If you are an indefinite leave to remain (ILR) holder, or are applying for ILR, it is important to be aware of the indefinite leave to remain expiry rules and how ILR status can be lost or revoked. We also look at what to do if your ILR status remains valid but your documentary proof of status has expired.
With indefinite leave to remain (ILR), you are permitted to stay in the UK without restrictions on your time or activities in the UK. You are also able to travel into and out of the country free from immigration control. Although ILR grants indefinite permission to reside in the UK, this status can be lost in certain circumstances.
Rules on indefinite leave to remain expiry
UK immigration rules specify that ILR status will expire where the individual has left the UK, Ireland or the Crown Dependencies (Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey) and remained absent for a period of more than two continuous years. This means that after two years of absence from the UK, you will no longer be considered present and settled in the UK.
The two-year rules applies regardless of the expiry date on your ILR documentation, such as your BRP or vignette in your passport. Your status will be deemed to have automatically lapsed after two years out of the country.
Only in the following limited circumstances could you be exempt from the indefinite leave to remain expiry rule:
- You are a dependant of a member of HM Armed Forces who, you have accompanied overseas
- You are a dependant of a British citizen or settled person (ie an individual with ILR, settled status or permanent residence) in permanent employment in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for International Development, the Home Office or British Council and they have been accompanying them overseas
- You are a Commonwealth citizen covered by section 1(5) of the Immigration Act 1971
- You return to the UK in circumstances that do not require leave to enter
Returning to the UK briefly will have the effect of restarting the clock, but you should be aware that border officials may question if you are only in the UK for short periods at a time, since ILR relates to settlement in the UK.
Note that if you hold EU settled status, the expiry rule applies after five years out of the UK.
If the two-year rule applies and your ILR status has been lost, you will need to apply for entry clearance as a returning resident before coming back to live in the UK.
Returning resident visa
A returning resident visa will be required if you are looking to re-enter the UK to settle after an absence of two years or more, having previously held and lost the grant of indefinite leave to remain. If you are readmitted as a returning resident, your ILR will be restored.
Previous rules allowed such individuals to apply for re-entry at the border, however, since July 2018, you should instead make your application for entry clearance with a returning resident visa prior to travel to the UK.
Returning resident visa requirements
To be eligible as a returning resident, you will need to show that you did previously hold valid ILR when you left the UK, that you did not receive assistance from public funds towards the cost of leaving the UK and that you now intend to make the United Kingdom your permanent home.
UK immigration officials are afforded discretion under paragraph 19 of the Immigration Rules to determine readmission for returning resident status, looking at a number of key requirements and factors for consideration:
- You can show you have sufficiently strong ties to the UK. Strong ties would usually include evidence of links to family present in the UK, as well as work and property connections, and the degree to which you have maintained these links and contact during your absence. The stronger your ties to the UK, the more likely you will be granted the returning resident visa.
- Length of absence. The length of time you have been away from the UK will be a critical factor in determining your eligibility for readmission and reinstatement of your ILR. The longer you have been away from the country, generally it can be more difficult to establish you have maintained sufficiently strong ties.
- Length of original UK residence. A longer period of original stay can be used to support a claim for strong ties.
- Your reasons for absence. You will also need to provide evidence and details of why you left the UK and of your current circumstances. For example, did you leave to care for an ill relative, to work or study and are now looking to live back in the UK?
- Other factors may also be considered such as service overseas with a particular employer, prolonged medical treatment abroad of a kind not available in the UK or a prolonged period of study abroad by a person who wishes to rejoin the family in UK on completion of studies.
Any dependants, such as your spouse, partner or children under 18, must apply for their own returning resident visa, where eligible.
If your application is refused, take advice. You may be able to challenge the decision under an administrative review.
Check your indefinite leave to remain expiry
If you attempt to re-enter the UK with expired ILR and without a returning resident visa having been granted or other grant of entry under another relevant visa category, you will be refused entry and will have to return to your country of origin.
Given the significance of the two-year rule on your UK immigration status and travel rights, you will need to certain of the length of your absence from the UK and whether the indefinite leave to remain expiry rule applies to you before you travel to the UK.
You should review your travel history, checking travel documents, tickets and your passport for visa and immigration stamps issued since you were granted ILR.
Remember also that your ILR will expire after 2 years of absence, regardless of the expiry date on your proof of ILR, such as the BRP or passport stamp.
Can I lose my indefinite leave to remain status?
