Indefinite Leave to Remain: Settle in UK

extending skilled worker visa


UK Indefinite Leave to Remain applicants face strict eligibility requirements and a formal application process.

In this guide, we look at some of the frequently asked questions put to us by individuals looking to apply for ILR or to settle in the UK. We explain what indefinite leave to remain in the UK means, who is eligible and how you can apply.


What is Indefinite Leave to Remain?

Indefinite leave to remain, or UK settlement, grants an applicant the right to live and work in the UK free from restrictions on travel and immigration. You can work and study and also claim public benefits. You can also leave and re-enter the UK without needing to secure a visa and can be joined by your family.

ILR does not however allow you to vote in the UK or apply for a British passport. ILR can also be lost if you are absent from the UK for more than two years or if you are facing deportation after a conviction.


Is ILR the same as citizenship?

There are several differences in rights and status between indefinite leave to remain and British citizenship. The eligibility requirements and application process also differ between ILR and naturalisation as a British citizen.

ILR status can be lost, where the individual as been absent from the UK for more than 2 years, or revoked for reasons of national security or if you commit an offence that could lead to deportation.

Importantly, ILR is a mandatory prerequisite for those wishing to apply to naturalise as British citizens. Before you can apply to naturalise, you need to have held ILR status for at least one year. If married to a UK resident, you do not have to wait the 12 month period to apply.

With British citizenship, you are also free to live and work in the UK without immigration restrictions, but you are able to apply for a British passport and you do attain the right to vote.

And while ILR can be lost after 2 years’ absence from the UK, citizenship is permanent.


Is ILR the same as permanent residence?

Permanent residence was the equivalent to ILR for EU nationals as an immigration status free from time restriction and free from limitations on leaving and entering the UK. Permanent residence was effectively replaced with EU Settled Status. Prior to the introduction of the EU settlement scheme, EU nationals applied for a permanent residence card to prove they had obtained the five-year residence, which could then be relied on when applying to naturalise as a British citizen.


Is ILR the same as right of abode?

The right of abode and ILR both grant to qualifying individuals the right to live in the UK free from immigration control and restrictions. However, the right of abode applies only to British citizens and qualifying Commonwealth nationals.


How long is indefinite leave to remain valid for?

Indefinite leave to remain is without time limit but can be lost if the holder is out of the UK for more than two years, for reasons of national security or if the holder is being deported following a conviction.


What is the difference between Further Leave to Remain and Indefinite Leave to Remain?

If you are not yet eligible for ILR, you might be able to temporarily extend your current visa and stay in the UK. This is known as Further Leave to Remain. In most cases, if you arrived as a visitor, you are only permitted to stay for six months; but, under certain conditions, you may be eligible to change to a different category of visa.

Additionally, you must request for a stay extension before your current permission expires. Overstaying and remaining in the UK without lawful status is an offence and can result in deportation.


What are the indefinite leave to remain requirements?

ILR is not automatically granted. Strict eligibility criteria must be met and evidenced as part of the Home Office application, which includes completing the relevant form and submitting supporting documentation.

Qualification criteria vary depending on the type of visa status you have held in the UK, with some operating on a points-based system.

The general requirements for ILR include the following:

  • Living lawfully in the UK for a specific amount of time (depending on your current immigration route)
  • Having no criminal record or violations of immigration regulations during your stay in the UK
  • During the qualifying residency period, any time spent outside the UK must not total more than 180 days in a 12-month period
  • Passing the Life in the UK test
  • Proving sufficient knowledge of the English language, to the standard of at least B1 English proficiency as required by the Common European Framework of Languages.


UK residency requirement

When you can apply for Indefinite leave to Remain depends on the visa held:

Current category Qualifying ILR period
Spouse or civil partner of a British Citizen or person settled in the UK visa After 5 years where the relationship is genuine and subsisting
Unmarried partner After 5 years where the relationship is genuine and subsisting
EEA Family Permit After 5 years
UK Ancestry visa After 5 years
Innovator route After 3 years
Tier 1 (Investor) visa After 2, 3 or 5 years depending on level of investment
Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) After 3 or 5  years depending on the business activity
Global Talent and Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa After 3 years
Skilled Worker visa and Tier 2 (General) After 5 years
PBS visa dependants After 5 years
Retired Person visa After 5 years
Discretionary Leave to Remain After 6 years
Long residence After 10 years continuous legal residency in the UK
Returning resident If settled in the UK prior to departure and returning to the UK within 3 years of departure, then may be able to apply immediately on return
Turkish worker or businessperson After 5 years
Domestic Worker in a Private Household
After 5 Years


In some cases, applicants may have been granted 5 years continuous leave, but will not have spent five years continuously in the UK before their current leave expires. For example, if you are granted 5 years continuous leave to enter but do not enter the UK until 6 to 8 weeks after the date the visa was issued, you will not have completed 5 years leave in the UK and as such fall short of this requirement for ILR.

