Applying for settlement in the UK

Applying for indefinite leave to enter or remain is how you settle in the UK. It’s also called ‘settlement’. It gives you the right to live, work, and study in the UK for as long as you like, and apply for benefits if you’re eligible. You can also use it to apply for British citizenship.

There are different ways to apply for indefinite leave to enter or remain based on your circumstances:

If you have a work visa

You must usually have lived and worked in the UK for 5 years. If you have a Tier 1 visa, it can be as little as 2 or 3 years. If you have an Innovator or Global Talent visa, it can be as little as 3 years.

You would need to satisfy all of the suitability and eligibility criteria for your particular visa category in order to qualify for indefinite leave to remain.

If you have a family visa

You must usually have lived in the UK for 5 years on a family visa before you can apply for indefinite leave to remain. There are exceptions if you are the victim of domestic violence, or your partner/spouse through whom you got your visa has died.

You may be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to enter from outside the UK if your family member through whom you got your visa is a serving member of HM Armed Forces.

You would need to satisfy all of the suitability and eligibility criteria for your particular visa category in order to qualify for indefinite leave to enter or remain.

If you have lived in the UK on a lawful basis for at least 10 years

If you have lived in the UK for at least 10 full years on a lawful basis, in various visa categories, you may be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain on the basis of long residence.

If you previously had indefinite leave to remain in the UK

Indefinite leave to remain will automatically lapse where a person holding it spends two or more consecutive years outside of the UK, regardless of the reason for their absence. Persons who wish to return to the UK can apply for a Returning Resident Visa, if they are eligible. If the application is successful, that person will be granted indefinite leave to enter the UK, effectively reinstating settlement in the UK.

If you are a member of HM Armed Forces

You may be able apply for indefinite leave to remain if you’re leaving or have left the UK armed forces.

You must usually both:

  • be leaving the armed forces or have left in the past 2 years
  • have served for a minimum of 4 years

There’s no minimum time you need to have served for if you’ve been medically discharged for an injury or illness that happened as a result of your service.

You can send your application up to 10 weeks before you leave the armed forces (‘are discharged’) or up to 12 weeks before if you’re being medically discharged.

You must send it within 2 years from the date you’re discharged.

If you are a refugee, have humanitarian protection in the UK, or discretionary leave

You must have a residence card if you’re a refugee or person with humanitarian protection.

If you have Discretionary Leave, you must still meet the eligibility criteria for it. Check your documents to see what your criteria are.

You can apply for indefinite leave to remain after 5 years in the UK as either someone with refugee status or humanitarian protection.

If you have Discretionary Leave, you can apply after:

  • 6 years if you were first given Discretionary Leave on or before 8 July 2012
  • 10 years if you were first given Discretionary Leave from 9 July 2012

Refugees and persons with humanitarian protection in the UK do not have to pay a fee when they apply for settlement. Persons with discretionary leave must pay the full fee.

If you have pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme

You can apply to switch from pre-settled to settled status as soon as you’re eligible. This is usually after you’ve lived in the UK, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man for at least 5 years in a row.

The 5 years is counted from the day you started your continuous residence in the UK, not the day you were granted pre-settled status.

You may not be eligible for settled status if you broke your continuous residence, meaning you spent more than 12 months outside the UK in any consecutive 12-month period (not a calendar year).

If you are a child applying to join or remain with a parent or relative in the UK and that parent or relative is settled in the UK or has British Citizenship

Certain applicants under the age of 18 can apply for indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK. This can be a complex area of immigration law and specialist advice should be sought if you are unsure whether or not a child qualifies. 

If you are in the UK as a dependant partner, spouse, or child

If you are in the UK as the dependant of someone who is or has applied for indefinite leave to remain, you may qualify at the same time as them, regardless of when you started living in the UK. This varies with each immigration category and advice should be sought if you are unsure whether or not you can apply.

If you require assistance with applying for the visa, please contact our immigration team.