Certain categories of immigration permit an individual to eventually apply for settlement, known as indefinite leave to remain (ILR), after completing a specified amount of time (limited leave) in the UK. The period of time spent in the UK before being able to apply for permanent residence differs according to the immigration category. The varying time limits are illustrated below:

Category Time needed for permanent residency
Marriage, unmarried partners and civil partners who applied on 8 July 2012 or before 2 years
ECAA Ankara Agreement – self-employed person, HSMP 4 years
Artists, civil partners composers, HSMP, innovators, investors, marriage, sole representatives, Tier 1 (all categories), Tier 2, work permit holders, unmarried partners, writers and EU nationals (and family members) who reside in the UK 5 years
Continuous lawful stay 10 years
Unlawful stay (or a combination of lawful and unlawful stay) 20 years

It is now a legal requirement that people who wish to settle in the UK on a permanent basis must take the “life in the UK” test to show that they are fully integrated into British society. Certain people are exempt from this requirement.Examples of those exempt include: those over 65, people with long-term physical or mental health problems that prevent them from being tested, and victims of domestic violence.
If granted indefinite leave to remain, the individual will no longer be subject to any immigration rules, limits or time restrictions regarding work or business. The UK is now considered the individual’s place of residence. However, they must not spend more than two years outside of the UK. If the individual has met all the residency requirements, it is normal procedure to apply for naturalisation 12 months after being granted indefinite leave to remain.

Applications Outside of the Immigration Rules

ILR applications can also be made outside of the Immigration Rules. This most commonly applies when the individual qualifies under a Home Office policy or concession. It also applies if the application is made on compassionate grounds.

Returning Residents

A returning resident is someone who has settlement status but has left the UK for two years or less and is now returning to live in the UK on a permanent basis. If the time spent outside of the UK exceeds two years, the individual will need to demonstrate that they have lived in the UK for most of their life or have strong family ties there.