The costs and process of moving to the UK

Prepare to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)

In this chapter I’ll detail:

Note that the information here is:

  • Specific to our unique circumstances
  • Reflective of the rules, policies, and requirements, as of the time of our original application for ILR back in 2020; if we are aware of any changes since, it will be called out

If you are planning to apply for, or currently are in the process of applying for ILR then you must refer to the official guidance released by the UK Government at the page for settling in the UK. If you are considering other settlement routes then you can find the official guidance of the UK Government at this visas and immigrations page for living permanently in the UK.

What is Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)

Persons “settled” in the UK can stay in the country without any time restrictions. Provided you are a resident of the UK, you have “settled” status if you:

  • Have the right of abode (e.g. are a British Citizen)
  • Are an Irish Citizen
  • Have Indefinite Leave to Remain

Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) is an immigration status that grants people the same rights given to British and Irish citizens to stay in the UK with no time restrictions. People “settled” in the UK are free to take up employment or to study without any time limit.

“Leave” here means “permission”; thus “leave to remain” is your “permission to remain” in the UK. “Indefinite” means without any time limit, thus the ILR grants you permission to remain (and re-enter) in the UK indefinitely.

If indefinite leave is granted to someone outside the UK (e.g. you apply from outside the country) then it is known as an Indefinite Leave to Enter (ILE); i.e. you have permission to enter (and remain in the UK) the UK indefinitely. The ILE operates in exactly the same way as an ILR.

Many think of the ILR as similar to having Permanent Resident / “Green Card” status that’s granted by other countries. A common misconception is that permanent residency is an irrevocable (permanent) entitlement, which is not correct. All countries, including the UK, impose obligations on their permanent residents / ILR holders. People who fail to comply with these obligations will lose their permanent residency / ILR status.

The ILR can be taken away in a number of scenarios:1

  • It can lapse if the holder has stayed outside the UK for a continuous period of two years and one day or more (or five years and one day or more if granted as part of the EU Settlement Scheme)
  • It can be revoked if the holder has stayed outside the UK within the above limits, but is coming back without a genuine intent to settle in the country (i.e. returning for a short period just to prevent the ILR from lapsing)
  • It can be revoked for interests of national security
  • It can be revoked if the ILR was obtained by way of deception

When to apply

The ILR application process has very strict timelines that you need to comply with. Applying too early will cause your application to fail, and any fees already paid will not be refunded. Given that these fees can be very substantial (especially if applying as a couple), it is in your best interests to ensure that you are aware of and follow these rules.

To assist you with this I’ve made available an ILR Calculator tool to find when the earliest date is that you can apply.

After entering your details, the calculator will inform you when is the earliest date that you can apply for an ILR. Note however that other factors can influence this date, for instance, if you have at any time left the UK for more than 180 full days in any 12-month period. Ensure you are familiar with the full rules for your ILR route; do not use this calculator as the sole basis for making your decision on when to apply!

In our case, my and my spouse’s original Tier 2 visa was issued on 25/05/2015.

I’ve entered the UK on 11/06/2015, which is 17 days after my visa was issued. As it does not exceed 180 days, these 17 days are counted as an allowable absence, meaning my ILR clock can still start on 25/05/2015. If I hypothetically entered the UK more than 180 days after my visa was issued, then the clock will instead start on when I physically entered the country.

This start date is the “qualifying period start date” for my ILR application.

Much like other routes, the Tier 2 (General) ILR route requires a qualifying period of 5 years:

  • Year 1 starts on 25/05/2015, and ends on 24/05/2016
  • Year 2 starts on 25/05/2016, and ends on 24/05/2017
  • Year 3 starts on 25/05/2017, and ends on 24/05/2018
  • Year 4 starts on 25/05/2018, and ends on 24/05/2019
  • Year 5 starts on 25/05/2019, and ends on 24/05/2020

My 5-year qualifying period then is from 25/05/2015 to 24/05/2020.

Note that the official government guidance refers to this period in a number of similar but slightly different ways. For the purposes of your ILR application, all of these mean the same thing:

  • Qualifying period
  • Continuous period
  • Continuous qualifying period
  • Continuous lawful period
  • Continuous residence period

In accordance with the rules, one can apply for ILR up to 28 days before the qualifying period end date. Counting backwards 28 days from 24/05/2020 gives us 26/04/2020, which is the earliest date I can apply for an ILR.

My spouse entered the UK slightly later than me on 24/07/2015, which is 60 days after our visa was issued. This does not exceed 180 days, thus their qualifying period start date is the same as mine. This is good as it means that we will be able to apply for the ILR together.

Preparations needed

Unlike the Tier 2 (General) visa application which requires submission of an extensive list of documents that can be gathered in a short amount of time, we found the ILR application to be very different in that while the requirements are more straightforward, they needed to be continually worked on in the five years leading up to the date.

The company I was with at the time also only provides financial sponsorship for Tier 2 applications, and not for ILRs, so this was a cost that we needed to shoulder ourselves. During our Tier 2 application, the company originally procured services of a firm to help us with the immigration process, however this is not something that is an option for ILR applications. We either had to acquire and pay for the services of an immigration solicitor ourselves, or do our own research and undertake the process without any paid external support.

From the beginning we had a very clear vision that we wanted to make the UK our home, thus shortly after we have received our Tier 2 (General) visa, we immediately started familiarising ourselves with the documentary and financial requirements for applying for an ILR.

Given this, and the fact that we felt our application was straightforward, we were confident that we can do this without the paid support of an external firm.

Applying for and being granted a UK ILR is a significant milestone in your and your family’s immigration journey. It is absolutely critical you allow yourself sufficient time to prepare for your application seeing its importance, the tight window of opportunity you are provided, and the substantial costs involved.

A word of warning

Note that in the UK, only OISC-registered immigration advisers can legally give immigration advice. While I hope that I can give you an idea of what the process entails given the recounting here of my experiences, be mindful that this is specific to my case and may not necessarily apply to you or to anyone else.

Immigration law is exceedingly complex. As I am not an immigration adviser and that the strategy we’ve taken in our applications is bespoke to my and my partner’s route and unique state of affairs, the information here is not and should not be constituted as legal advice. If you have any questions regarding your particular circumstances, it is best that you reach out to a qualified immigration adviser who can assess your situation and provide open and honest guidance tailored to your case.

If you decide to do this and seek guidance and/or support from a solicitor (especially if you know that your scenario is a complex one), you must protect yourself from fraud2 by ensuring that you only go to an OISC-registered immigration adviser.

Big thank you to Vinothraj Jagadeesan for pointing out that one of dates around the ILR clock need adjusting.

If there are any problems with this page, be it in terms of factual inaccuracies, mistakes in spelling or grammar, technical website issues — anything at all — I would truly appreciate it if you let me know here so that I can get it corrected.

Report an issue with this page