Caseworkers may count the period between entry clearance being granted and the date the applicant entered the UK towards the five years, provided this period was not longer than three months. This is a positive piece of guidance for those who may have not entered the UK within 28 days of their visa being issued. Depending on your visa category, you may also have to show you have not breached a specific threshold for absences from the UK.

Family members on a dependant visa may also be eligible for ILR where the main applicant qualifies.


ILR absence rule

The so-called ‘180 day rule’ on calculating the qualifying ILR absence period changed in 2018.

For entry clearance or leave to remain granted prior to 11 January 2018, ILR applicants cannot have been absent from the UK for more than 180 days in the five consecutive 12 month periods.

Periods of leave granted after 11 January 2018 however are calculated on a rolling basis, with the 180 day rule applicable to any 12 month period during of the qualifying period. Absences from the UK totalling over 180 days during any one 12-month period of your qualifying period will render you ineligible for ILR by way of ‘excessive absence’ – effectively resetting the clock on your residence.

The change in absence calculation is of most concern for skilled worker visa holders who travel extensively on business.

If you intend to apply for ILR and are concerned about your time out of the UK, it’s advisable to take steps where possible to plan, manage and reduce time spent out of the country: avoiding non-essential trips, reducing leisure travel if business demands cannot be reduced, or postponing travel until after ILR has been secured. Keep contemporaneous records of your travel dates and destinations; you will need this information for your application and it has to be accurate.

A further consideration – if you do travel extensively – if you do succeed in securing ILR and continue to travel extensively, while you’ll no longer be subject to the 180 day rule, ILR status may be lost if you are absent from the UK for more than two years.

You will be advised which documents to send in support of your form. You will need to print the form and submit originals of the supporting documentation.

The 180-day absence rule also applies to PBS dependents applying for ILR in the same way as it applies to the main visa applicant. The rules do not apply retrospectively, meaning only absences during periods of visa permission granted after 11 January 2018 will count towards the 180 days. Note however that the absence rules do not apply to children, only to spouses and unmarried partners of PBS visa holders.


English language requirement

A further requirement for ILR is to prove your knowledge of the English language is at the required standard. For ILR, there are numerous ways to prove you meet the English language requirement.

In most cases, ILR applicants will need to show that have passed a Secure English Language Test (SELT) that certifies you as speaking and listening in English at a level B1 or higher. If you have already passed an approved test as part of a previous visa application, you should be able to rely on this for your ILR application.

Alternatively, if you have a degree taught in English, you may satisfy the speaking and listening portion of the knowledge of language requirement, provided your qualification was earned while studying or researching English. You can only rely on English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) qualifications that are Home Office approved.

You will need an Academic Qualification Level Statement (AQUALS) from Ecctis (formerly UK NARIC ) recognising the degree as being comparable to a bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD in the UK, or the degree must either have been earned in an English-speaking country with a majority or through study abroad.

You are exempt from the ILR English language requirement if you are a citizen of a nation where English is the primary language, which includes: Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland (for citizenship only), St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and The United States.


Life in the UK test requirement

Most people applying for ILR aged between 18 and 64 will need to pass the Knowledge of Life in the UK Test. The test covers the history, policitics and culture of the UK. It is a computer-based, multiple-choice exam and costs £50 to sit. You have to score 75% to pass. You can sit the tests as many times as you need to pass, though you will have to pay for each attempt. The test has to be booked online through the Home Office website. The test has to be taken at an authorised test centre.


Can you apply for ILR with a criminal record?

Under the rules, criminal convictions, among other indicators that the applicant does not meet the good character requirement, can be a potential ground for refusal for indefinite leave to remain.

ILR applicants must disclose all convictions, both spent and unspent, when applying to the Home Office. Whether you are eligible to apply to settle in the UK with a criminal record will depend on the specific circumstances.

To give you the best chance of success, we strongly advise discussing your case and criminal convictions with an immigration specialist before putting together your application.


Spouse visa to ILR

Spouse visa holders become eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain after two grants of leave as a spouse and where they meet the ILR requirements. This includes meeting the minimum income requirement of £18,600 (rising with every child dependent), passing the Life in the UK test and satisfying the English language requirement, not having breached UK immigration rules and no immigration law in the UK or abroad has been broken.

As a spouse, you can apply to naturalise as a British citizen as soon as you are granted ILR.


