When applying to naturalise as a British citizen, you will need to provide proof of freedom from immigration time restrictions. Before you can provide proof, you will first need to be sure of what exactly this means and what you will need to submit with your application.
In this guide for applicants, we explain the meaning of being free from ‘immigration time restrictions’ and what you will need to provide for your application.
What does freedom from immigration time restrictions mean?
Even though attempts have been made in recents years to simplify the language used within the UK’s Immigration Rules, there are still several terms or expressions used by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) that can be confusing to prospective visa and citizenship applicants.
Under the latest Home Office guidance on applying to naturalise as a British citizen (Guide AN Naturalisation Booklet – The Requirements and The Process), published 28 June 2022, it states: “All applicants… are required to show, at the time of application, that they are free from immigration time restrictions.” However, the AN guidance does not then go on to provide any clear definition or explanation as to what is meant by ‘immigration time restrictions, nor what is meant by being ‘free from immigration time restrictions’.
The phrase ‘immigration time restrictions’ essentially refers to limits placed on the length of time under which a person can be living in the UK on a lawful basis. Where the validity of a person’s grant of leave is limited, they must apply to extend their permission to stay, either on the same route or by switching into a different route, or return to their country of residence on expiry of that leave. In contrast, freedom from immigration time restrictions is where a person no longer has any limit on the length of time that they are permitted to stay in the UK.
A person can usually attain freedom from immigration time restrictions by spending a qualifying period of residence in the UK, on a route to permanent settlement, entitling them to an upgraded immigration status: one without any time limits on their stay. A person who is officially free from immigration time restrictions is described as a lawful permanent resident.
How do you become free from immigration time restrictions?
There are two main ways in which you can become free from immigration time restrictions in the UK: the grant of indefinite leave to remain (ILR) under one of several different immigration routes or the grant of settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).
You will also be free from immigration time restrictions if you have the right of abode in the UK or you are an Irish citizen. Irish nationals are considered settled from their date of arrival in the UK without having to hold leave under the Immigration Rules, while a right of abode is accorded to certain pre-1982 Commonwealth citizens through their parents or marriage.
Strictly speaking, a person who is outside the UK is, by definition, not subject to any restriction under immigration laws on their maximum length of stay in the UK. However, UKVI will normally refuse an application where it appears that the primary reason for making an overseas application is to circumvent the requirement to be free from immigration time restrictions. If you make your application from outside the UK but would have had a conditional right only to remain in the UK on the date of application had you not left, your application is unlikely to succeed. Equally, anyone who is in the UK unlawfully, either because they entered the UK illegally and have not been granted limited leave, or because they have overstayed, will normally fall to be refused on the basis of breaching UK immigration laws.
What constitutes proof of freedom from immigration time restrictions?
Having been granted ILR or settled status under the EUSS, or there are otherwise no limits on the length of time that you can stay in the UK, there are various ways to demonstrate proof of freedom from immigration time restrictions. These include:
- Your unique 16-digit application number (UAN) if you have been granted settled status under the EUSS, also known as EUSS ILR, where the UKVI caseworker can use this to check the date of grant against Home Office records
- Your biometric residence permit (BRP) or any other travel document confirming your right to remain permanently in the UK
- Your passport showing your permission to remain permanently in the UK
- The Home Office letter in which you were given permission to remain permanently in the UK
- A valid certificate of entitlement to the right of abode
- If you are an Irish national, your Irish passport.
If you have a right of abode, and wish to evidence this as proof of freedom from immigration time restrictions, you must apply for a certificate of entitlement. This goes in your passport, where you will need to apply for a new certificate when your passport expires.
If you are eligible for citizenship under the Windrush Scheme you should not use form AN. This is the form to apply to become a British citizen by way of naturalisation. You should instead use the Windrush Scheme application form. This is for people who arrived in the UK many years ago and have no documentation confirming their immigration status. You might be entitled to apply for citizenship for free if you are a Commonwealth citizen who settled in the UK before 1 January 1973 or you are the child of someone who did.
How do you apply to become free from immigration time restrictions?
The two main types of immigration status that will afford you freedom from immigration time restrictions are as follows:
Settled status under the EUSS
The EUSS is for citizens from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, or their family members, to live lawfully in the UK now that freedom of movement has come to an end following Brexit. The deadline for most people to apply to the EUSS was 30 June 2021, although those who have already been granted pre-settled status under the scheme, because they had not lived in the UK for more than 5 years at the time of applying, can go on to apply for settled status once they meet the qualifying residence requirement.
You may also still be eligible to apply late to the EUSS, provided you or a family member were present and living in the UK by 31 December 2020. However, you must meet one of the criteria for a later deadline to apply or have reasonable grounds for not applying by the cut-off date.
