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The 20-Year Residence Route to Settlement in the UK

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20 years is a long time in anyone’s book but some people wanting to settle in the UK have to wait 20 years before they can apply to regularise their immigration status with limited leave to remain and then apply for indefinite leave to remain.

The immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors advise on all types of indefinite leave-to-remain applications from accelerated settlement, the 5-year route, or the 10-year route. In this article, our ILR lawyers look at the option of settling in the UK on the 20-year route. Immigration solicitors also refer to this as the private life route.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors and Indefinite Leave to Remain Lawyers

For advice on indefinite leave to remain applications call the expert London immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

Why does indefinite leave to remain matter?

Indefinite leave to remain matters because it regularises your immigration status as a settled person. It means you are no longer subject to immigration control, do not have to apply for visas, and have the right to work and the right to rent in the UK on a non-time-limited basis. Unlike with some work visas, such as the skilled worker visa, you don’t need to find employment with an employer with a sponsor licence once you have ILR. Unlike with the spouse visa, you and your partner don’t need to continue to meet the spouse visa financial requirement once you have secured your ILR status.

Indefinite leave to remain offers settlement, security, and flexibility. It is also a necessary step on the path to British citizenship if your ultimate goal is to become a British citizen. That’s because you normally need to have held indefinite leave to remain status for 12 months before you can apply for British citizenship.

ILR lawyers say that indefinite leave to remain is a goal in itself. You don’t have to go on to apply for British citizenship if you don’t want to do so. Alternatively, British citizenship solicitors can look at the option of your retaining your citizenship of origin and applying for British citizenship so you have dual nationality. Although the UK allows dual nationality, your country of origin may not do so.

The 20-year residence route to indefinite leave to remain

The 20-year route to settlement and indefinite leave to remain status is the route of last resort – to be used only if there are no other routes available to you. That’s because using the 20-year route doesn’t give you indefinite leave to remain. Making this type of application simply regularises your immigration status by giving you limited leave to remain for 30 months under the private life route.

Once you have your limited leave to remain under the immigration rules you have to wait a further 10 years accumulating lawful residence time in the UK on the private life route. During those 10 years, you will need to make repeat leave to remain applications to avoid your limited leave expiring. At the end of the 10-year period, you may meet the eligibility criteria to apply for indefinite leave to remain, but by that time, you will have been in the UK for 30 years or more.

As indefinite leave to remain isn’t the same as British citizenship, you may want to go on to apply for British citizenship. As you have to wait at least 12 months between the grant of indefinite leave to remain and applying for British citizenship, that adds up to a 31-year wait.

Immigration solicitors say that a 31-year wait can be avoided if you get immigration legal advice before you first secure UK entry clearance and by making sure you apply to extend or to switch your visa before it expires to avoid being classed as an overstayer. In addition, your time spent in the UK must be both lawful and continuous. That’s why immigration lawyers say applying to settle in the UK is a bit like a game of chess; it is all about how many moves it takes to get to checkmate. For some, the accelerated settlement provides the quickest indefinite leave to remain application whilst the 5-year route is the most commonplace.

The 20-year route immigration rules

The immigration rules relating to the 20-year route are contained in the Private Life section of the rules. The main point that immigration solicitors emphasise is that under this route the residence requirement means you have to meet the definition of continuous residence in the UK. With the shorter routes, you have to be lawfully and continuously resident in the UK for the requisite period of time.

The 20-year application

Using the 20-year rule you need to file an application to remain in the UK on the basis of family life or private life. You need to be able to prove that you have lived in the UK continuously for at least 20 years. The Home Office will check your application to see if the application should be refused because you don’t meet the Home Office suitability requirements.

Continuous residence and the 20-year route

The continuous residence has a particular meaning under the immigration rules. In the 20-year route you can't have:

  • Been out of the UK for longer than 6 months at any one time
  • Spent more than 550 days in total outside of the UK during the 20-year residence period
  • Been removed, deported, or left the UK after a visa refusal
  • Left the UK during the 20-year period without having a reasonable expectation at the time of leaving that you could lawfully return to the UK

Immigration solicitors say the rules DON’T mean you need to have been in the UK lawfully. Therefore, some of the 20-year period may not be counted as legal presence by the Home Office but still count towards your 20 years. For example, if you overstayed on a work visa, family visa, or another type of limited leave to remain.

If during the 20 years, you served a prison sentence then this doesn’t disqualify you from applying under the 20-year rule. However, the time spent in custody doesn’t count towards the 20 years residence requirement.

The 20-year rule and the suitability criteria

Immigration solicitors are asked about the impact of a criminal conviction on an application to remain in the UK on the basis of family life or private life. Time spent in prison does not count in the 20-year calculation but imprisonment doesn’t set the clock back to day one – you just exclude the prison time when calculating the period of continuous residence.

However, immigration lawyers warn that imprisonment may result in your application being refused on the basis of suitability. The Home Office will refuse an application if:

  • You were sentenced to imprisonment for more than 12 months
  • You were sentenced to less than 12 months but your application is being made within 12 months of the sentence ending
  • You are considered to be a serial offender
  • You have committed a criminal offence that caused serious harm

Other applicants, such as those sentenced to less than 12 months imprisonment, may have their application refused but the Home Office is able to exercise discretion in these and other cases, for example where an applicant has overstayed or made false representations in a prior visa application.

If you have concerns about whether you will fall foul of the suitability criteria then call our individual immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 for a discussion about your application to remain in the UK on the basis of family life or private life.

Evidence and the 20-year route

A key part of a 20-year application is being able to prove your residence in the UK during the qualifying residence period. Our immigration solicitors can talk to you about the type of evidence that will need to be produced and they can answer all your questions on your proposed application.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors and Indefinite Leave to Remain Lawyers

For advice on the 20-year route and indefinite leave to remain call the immigration team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

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