EU citizens & indefinite leave to remain

Prior to the introduction of the EU settlement scheme, EU nationals in the UK applied for permanent residence status to settle indefinitely in the UK. Since the UK left the European Union, settlement options for EU nationals in the UK now depend on when they entered the UK.

EU nationals who arrived in the UK after 1 January 2021 under the post-Brexit UK Immigration Rules would apply for ILR under the standard routes when eligible, for example, after five years with a Skilled Worker visa.

EU nationals who arrived in the UK prior to 1 January 2021 should have applied and secured lawful status under the EU settlement scheme. Full settled status is the equivalent of ILR status, and was granted to those with five years’ UK residency at the time they applied for EU settled status.

The rules for those who were granted pre-settled status changed in September 2023. If you have pre-settled status, your status will be automatically extended by 2 years before it expires if you have not already attained full settled status. The Home Office has announced that in 2024 it will be introducing measures to automatically upgrade pre-settled status holders to full settled status, provided the individual passes certain automated government checks.

Until the new provisions are put in place, however, pre settled status holders are advised to make a second application to transfer to full settled status when they become eligible to safeguard their lawful status.


ILR after divorce

If you are UK spouse visa holder, your UK immigration status will be affected if you divorce or your civil partnership is dissolved.

You will be under a duty to notify the Home Office of the relationship breakdown and should you wish to remain in the UK, you will need to seek alternative route as you no longer meet the requirements of the spouse visa.

Options could include applying for indefinite leave to remain as the parent of a British child or a child with either ILR or permanent residence, provided you can prove you have parental responsibility for the child, or applying for settlement under the long residence route if you have lived in the UK with lawful status for at least ten years.

You may also consider retained rights of residence where you were married for at least 3 years to an EEA national who exercised their Treaty rights in the UK, and you have spent at least 12 months living in the UK.

Alternatively, if you are a skilled worker and can find an employer to sponsor you, you may be able to apply for a sponsored work visa.


How to apply for indefinite leave to remain

To make an application for ILR, you will need to complete the relevant form and compile the supporting documents to submit to the Home Office. Most applications for indefinite leave to remain now require applicants to attend an appointment at UKVCAS to submit their biometric information and submit digital copies of supporting documents.

You should also check if you need to pass the Life in the UK test and the English language requirements, and pay the relevant application fee.


Supporting documents for ILR

A number of supplementary documents must be submitted together with your ILR application. Both you personally and any dependents you are seeking for are subject to this requirement.

Typically, you’ll have to supply the following to support your ILR application:

  • Current and past passports or travel documents
  • Birth or adoption certificate
  • Documents and travel records detailing time spent outside the UK during your residency
  • Police registration certificate if required
  • Details of your immigration history
  • Financial information such as bank statements
  • Life in the UK test pass certificate
  • English language pass certificate


It is recommended to take advice on additional documentation that should be provided to support your application and avoid delays or issues.


When can you apply for ILR?

You’re allowed to submit your ILR application up to 28 days before you will attain the qualifying period of continuous residence.


How much is the ILR application fee?

It costs £2,885 to apply for ILR. This fee applies for each applicant, including children.


How long does an Indefinite leave to remain application take?

Indefinite leave to remain applications take up to six months for a decision. ILR applications can take longer if the caseworker requests additional information or documentation. As such, it is advisable to ensure your submission and application are complete and correct to avoid potential delays in processing.

You may be able to pay for fast-tracked processing under the ILR priority and super priority services; you will be advised if these are available when you make your ILR application.


Is there premium processing for ILR?

In some cases, fast-track processing of your ILR application may be available for an additional fee. If you are eligible for premium processing, you will be advised when you submit your application. The options are priority processing and super priority processing.

Under the priority service, you should receive a decision within 5 working days. The five days start from either the day of your UKVCAS appointment or the next working day after you have uploaded all of your supporting documents through the UK Immigration: ID Check app. It costs £500, in addition to the ILR application fees.

Under the super priority service, you can receive a decision by the end of the next working day after your UKVCAS appointment, or within 2 working days if your appointment is on a weekend. This service costs £800 over and above the normal application fees.

For the purposes of processing times, working days are classed as Monday to Friday and do not include bank holidays. Super priority appointments on a weekend are treated as having taken place on the next working day, ie the following Monday, or in the case of a bank holiday, the Tuesday.


Which ILR application form?

There are two forms for indefinite leave to remain: form Set (O) and form set (M).

It will be important to use the correct form for your circumstances or your application is likely to be refused.

The Set M form is for a partner, parent or child of a person who is already settled in the UK or a British citizen, who wishes to apply for UK indefinite leave to remain (ILR), while Set O is for applicants in various immigration categories including work permit holders, ancestry visa holders and innovators, among others.


