obtain any English language qualification, although you will still be required to show that you have passed the Life in the UK test.

You may also be wholly exempt from the KoLL requirement if you are aged 65 or over, or have a long-term physical or mental condition that prevents you from meeting this requirement.

If you have passed the life in the UK test as part of your ILR application, you will not need to take it again when applying to naturalise.


ILR to UK citizenship application process

To be naturalised as a British citizen you will need to apply to the Home Office either online or using Form AN, submitting your supporting documentation and application fee. You will also be required to enrol your biometric information as part of the application process at an additional cost of £19.20. This will include a scan of your fingerprints and a digital photograph of your face.

When you apply online, you will be asked to make an appointment at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point to provide your biometric information. You can also have your documentation in support of your application scanned at your UKVCAS appointment or, alternatively, you can upload copies through the online service.

If you are applying by post you will need to forward your documentation at the same time, so you will be without your passport until a decision is made.

The documentation you will need to provide in support of your application will depend upon your individual circumstances. At the very least, however, this will need to include the following, although this list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Your passport and any existing biometric residence permit
  • Documentary evidence of your marriage or civil partnership where applying as the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen
  • Documentary evidence of your lawful residence
  • Documentary evidence of your knowledge of language and life in the UK, or medical evidence in support of any exemption where applicable.

Having submitted your citizenship application you will usually get a decision within six months, although some applications can take longer. The Home Office will inform you if you need to provide further information.


If your citizenship application is successful 

In the event that your application is successful, you will then attend a citizenship ceremony. You will receive an invitation from the Home Office confirming the local authority you should contact to arrange your ceremony.

You must book the ceremony within three months of being sent your invitation, although this has been temporarily extended to six months due to COVID. You will also need to pay an additional fee of £80 to attend a group ceremony. You can ask for a private ceremony, although this will cost you more.

If you do not attend the ceremony within 90 days (or six months while the COVID concession is in place) without good reason, your application for citizenship will be refused and you will need to re-apply.

During the ceremony you will be required to affirm or swear an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen and to pledge your loyalty to the UK. This means you promise to respect the rights, freedoms and laws of the UK. At the end of the ceremony you will be presented with your certificate of naturalisation under British citizenship.

Importantly, within 5 working days of receiving your certificate of British citizenship, you must send your biometric residence permit back to the Home Office, otherwise risk a financial penalty of up to £1,000.


Applying for your first British passport

Once you have concluded the ILR to citizenship process and have your certificate of British citizenship, you can use this to apply for a British passport. You can either apply online or by post.

In support of your application, in addition to your naturalisation certificate, you will also need to provide the passport you used to come into the UK.


Common grounds for citizenship application refusals

Given that naturalisation is not an absolute right, you are not guaranteed the grant of citizenship, even where you appear to meet all the requirements. Evidence is critical. One of the most commonly cited reasons for being refused an application for citizenship is a failure to provide sufficient documentation or to adequately respond to further queries.

Further, although the Home Office may be able to exercise some discretion in some cases, for example, in respect of immigration breaches or excess absences, you will need to provide detail of any special circumstances when you apply, together with additional evidence in support.

As such, to maximise your prospects of a successful outcome, it is always best to seek expert advice from an immigration specialist experienced in applications for ‘ILR to citizenship’. In this way, any potential problems can be identified prior to submitting your application for naturalisation and, where necessary, additional documentation collated and submitted in support.


Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris are experienced UK nationality and immigration law specialists. We advise and support individuals making a Home Office nationality application, including naturalisation applications to change your status from ILR to citizenship. For professional guidance and help with your application, contact us.


ILR to citizenship FAQs

How long does it take to get citizenship after ILR?

Once you hold ILR status in the UK, you typically have to wait 12months before you can make an applicaiton for British citizenship. If you are the spouse of a British citizen, you do not have to wait the 12 months, you apply to naturalise as soon as you have ILR.

Is ILR same as citizenship?

No, ILR and citizenship are not the same. With ILR, you can live, work and study in the UK without time restriction, but you do not have the same rights as a British citizen, such as the right to vote in the UK.

Do I need to take life in the UK test if I have ILR?

If you have already passed the Life in the UK test as part of your ILR application, you do not need to take it again for your citizenship application.


Last updated: 18 November 2021 


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.

Legal Disclaimer

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 at the time of writing, 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.

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