There are some circumstances where your UK ILR can be taken away. If you are deported it will be revoked automatically. It will also be revoked if you are liable for deportation but for legal reasons, such as the Refugee Convention or EU Convention on Human Rights, but your deportation cannot be carried out.
If you are found to have obtained ILR by deception or you were granted ILR status as a refugee and that refugee status no longer applies your ILR will also be revoked.
Proving your ILR status
Documentary proof of your ILR is not mandatory but is recommended. With proof of status, you can confirm your status when for example you are evidencing your right to work in the UK or use when travelling to avoid issues with re-entry into the UK.
ILR can be evidenced in various documentation:
- Biometric Residence Permit (BRP): confirming your status as ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’, ‘Indefinite Leave to Enter’, or ‘No Time Limit’ (NTL).
- NTL stamp in your passport.
- Official letter from the Home Office confirming your ILR status
If your passport is lost or stolen or expired, or if you have no proof of your indefinite leave status, you can apply to have your indefinite leave transferred to a BRP by making a no time limit NTL application. If you have changed your identity since being given ILR you will also need to apply for a BRP to confirm this.
To apply, you must:
- Hold valid ILR in the UK
- Have not lost your ILR status through expiry ie after two years absence
- Continue to be entitled to ILR
- Apply from within the UK using an NTL application form
- Pay the required fee
NTL BRPs cannot be issued to:
- British citizens
- Individuals with UK right of abode
- European Economic Area (EEA) nationals with right of UK permanent residence under the EEA Regulations or EU settled status or pre settled status
- Family members of EEA nationals with right of UK permanent residence under the EEA Regulations
If you have ILR under the EU Settlement Scheme, you do not need to apply for documentary evidence of your status.
If you’ve been away for less than 2 years but you’ve lost your documentation, you can get a replacement BRP.
If you were settled in the UK on 1 January 1973, or arrived before 1988, you may be eligible under the Windrush Scheme to apply for evidence of your status.
BRP expired, lost or stolen
All Biometric Residence Permits have an expiry date and will last up to 10 years.
If your BRP has expired and you have indefinite leave to remain you must apply online for a replacement, this must be done from within the UK. If your visa is also due to expire you should apply for a visa extension first and if successful you will automatically receive a BRP replacement.
You can apply for a replacement permit at least 3 months before expiry. To do this you should use the BRP replacement service. You will need to fill in an application form, submit relevant documents, pay an application fee and have your fingerprints and photo taken.
You must inform the UK Home Office if you want to change any details on your BRP. This could be your name or gender – if your physical appearance has changed significantly you should also inform them of this.
In cases where your BRP has been lost or stolen rather than simply expired you must also report this to the UK police as soon as possible and inform the Home Office of the official crime reference number. You can face a financial penalty and be made to leave the UK if you do not apply for a replacement within a period of 3 months.
If your BRP is stolen abroad, you will need to apply for a short term single entry visa to re-enter the UK before applying for a replacement BRP when back in the UK.
UK immigration rules are complex and subject to frequent change. If you are concerned about your UK immigration status, take professional advice.
If you attempt to re-enter the UK on the basis of your ILR status but it has since expired, you will be refused entry and deported. It is best to avoid the hassle and expense by checking your status before you travel and taking any necessary steps to secure permission to travel to the UK before you arrive at the border.
DavidsonMorris are experienced UK immigration specialists offering guidance and support to individuals in relation to their UK immigration status and options. We can help you understand your position by assessing your previous status and grant of leave and whether this has lost by reason of the indefinite leave to remain expiry rules or other.
Where your status has expired and you are intending to return to the UK to resettle, we can help with your application for a returning residents visa. We can advise on the evidence you will need to compile to provide a compelling submission for the immigration officer and support a successful application for readmission and reinstatement of your ILR.
We can also answer your questions on proof of ILR and BRPs.
For specialist UK immigration advice, contact us.
ILR expiry FAQs
Can indefinite leave to remain expire?
ILR status will not expire, but it can be lost in certain circumstances. BRPs, as proof of ILR status, are issued for ten years.
How can I keep my ILR valid?
You can retain your ILR status by continuing to reside in the UK. An absence of more than 2 years can result in your ILR status being lost.
How many days you can stay outside UK for ILR?
If you hold ILR, you should not be absent from the UK for a continuous period of more than 2 years or you risk losing your status.
Last updated: 3 February 2021