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Settle in the UK: How to do it and what it entails

Permanent residence in the United Kingdom is called settlement or an indefinite leave to remain (ILR). This status gives right to live in the country for an unlimited period of time, subject to extension. However, not all people can apply for it – some stay in the country on a temporary work or another visa by constantly extending it.

If you want to know which visas lead to settlement and which of them are the fastest route to ILR, read on. For your convenience, we have written this article in a Q&A format.

What is settlement in the UK?

An Indefinite Leave to Remain is an immigration status that gives its holder the following rights to unrestrictedly:

  1. Live and travel anywhere in the UK.
  2. Leave the country and come back after 2 years.
  3. Study, work, do business or do nothing while enjoying a comfortable and safe lifestyle.

A permanent resident in the UK is almost no different from British citizens who were born and have been living here on the Isles. If, however, you do not want to stop at that, you can apply for British citizenship one year after obtaining ILR. A British passport is your opportunity to visit over 180 countries without a visa, including Schengen zone and USA.

If you have not decided yet where you want to relocate and are looking into different options, our article will give you insights into many different options of relocating abroad.

Who can apply for settlement in the UK?

  1. A spouse, partner or family member of a British citizen or a settled person after living in the country for at least 5 years.
  2. Foreign specialists, businessmen and investors, and their immediate families, after continuously living in the UK for 5, 3 or 2 years. How fast you can settle depends on how successful a business is or how much you have invested in the UK economy.
  3. Other foreign nationals who have lived in Great Britain for not less than 10 years.

What is the difference between residence and settlement in the UK?

Residence or a leave to enter or remain in the UK is a temporary permit that allows a foreign national to stay on the British Isles for a long period of time. It is a long-term visa that would be normally given for a few years, as opposed to a standard visitor visa. In simple terms, a visa is your temporary residence permit.

Key differences between residence and settlement in the UK

  1. A visa has an expiry date while ILR does not. However, most visas can be extended before a current one expires.
  2. Most long-term visas, with a few exceptions, would limit you in what you can do in the UK.
    For example, a Start-up visa would require you to dedicate all your working hours to the development of your business idea not to give reason for an endorsing body to withdraw their support. If you come on a Student visa, you cannot quit your studies. A Spouse visa is only valid if you continue living with your British partner in a genuine relationship.
  3. Some long-term visas do not require any English language skills.
    An Investor visa is granted in exchange for your contribution to British economy of at least £2,000,000 which might be the reason why the requirements are more flexible. However, if an investor decides to apply for ILR after living in the UK for some time, they must show a better integration in the British society by learning the language, culture and history of the country.

Please bear in mind that to be able to apply for an indefinite leave to remain in the UK, you must live in the country for several years on a temporary visa.

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What visas lead to settlement in the UK?

We thought an answer to this question would be better presented in a table – keep it in mind that a type of visa will determine how many years you must stay in the country before you can apply for ILR.

Type of visaWho can applyHow many years you must live in the UK before you can apply for ILR
Work visasForeign specialists to work in a UK company or transferred to a UK branch of an overseas company; sportsmen and ministers of religion5 years
Family visasSpouses/partners or fiancée/fiancé5 years of being married to a British national or a settled person
Entrepreneur visaFor foreign businessmen who registered a company in the UK and who applied before 29 March 20193–5 years based on what a business has achieved
Innovator visaFor experienced entrepreneurs with an innovative idea to start a UK business who are ready to invest at least £50,0003 years if a business complies with at least 2 out of 8 requirements
Representative of an overseas business visaFor experienced top managers who come to manage the first representative office of a foreign company in the UK5 years
Investor visaFor those investing in share capital of UK-registered companiesDepends on the amount of investment:
£2,000,000 – 5 years
£5,000,000 – 3 years
£10,000,000 – 2 years

Other long-term visas do not lead to settlement in the UK though you can switch from them to another category. If your business idea has been successful, you can switch from a Start-up visa to an Innovator visa.

If you want to learn more about visas that lead to British citizenship, how to get them and what benefits a UK passport can offer you, check our article here.

Three main conditions of applying for settlement in the UK

1. Continuous residence

You cannot spend more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12-month period from your first arrival in the country on a long-term visa till you apply for settlement. If you decide to stay in Great Britain for good, but you must travel a lot for business and/or personal matters, do track how much time you spend on your trips.

2. Good language skills

To apply for settlement in the UK, you and your family must speak English at an intermediate level which corresponds to Level B1 in the European classification.

An intermediate level means that you can freely express your thoughts in English, chat about everyday and business matters and understand someone speaking English at a normal pace.

To prove your language skills, you must pass a test in one of the centres approved by the Home Office. However, if you have already passed a test to Level B1 for your visa, you do not have to do it again.