What if your ILR application is approved?

If your application for ILR is successful, your new status means you are no longer subject to immigration restrictions. You can live, work or study in the UK without a time limitation.


How do you get British citizenship with ILR status?

Attaining UK settlement, such as thorugh ILR, is an important prerequisite to apply for British citizenship through naturalisation.

You do not, however, automatically for British citizenship with ILR. There are several other eligibility requirements you will need to prove that you meet through the naturalisation application.

You can apply for a British passport and take advantage of all the privileges that come with being a citizen of the United Kingdom.


How do you prove ILR status?

While it is not mandatory to have a document proving your ILR status, it is generally advisable to have some form of official confirmation as it can make things easier. For example, it should help avoid potential issues when entering the UK and can be used when proving your right to work in the UK to an employer.

ILR can be proven in various ways. The most common proof is if you are issued a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). The BRP is a physical card, which is the same size as a UK drivers’ licence. In some cases, your passport may have been stamped to confirm your ILR status, for example, an Indefinite Leave to Enter (ILR), Indefinite Leave to Enter (ILE) or NTL (No Time Limit) stamp.

You may also have been sent a letter from the Home Office stating that you hold the right to remain indefinitely in the UK.

If you have ILR status but do not have documentary proof, you can apply for a Biometric Residence Permit as evidence of your status by applying for a no time limit (NTL) application.

Settled status holders are not given physical proof or documentation to verify their ILR status. Instead, you will be given a link to the Home Office online service to view and prove your status.


Do you need employment authorisation with ILR?

ILR status encompasses indefinite work authorisation for the holder. This means once you have been granted ILR status, you do not need to apply for separate permission to work. In addition, any restrictions on the type of work you can do or limitations such as working hours and salary levels, will no longer apply.


If you have a child in the UK while you have ILR, will they be British?

Any child you have in the UK while you have valid ILR status will automatically be a British citizen.


What if your ILR application is refused?

If your ILR application has been refused, it will be important to understand the reasons why before deciding on your next steps. For example, if there was an error in completing the form, if you paid an incorrect fee or if you were refused on discretionary grounds.

If you choose to make a new application, ensure your new submission addresses the previous grounds for refusal. Taking advice will ensure you take the best course of action.


Can indefinite leave to remain expire or be lost?

While indefinite leave to remain is granted on a permanent and indefinite basis, there are circumstances where the status can be lost or withdrawn.

If you are out of the UK for a period of more than two years, you will lose your ILR status. To return to the UK to settle after an absence of two years or more, you will need to make an application for a Resident Return visa for your ILR status to be reinstated. You will need to make this application before you travel and attempt re-entry into the UK.

If you are travelling to the UK for a reason other than to resettle, you will have to apply for the appropriate visa.

ILR may also be revoked if you commit an offence that could lead to you being deported from the UK, or for reasons of national security.


Need assistance?

We’re a UK law firm with recognised expertise in UK immigration. We help individuals with all UK visa, settlement and immigration needs including applications for Indefinite Leave to Remain. If you have a query about ILR requirements, contact us today.


Indefinite leave to remain FAQs

When can I apply for ILR?

To be eligible for ILR, you must meet the relevant qualifying period of UK residence with lawful status and without excessive absences. Once you attain this period of residency, you can apply 28 days prior to the date you entered the UK, but if you entered the UK within 3 months of your visa being issued, you might be eligible to apply 28 days prior the issue date on the visa.

I’m a Tier 2 visa holder – when can I apply for ILR?

Tier 2 visa, and Skilled Worker visa, holders can apply to settle after five years.

I have criminal convictions, will this affect my application?

Previous offences and convictions are likely to affect your application, although this does depend upon the type of conviction or offence. advise as to when a conviction will become spent and when it is possible to apply.

I’m an EEA national and I’ve been in the UK for five years, can I apply for ILR?

EEA nationals have until December 2020 to apply under the Settlement Scheme to confirm their lawful status in the UK.

Do I need a biometric residence permit to prove ILR status?

If you are successful in being granted ILR, you will be issued a biometric residence permit as evidence of your UK immigration status. If you are applying for a resident return visa after more than two years out of the country, the BRP can be used as proof of your former ILR status.

Can you claim benefits with ILR?

As you hold settled status in the UK, you are entitled to access public benefits.

I don’t qualify yet for ILR, what are my options to extend my stay in the UK?

If you do not yet qualify for ILR you may be able to extend your existing visa temporarily by applying for ‘further leave to remain’. This will depend on your current visa class. You must however make your application to extend your stay before your existing permission expires.

Last updated: 3 September 2023


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 500and 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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