Permanent residency in the UK is called Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). With ILR status, you have the right to live, work and study here on a permanent basis, free from immigration restrictions or limitations on your length of stay. ILR status and UK residency can be obtained through several routes, such as through sponsored employment or marriage to a British citizen.
In this guide, we explain the current rules for foreign nationals, including EU citizens, looking to settle in the UK on a permanent basis. We also look at the process to apply for UK residency and answer frequently asked questions from ILR applicants.
Post-Brexit UK permanent residency rules for EU citizens
Prior to Brexit, EU nationals living in the UK were able to apply for a permanent residence card to prove their residency status in the UK when applying for British naturalisation. Following Brexit and the end of EU/UK free movement, and the introduction of a suite of new immigration rules, UK settlement routes for EU nationals have changed as follows:
1. End of EEA permanent residence cards
It is no longer possible to apply for an EEA permanent residence card as an EU, EEA or Swiss citizens. UK permanent residence cards are no longer valid and EEA nationals who already held a permanent residence card were required to transfer their status under the EU settlement scheme.
2. Registration under the EU settlement scheme to retain lawful indefinite status in the UK
EU nationals and their family members who came to the UK prior to 31 December 2020 had to apply under the EU settlement scheme by 30 June 2021 to be granted either pre-settled status or full settled status.
3. Applying for settlement under Indefinite Leave to Remain route
EU nationals arriving in the UK after 1 January 2021 may be eligible for settlement once they meet the ILR requirements, such as the relevant minimum residency period under their visa category.
UK permanent residency rules for non-EU citizens
Under UK law, nationals from countries outside the EU can apply for indefinite leave to remain to settle in the UK if they meet all of the ILR requirements.
What are the ILR requirements?
Depending on your circumstances, there are various ways to apply to live permanently in the UK. You might be qualified to apply for ILR, for instance, if:
1. You meet the qualifying residence requirement
You’ve resided in the UK for the minimum qualifying period which will depend on the type of visa or status you currently hold. In most cases, this is five years.
2. You have 10 years long residence
If you have lived in the UK for ten years or more, you may be eligible for ILR under the long residence rules.
3. You have a work visa to ILR
Workers on certain immigration routes can become eligible for ILR after the relevant qualifying period of work and residence in the UK. For example, if you have a tier 2 or Skilled Worker visa you will need a minimum of five years’ residence. Other work routes which can lead to indefinite leave to remain include the Global Talent visa, Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa, Innovator visa and domestic worker visa.
Financial requirements may also apply, again depending on the visa you have.
4. You are going from a family visa to ILR
You may also qualify for ILR if you are the spouse, parent, or dependent relative of a UK citizen or permanent resident.
Different rules apply if your partner has passed away or if your relationship ended because of domestic violence.
5. You are going from a marriage or partner visa to ILR
If you have a spouse or partner visa and are applying for ILR, you must still either be married to your British spouse or be in a civil partnership or in a subsisting relationship though not married.
You will need to provide proof of funds that you can support your family:
- At least £18,600 a year with no dependent children
- At least £22,400 a year with one child
- £2,400 a year for each additional child
Include all children under the ages of 18 even if they are not part of the application. Children who are British or European Economic Area citizens should not be included when you’re calculating your annual earnings.
Note, the earnings are joint and take into account both partners’ earnings.
6. You have passed the Life in the UK Test
To demonstrate your knowledge of British life, you must pass the ‘Life in the UK’ test. This is a computer-based, multiple choice exam which you take at an authorised test centre. You will be asked questions on British history, culture and politics. You have to score 75% to pass. It costs £50 to sit the Life in the UK test.
7. You have adequate proficiency of the English language
If English is not your first language and you do not come under any of the exemptions, you will need to provide proof that your English language knowledge is at least at a B1 level in order to apply for ILR.
Having a degree-level qualification taught in English or holding an educational qualification from a recognised UK institution will usually meet this requirement.
How to apply for ILR
There are two ILR application forms, you have to complete the correct one for your circumstances: use application form SET (O) if you are the partner of a UK citizen or the parent of a child settled in the UK, otherwise you use form SET (M).
Along with the form, you will need to provide supporting documents to evidence your lawful status and eligibility for ILR, such as payslips, bank account statements, council tax letters and a letter from employer on company headed paper.
In some cases, you may have to attend an appointment at a UKVCAS centre to submit your biometric information and supporting documents. Not all ILR applicants will need to use the UKVCAS service; you will be advised when you make your application if an appointment is required.
ILR fees and processing times
The application cost for each ILR application is £2,389.