Neither do you need to take a test if you can show that you studied in a university for more than 12 months, your studies were in English and you received a degree equivalent to bachelor, master, PhD or higher.

3. Passing Life in the UK test

An applicant and their family must also pass a test to prove their knowledge of customs, traditions, culture and history of the United Kingdom. A test consists of 24 questions and can be challenging even to British nationals. Good thing is, all the questions are available in the Internet so you practice them before the test.

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Can my settled status be revoked?

Yes, you can lose your settled status and British nationality as well. However, because an ILR application is not an easy one, the system almost never fails. The UK authorities would not apply drastic measures unless it is something serious and involves breaking a law. Moreover, family members of law breakers can also lose their status even though they themselves have a clean criminal record.

To enjoy your freedom with a UK settled status, it is enough:

  • To make sure that you made your ILR application to the Home Office without providing any misleading information about you and your dependants.
  • To do your best to integrate in British society before you apply for settlement – take your kids to English nurseries and schools, pay your bills on time and do not limit yourself to a local community.
  • Not to spend more than 2 years outside the UK after you get your status, or it will be revoked, and you will have to start the same procedure again.
  • Not to commit serious offences or be involved in any terrorist activities.

How to avoid mistakes when moving to the UK and applying for ILR?

You have just seen that UK laws are full of nuances and are not tolerant to those who break them. If you do not want your UK visa to be refused and wish to settle successfully in Great Britain, you must be attentive to detail and be aware of relevant legislation.

Not all of us, however, have such knowledge. Therefore, it would be advisable to get in touch with a legal firm that has experience in the field and a lot of positive reviews from happy clients. This will free your mind for more important matters and minimise potential risks. Qualified immigration advisers at Imperial & Legal have many years of experience in solving the most challenging cases of clients relocating to Europe. Our experts will help you at every step of the way – from obtaining a visa to the UK or another country, searching for a property to corporate management to tax planning. They will make sure the United Kingdom becomes your second home as easy and as fast as possible.

FAQ about obtaining permanent residence in the UK

What document confirms the status of permanent resident in the UK?

The best document to confirm your right to permanent residence in the country is a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). It is a plastic card with your biometric data, name and immigration status.

If you are a permanent resident, your BRP will say either:

  • Indefinite leave to remain – a right to stay in the country without any time limit.
  • Indefinite leave to enter – a right to enter the country without any time limit.
  • No time limit – unlimited duration.
  • Permit residence – a right to live in the country without any time limit (it is usually for EU citizens).

Pay attention to the fact that it is your residence permit that is given to you indefinitely; a BRP card is valid for a maximum of 10 years after which, according to the UK rules, it must be extended. Our advisers recommend that you apply for a replacement BRP three months before the current one expires.

Is it possible to vote in the UK if you have a UK permanent residence status?

It would be logical to assume that people without citizenship can’t vote in the UK, same as in other jurisdictions. However, permanent residents in the UK can vote in municipal elections or Scottish parliamentary elections. In some regions of the UK, the right to vote is given to Irish and European Union citizens, e.g. in elections of the mayor of London, members of the Welsh Parliament, and members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

At the same time, almost all local and national elections are open to nationals of countries that are members of the British Commonwealth. For example, participants of the Caribbean citizenship by investment programs can take part in an important referendum on an equal footing with the rest of the British. This is a common scenario because a Caribbean passport is often obtained as a first step to the UK residency and citizenship.

Can my family get a UK permanent residence?

For most visa types, dependent family members must live in the country for as long as the main applicant, but there may be exceptions. We recommend discussing your case with an immigration adviser.

Who can apply for UK permanent residence? The following categories of relatives:

  • Spouses or civil partners.
  • Minor children.
  • Adult children aged 18 on the date of arrival in the UK and who are dependent on the main applicant.

What is the fastest way to get UK permanent residence?

You might have already worked it out yourself by reading this article:

  1. Contact our Imperial & Legal advisers for a legal support.
  2. Prepare documents and apply for a Tier 1 Investor visa with the help of our specialists.
  3. When approval is granted, invest £10 million in the UK real economy.
  4. Obtain a visa, move to the UK, get a residence card and become a member of British society.
  5. After 2 years of living in the United Kingdom, apply for a permanent residence with the help of our advisers after successfully passing English language and Life in the UK tests.
  6. Obtain permanent residence and get yourBRP card.

If you are in no rush, you can invest less money in the economy in order to obtain a Tier 1 Investor visa. Then you will have a chance to get UK permanent residence after 3 years or after 5 years. In any case, only this visa will help you move quickly to the UK without any extra worries or entry requirements.

Tired of getting general advice?

We will work with you to find a customised solution for your immigration, second citizenship, business, tax and other needs.