To apply to switch to settled status, also known as indefinite leave to remain under the EUSS, you will need to make an online application before your pre-settled status expires. You will need proof of identity, plus evidence of your continuous residence. If your grant of pre-settled status was based on your relationship to a family member, you will also need proof of that relationship. If you do not yet have pre-settled status and are applying late to the EUSS, you may want to first contact the EU Settlement Resolution Centre online or telephone UKVI on 0300 123 7379 or, alternatively, seek expert legal advice from an immigration specialist.
Importantly, if you are an EEA or Swiss national, or a family member of an EEA or Swiss national, who held permanent residence status under the EEA regulations, but did not make an EUSS application before the end of the grace period on 30 June 2021, you will have lost your EEA residential rights and will no longer be free from immigration time restrictions based on your permanent residence. This means that you are no longer able to apply for British citizenship based on your EEA permanent residence status, where an application must be made for settled status under the EUSS before submitting a naturalisation application.
If you are no longer eligible to apply under the EUSS, for example, because you do not meet the criteria for a later deadline or cannot establish or evidence reasonable grounds, you will instead need to apply for ILR under a different immigration route.
ILR under other routes
There are different ways to apply for ILR based on your circumstances. As with settled status under the EUSS, indefinite leave will give you the right to live and work in the UK for as long as you like, and will provide a basis upon which you can apply to naturalise as a British citizen.
There are various routes open to you, from work-based routes to family-based routes. For example, you can apply for ILR online if you have lived and worked in the UK with limited leave under the Skilled Worker route for a period of 5 years. You must continue to be needed in your job role and meet a minimum salary requirement, providing proof of this. You must also book and pass the Life in the UK Test, and meet the English language requirement.
You may be able to apply on a family-based route if you have a partner, parent or child, or other relative settled in the UK, either as a British citizen or a person with ILR themselves. However, there are again strict eligibility requirements, including a relationship requirement.
These examples are by no means exhaustive and expert advice should be sought to explore the ILR options potentially available to you, including applying for indefinite leave if you have lived in the UK for at least 10 years, or you are a refugee or have humanitarian protection.
How long do you need to be free from immigration time restrictions for?
When applying for British citizenship through the process of naturalisation, you will not only need to provide proof of freedom from immigration time restrictions, but proof that you have held this status for the time required. When applying to naturalise, you must usually have been free from immigration time restrictions for at least 12 months. You must also have lived in the UK lawfully for the required time period, without excess absences, and have been present in the UK on the first day of the qualifying period for naturalisation.
There are two routes when applying to naturalise as a British citizen: the 5-year route and the 3-year route. If you are applying as either the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen, you will only need to satisfy a 3-year residence requirement and have been present in the UK 3 years prior to the date on which you apply. You do not need to wait 12 months if you are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen, where you will only need to be free from immigration time restrictions on the date you make your application. Otherwise, you must satisfy a 5-year residence requirement and wait a further 12 months before applying.
If you are not currently free from immigration time restrictions, you should apply for permission to settle in the UK before you seek to naturalise. This means that you may have to wait until you have been in the UK for at least 6 years before submitting your application.
There is some discretion for UKVI to waive the requirement to have held settled status under the EUSS for 12 months at the date of application for naturalisation. However, the discretion to disregard immigration time restrictions in the 12 months prior to application will depend on the facts of the case, where expert legal advice should always be sought before applying.
Advice should also be sought prior to applying for citizenship on the basis of your grant of settled status under the EUSS, even where you have waited 12 months. This is because the EUSS registration process requires proof only of 5 years continuous residence, and not evidence of being here lawfully. This means that simply having settled status, of itself, may not be sufficient proof of past lawful residence in the UK for the purposes of naturalisation.
DavidsonMorris are UK immigration specialists. We support individuals with all types of Home Office immigration and nationality applications, including naturalisation for British citizenship. For expert advice, contact us.
Proof of freedom from immigration time restrictions FAQs
Is settled status evidence of freedom from immigration time restrictions?
Your unique 16-digit application number, or UAN, can be used as proof of freedom from immigration time restrictions if you have been granted settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme and are applying to naturalise as a British citizen.
How do I prove my 5 year residency UK?
There are various ways to show that you have lived lawfully in the UK for the last 5 years for the purposes of an immigration application, including tax documents, pension statements, mortgage or rent statements, council tax bills and payslips.
What is proof of living in the UK naturalisation?
You should meet the residence requirement for naturalisation if you have indefinite leave in the UK. This could be under the 3-year route as the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen, or under the 5-year route.
Can I apply for British Citizenship 28 days before?
While you can apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) up to 28 days before the end of your qualifying period of residence, for citizenship you must usually wait until you have completed 12 full months with ILR before applying.
Last updated: 6 September 2022