ILR applications take about 6 months to process.
Premium processing is available only in certain circumstances:
|UKVCAS appointment: within 5 working days
|UKVCAS appointment: next working day
|App: within 5 working days
|Application to settle on the basis of UK Ancestry (through form SET(O))
|Application to settle as a former member of HM Forces (through form SET(AF))
|Application to settle as a child under 18 (through form SET(F))
|Application to settle if you’ve been in the UK legally for 10 continuous years (known as ‘long residence’)
|Application to settle if you work, establish a business or invest in the UK (through form SET(O))
|Application to settle as the dependent child or partner if you work, establish a business or invest in the UK
|Application to settle as the partner of a person, or parent of a child, who is present and settled in the UK (through form SET(M))
|Application to settle as an Innovator
|Application to settle as the dependent child or partner of an Innovator
Pre-Brexit: EEA permanent residence status
Prior to the launch of the EU Settlement Scheme, EU citizens were eligible to apply for permanent residence where they could show they had been exercising their Treaty Rights for five continuous years in the UK.
EU nationals were then required to register under the EU settlement scheme by 30 June 2021 to retain their rights in the UK after Brexit. During the Brexit transition period, permanent residence remained an option for EU citizens looking to become eligible for British citizenship. The process of applying for naturalisation as a British citizen demands extensive proof of UK residency evidence, which could be evidenced by a permanent residence card. Additionally, where an EU spouse of a British citizen had permanent residence, they could apply to naturalise as soon they get their card, rather than waiting 12 months.
Pre-Brexit rules on permanent residence
Prior to the end of the Brexit transition period, EEA and Swiss nationals, and family members of qualifying nationals, subject to a passport or identity card check, were exempt from immigration control in the UK under the Immigration Rules and entitled to reside in the UK for an initial period of 3 months.
Thereafter, they automatically attained the right to residence in the UK and were able to participate in a qualifying activity, ie work, study and look for work or be self-employed or self-sufficient.
After 5-years continuous residence exercising their Treaty rights, they could apply for a permanent residence card.
With a permanent residence card as proof of status, EU nationals could become entitled to apply to naturalise as British citizens after 12 months, or as soon as you they were issued the permanent residence card if they were married to a British citizen, provided they met the required criteria.
Permanent residence was also potentially available where:
- They were a family member or extended family member of an EEA national qualified person or permanent resident, and lived with the EEA family member in the UK for a continuous period of at least 5 years; or
- They were a former family member of an EEA national and had retained your right of residence after the EEA national died or left the UK; or
- Their marriage or civil partnership ended in divorce, annulment or dissolution; or
- They were a family member of a British citizen who worked or was self-employed in another EEA state before returning to the UK (‘Surinder Singh’ cases); or
- They were an EEA national former worker or self-employed person who had ceased activity in the UK because they were retired, permanently incapacitated, or were working or self-employed in another EEA state but still retained residence in the UK; or
- They were the family member or extended family member of an EEA national who had ceased activity, or
- They were the family member or extended family member of an EEA national former worker or self-employed person who had died.
Pre-Brexit rules: EEA permanent residence card
Permanent residence cards were not a mandatory requirement under EEA Regulations. However, when making an application to the Home Office for British citizenship, EU nationals were able to provide the PR card as documentary evidence that you had met the five-year continuous residence requirement and during this time had participated in one or more of the qualifying activities. The permanent residence card therefore acted as the necessary evidence of lawful status and residence to qualify for naturalisation.
The card could also be used where the EU national wanted to sponsor their partner’s visa application under the Immigration Rules or where they were an extended family member of someone from the EEA or Switzerland and were themselves not an EEA or Swiss national. It also served as evidence of an employee’s right to work, which their employer could rely on as an accepted document if challenged by the Home Office.
Pre-Brexit rules: qualifying activities
To qualify for permanent residence, EU nationals must have been active in the UK during the 5-year residence period either as a worker, job-seeker (registered with the job centre), student, self-employed person (with comprehensive sickness insurance) or a self-sufficient person (must have comprehensive sickness insurance). These were known as the ‘qualifying activities’.
It was allowable to have been in one or a number of these categories over the five year period. For example, if the PR applicant had originally relocated to the UK to study and thereafter spent a period of time as a job seeker before securing a job or setting up their own business.
The PR application had to include evidence to support the qualifying activities being relied on.
Applying on the basis of holding a residence certificate for five years was not, in itself, sufficient to qualify. The individual had to prove that they were actually engaged in a qualifying activity for five continuous years.
