If you have UK Indefinite Leave to Remain and are out of the country for more than two years, you risk losing your permanent residence status. If you do lose ILR, before your travel you will need to apply for entry clearance under the Residents’ Return visa to reenter the UK for the purpose of resettling here.
In this guide, we explain the rules on losing ILR status and what you need to do if you want to return to the UK and reinstate your ILR.
What is the resident return visa?
The Returning Resident visa applies where you have previously held UK ILR but have been out of the country for more than two consecutive years and want to return here to settle.
As a returning resident, you can re-enter the UK to live, work and study permanently.
Importantly, you cannot request entry at the border by relying on expired ILR status. You would need to have secured your Returning Resident visa prior to travel to the UK to have obtained entry clearance.
Do you need to apply for a Returning Resident Visa?
Absent from the UK for more than 2 years
If you attempt to enter the UK without entry clearance – that is, without ILR as it has expired after 2 years’ absence or without a valid residents return visa – you will be refused entry at the border. You will need to make an application for entry clearance from outside the UK.
Absent from the UK for less than 2 years
If you have been out of the UK for less than two years and hold ILR, you have retained your settled status and can re-enter the UK without the need for a visa. However, at the border you will need to show the Immigration Official that:
- You held valid ILR status when you left the UK;
- You have not been absent from the UK for more than 2 years;
- You did not claim public funds to help you leave the UK; and
- You are seeking permission to enter the UK to remain here permanently.
If you are concerned about proving any of these requirements and potentially being refused entry at the border, you may opt to apply for the Residents’ Return visa and rely on this to gain entry for the purposes of settlement, despite your ILR status remaining valid. We can advise if you have concerns about proving your status.
Also, if you have maintained your ILR status, lost or stolen ILR documentation will require a replacement Biometric Residence Permit, rather than a Returning Resident visa.
What are the Returning Resident Visa requirements?
Before applying as a Returning Resident, you’ll first need to ensure you qualify under the UK immigration rules. You must:
- plan to return to live in the UK permanently;
- have been settled in the UK before you last left; and
- not have been given public funds to help you leave the UK.
You must also provide sufficient evidence of your current circumstances, that you have maintained strong ties to the UK and the reasons why you have lived outside the UK for an extended period.
Are there any exceptions to the loss of ILR?
Where certain circumstances apply, periods spent outside the UK will not count towards the 2 year period if the reason for absence is due to the ILR holder serving in the following capacities:
- Members or HM Forces overseas, their partners & dependants.
- Commonwealth Office employees based overseas.
- Permanent members of the British Council, Department for International Development, Home Office, or Foreign and Commonwealth Office overseas and their partners and dependants.
In such instances, an individual’s ILR is deemed not to have lapsed and will not be lost.
How to apply for the Returning Resident Visa
Applications for the Returning Resident visa are made online to UKVI. Fast-track services are available at cost at some local Embassies. You will need to confirm availability at the Embassy where you intend to make your application.
As part of your application, documentary evidence will be required to support the information you have provided. This includes:
- a current passport or other valid travel identification
- previous passports
- a passport-sized colour photograph
You should also expect to be asked to prove you have retained ‘strong ties’ to the UK by providing documents such as:
- Marriage certificate or other confirmation of your marital status
- Details of family members living in the UK
- Evidence of properties owned in the UK
- Letters of enrolment or attendance at an educational institution
- Letters of employment detailing your salary and role within your company
- Proof of your business interests;
- Utility bills or council tax statements;
- A written statement from a medical professional if your absence was due to medical reasons.
Since this list is not exhaustive, you can submit various documents to maximise your chances to get your Return Visa. In the case the evidence of your commitment to settle in the UK are not sufficient, the Home Office may summon you for an interview.
If you are in doubt about your supporting documentation, one of our immigration solicitors will be happy to help.
You will also need to pay the relevant application fee and attend a visa application centre to provide your biometric information i.e. fingerprints and photograph.
Your dependants (partner and children under 18) need to apply separately for a Returning Resident visa if they’re eligible.
How long is the Resident Return Visa processing time?
The length of time to process your Returning Resident Visa will depend on where you are making your application, the complexity of your case and the quality of your application. Check at the time of making your application for a better estimation.
You will need to have secured the Returning Resident Visa before you travel.
How much does a Returning Resident visa cost?
You will have to pay the Returning Resident Visa fee when you make your application. Currently the fee for the Residents Return visa is £531 (at the time of writing). The fee is subject to change, and you should check at the time of applying.
What if you are ineligible for a Returning Resident Visa?
If you do not meet the requirements to re-enter the UK on the basis of a Returning Resident visa, there may be alternative options to consider. For example, if you had lived in the UK for a period of at least ten continuous years prior to leaving the country, you may be eligible to enter under another immigration route and once in the country, make a Long Residence application. We can advise on your circumstances.
DavidsonMorris are specialist UK immigration advisers, supporting individuals with Home Office applications. If you have a question about the Returning Resident visa or about your ILR and UK immigration status, contact us.
Resident return visa FAQs
Can you lose your indefinite leave to remain in the UK?
Yes, ILR can be lost if you leave the UK and are absent for a period of more than two years. to reinstate your ILR status, you would need to apply for a resident return visa for entry clearance.
Are there alternatives to residents return visa?
If you do not meet the returning resident requirements, you may consider alternatives such as making a long residence application if you can show you had previously spent more than 10 years in the UK.
Do you need a resident return visa if you have been absent from the UK for less than 2 years?
If you have been out of the UK for less than two years, you may be readmitted by the border official if you had previously held ILR, you intend to settle and did not claim public funds during that time.
Last updated: 18 September 2022