Pre-Brexit rules: absence from the UK during the qualifying period
There were no strict guidelines on absences for permanent residence, but the applicant had to prove that they were ordinarily resident in the UK. This meant that if the applicant had ‘excessive absences’ – more than 6 months a year – UKVI could question whether they were ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK.
When calculating absences from the UK, the Home Office did not count days spent travelling to or from the UK as a day of absence, except for overnight trips which are counted as one day.
In the 12-month period prior to the application, applicants had to aim to not be outside the UK for more than 90 days, and no more than 180 days in any prior consecutive 12-month period, with limited exceptions.
Pre-Brexit rules: criminal convictions
For the application to be successful, the applicant had to meet the ‘Good Character’ requirement.
All matters, regardless of how minor or when the act was committed, had to be detailed in the PR application.
Criminal and civil record checks were conducted on every application. Every criminal offence was considered as part of this, no matter how minor, when the act was committed or whether the offences were committed in the UK or abroad.
Offences such as theft, drink driving, using a mobile phone while driving and being disqualified from driving were classed as criminal convictions.
Applicants were also prevented from applying if they had any financial issues such as being bankrupt or not having paid council tax.
Pre-Brexit rules: Life in the UK & English language tests
The PR application did not require applicants to pass the English language test or the Life in the UK test.
If applying for British citizenship with PR, EU nationals had to prove they had passed English at B1 CEFR or higher test, or held an equivalent level qualification e.g. a Degree taught in English., unless an exemption applied.
It was possible to take the test with the ILR application if the intention was to apply for naturalisation once permanent residence was approved.
Pre-Brexit rules: making the application
Applications for permanent residence cards were made to the UK Home Office using form EEA (PR).
The form was submitted along with supporting documents as evidence of eligibility, as well as biometric information, two passport-sized photographs and the application fee, which was £65 per applicant.
Collating the documents was typically the most time-consuming aspect of the application. Supporting documentation was required for the entirety of the 5-year qualifying period. The evidence required varied depending on which qualifying activities were being relied on during the qualifying residency period. P45s, contracts of employment and payslips, for example, were used as evidence of working within the UK. Those who did not receive paper bills, such as bank statements or utility bills, had to request the originals from the issuing body. Institutions such as banks or gas providers generally took longer to issue these documents, and applicants had to factors these stages in when making the application.
Applicants also had to provide either their original passport or ID card.
All documents had to be in original format except where indicated and as applicable translated into English.
Pre-Brexit rules: Form EEA PR
EEA PR was the form to be completed and submitted to UKVI in order to apply for a permanent residence card as documentary evidence of PR status and naturalisation eligibility.
Naturalisation applications made by EEA nationals without a permanent residence document or EU settled status could be refused, and the application fee lost.
Applicants were advised to collate all of the documents before starting their form. The completed form then had to be printed and originals of the supporting documentation submitted.
Pre-Brexit rules: EU settlement scheme
One of Brexit transition measures was the introduction of the EU Settlement Scheme for EU citizens to secure their lawful permanent residence status after Brexit.
Settled status allows the holder to work and study in the UK, use the NHS, qualify for public benefits and pensions, travel outside the UK, and, after a year, apply for British citizenship.
Applications under the scheme were free. If accepted, applicants were given “settled” or “pre-settled status.” With settled status, EU nationals can stay in the UK permanently. If granted pre settled status, the EU national is given permission to remain in the UK for a further 5 years, after which time they should apply for full settled status.
Pre-Brexit rules: permanent residence v EU settled status
EU nationals were required to register under the EU settlement scheme before 30 June 2021 to retain their rights to remain lawfully in the UK after Brexit.
During the Brexit transition period, EU citizens were still able to apply for a permanent residence card if looking to apply for British citizenship, . The process of applying for naturalisation as a British citizen demands extensive proof of UK residency evidence, which can be evidenced by a permanent residence card.
Those with a permanent residence card were required to take action to remain in the UK lawfully after Brexit:
- Transfer to EU settlement scheme: When applying to register for EU settled status as a permanent residence card holder, the individual did not need to provide evidence of their five years’ continuous UK residence as this had already been established in your PR application. This application was at no charge.
- British citizenship Those who had held permanent residence status for more than 12 months, were able to apply to naturalise as a British citizen, where they met the remaining naturalisation criteria, provided they were not out of the UK for more than 90 days in a 12 month period preceding the application. If married to a British citizen, the individual did not need to have 12 months permanent residence status, they could apply for naturalisation as soon as their PR status had been granted.
Pre-Brexit rules: registration certificates
The registration certificate pre-dated EU settlement scheme.
Qualifying citizens of the EU and EEA or Switzerland and their close and extended family members could apply for a registration certificate as documentary proof of their right to live in the UK. A registration certificate was not a mandatory requirement and did not in itself affect or determine immigration status in the UK.
EU citizens were then required to register in the UK under the EU settlement scheme to safeguard their status in the UK after Britain leaves the EU.
Registration certificates were no longer valid after 31 December 2020.
Pre-Brexit rules: retained right of residence
Under retained right of residence, individuals were able to remain in the UK on the basis of having previously held the right to reside in the UK as a relative of an EU citizen with UK permanent residence status or a qualifying EU citizen ie a worker, student, self-employed person, self-sufficient person or someone looking for work in the UK. They may have attained the right of residence as the family member of an EEA national where:
- Their EEA national relative had died
- Their EEA national relative had left the UK
- They had divorced or dissolved their civil partnership with the EEA national
- They were the parent or have custody of a child in education who had retained right of residence
- They were the child of an EEA national who had died or left the UK, or the child of their spouse or civil partner, or former spouse or civil partner and were in education when that person died or left the UK, and they continued to be in education
Pre-Brexit rules: derivative right to reside
Individuals with a derivative right of residence were not permitted to count time spent in the UK under this status towards the qualifying period for permanent residence. They had ‘derived’ a right to reside in the UK through a qualifying person by generally being their primary carer or legal guardian with primary or shared responsibility for that person. For instance, where they were the primary carer of an EEA national, where that EEA national was under 18 years of age, lived in the UK as a self-sufficient person and would not be able to remain in the UK if their primary carer had left the UK indefinitely.
Pre-Brexit rules: Surinder Singh route
Under previous EU free movement laws, an individual moving from one EU member state to another has the right to return to that country. To take the Surinder Singh route to permanent resident status, you must have been a family member of a British citizen, where you have both lived in an EEA country outside the UK. A residence card was issued to a direct family member of a British citizen provided:
- The British citizen exercised free movement rights as a worker, self-employed person, self-sufficient person or student in an EEA host country immediately before returning to the UK, or had acquired the right of permanent residence in the EEA host country, and
- The British citizen would satisfy the conditions for being a qualified person if they were an EEA national, and
- The family member and British citizen resided together in the other EEA member State and that residence was genuine, and
- The purpose of the residence in the EEA host country was not as a means to circumvent any UK immigration law applying to non-EEA nationals (e.g. the Immigration Rules), and
- The family member of the British citizen was a family member during all or part of their joint residence in the EEA State, and
- Genuine family life was created or strengthened during their joint residence in the EEA State.
The rules on UK permanent residence have been subject to extensive reform since Brexit. Following the period of transition, including the introduction of the EU settlement scheme for EEA nationals to safeguard their lawful settled status in the UK, it is no longer possible to apply for a UK permanence residence document. However, under the UK’s post-Brexit immigration rules, permanent residence status is available to EU and non-EEA nationals alike by making an application for indefinite leave to remain where they meet the ILR requirements.
Permanent residence FAQs
Do I need to apply for Settled Status if I have a permanent residence card?
To remain in the UK lawfully after Britain leaves the EU, permanent residence card holder will either have to have registered for the EU settlement scheme or have applied for, and been granted, British citizenship.
What is the difference between permanent residence and ILR?
Permanent residence applies to EEA nationals and their close family members, whereas indefinite leave to remain refers to UK settled status for non-EEA nationals. Immigration status under both PR or ILR is the same; the holder is able to remain in the UK to live and work without restrictions or immigration control. Both require the individual to have been resident in the UK for 5 years to be eligible.
When can I apply for British citizenship?
Once your PR application has been approved, you may wish to apply for naturalisation to become a British citizen.
I am an EEA national married to a British citizen. When can I apply to naturalise?
While EEA applicants are required to wait 12 months from the date permanent residence is granted before applying for naturalisation, EU spouses of British citizens are exempt from the 12 month period and can apply to naturalise as soon as they are granted their permanent residence card.
My permanent residency application has been refused, what next?
If your application for permanent residence has been refused, you will be given the option to appeal, or it may in the circumstances be advisable to make a new application. Your next step will depend in large part on the Home Office’s stated grounds for refusal. You will have to act quickly as appeals must be filed within 14 days of receipt of the refusal notice.
How long does permanent residence last?
Permanent residence is indefinite and without time restriction, however, your status may be revoked if you have spent longer than two years outside of the UK, if you commit an offence that could lead to you being deported from the UK, or for reasons of national security.
Last updated: 3 January 2023