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Settlement in the UK on the 20 Year Private Life Route

For many immigrants in the UK, the ultimate goal is to obtain ‘long-term settlement’ or ‘permanent residence’, known as Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) under the Immigration Rules. ILR is generally obtained through an extended period of residence in the UK. Often this is where applicants have spent three or five years on a particular work or business route, as a spouse or on an ancestry visa and an article on the quickest ways to obtain ILR in the UK can be found here. Alternatively, periods of ‘long residence’ in the UK can lead to an individual obtaining ILR.  

This article will focus on the 20 year long residence route.

What is Indefinite Leave to Remain?

As suggested by the name, this leave is indefinite and does not need to be renewed. Barring any serious issues, such as criminal activity, subsequent discovery of dishonesty or other breaches of the immigration rules, ILR is only lost if the holder remains outside of the UK for more than two years continuously (five years if settled status was obtained under the EU Settlement Scheme). ILR removes all restrictions on an immigrant’s activities and allows individuals to move in and out of the UK freely. A full article on the benefits and implications of ILR can be found here

ILR is generally obtained through an extended period of residence in the UK. Often this is where applicants have spent three or five years on a particular work or business route, as a spouse or on an ancestry visa. An article on the quickest ways to obtain ILR in the UK can be found here. Alternatively, periods of ‘long residence’ in the UK can lead to the individual obtaining ILR. 

What counts as ‘long’ residence?

Individuals who have completed 10 years of ‘continuous lawful’ residence in the UK are eligible to apply for ILR.  

This route is often used by individuals who have had periods of leave on a variety of visas, especially if some of those are student or visit visas, which do not themselves qualify for a route to settlement. Applicants need to show that, despite these different visas, their leave in the UK forms one continuous period of residence, without any significant breaks longer than 180 days, and without having spent more than 450 days outside of the UK in total during the period. 

However, in addition to ‘continuous residence’ applicants must also show that their leave has always been lawful – meaning that all new applications have been made in-time, or that the individual has always left the country before their leave expired. 

Some individuals will not be able to meet this lawfulness requirement. Therefore, there is a further, 20 year route to ILR, which individuals with periods of overstaying or other immigration issues may be able to use to regularise their status and work towards obtaining ILR.

This route has had several different iterations – some readers may have come across information regarding a 14 year route to settlement, for example, which was in fact abolished in 2012. This 14 year route was replaced by the 20 year rules which initially appeared in paragraph  276ADE of the Immigration Rules. In 2022 however, the 20 year long residence rules were brought under the Private Life section of the Immigration Rules

What is the 20 year rule on long residence?

Under the 20 year rule a person does not have to have lived in the UK lawfully, but simply ‘continuously’ for at least 20 years. 

There are four requirements that an applicant needs to meet to qualify for leave to remain on this route:

  • To apply using the correct form, which is called “Application to remain in the UK on the basis of family life or private life”;
  • To make a valid application for leave, by paying any relevant fees, attending a biometrics appointment, providing a passport or suitable identity document and by being in the UK on the date of the application;
  • Not falling for refusal under the suitability requirements;
  • Having lived in the UK continuously for at least 20 years;

What is continuous residence for the purposes of the 20 year route?

Applicants will need to show that they have spent one continuous period of 20 years living in the UK, by demonstrating that they have not had any significant periods of absence. This means that they should not have had any periods of absences lasting longer than 6 months at any one time, and that they have not spent more than 550 days in total outside of the UK during the 20 year period they are relying on. The applicant should also have not been removed, deported or have left the UK following the refusal of an application, and should not have left the UK without having a “reasonable expectation at the time of leaving that they would lawfully be able to return”.

Applicants applying on this route should show their continuous residence with documentary evidence – for example, tenancy agreements, utility bills or bank statements which show where they have lived, or documents such as contracts or certificates which show their work or education history.

The 20 year route to settlement has two important distinctions from the 10 year route. The first is that the period of continuous residence may include time spent in the UK either with or without permission. This means that, for example, periods of overstay may count towards the 20 years continuous residence. 

The second is that periods during which the applicant was serving a sentence of imprisonment or was detained in an institution other than a prison, will not break continuous residence, although the time spent being detained will not count towards the 20 years. 

An example might be a person who has lived in the UK since 01 January 2002, who served a three month prison sentence between 01 August 2004 and 01 November 2004. Before the prison sentence this person had lived in the UK for two years and eight months. The three months spent in prison would not count towards the 20 years, so after leaving prison the person would need to live in the UK for another 17 years and three months in order to reach 20 years of continuous residence. This person would therefore be eligible to make an application under the 20 year rule on 01 February 2023.

What suitability requirements apply to a 20 year long residence application?

Bearing in mind the example above, it is important to reiterate that a person making an application under the 20 long residence rules must not fall for refusal under the suitability requirements. Applications where the person has been given a custodial sentence of more than 12 months, is a serial offender or has committed an offence which caused serious harm must be refused, as must applications made by people who were given a sentence of less than 12 months which ended within the 12 months before the application was made. 

Applications made by individuals who have received sentences of less than 12 months, or who have breached other suitability requirements, such as making false representations in previous applications, may be refused. 

The suitability requirements are an important part of these kinds of applications and applicants who have served time in prison, or who may fall for refusal for other reasons, will need to provide additional evidence in relation to their conviction and general character.

Can you get ILR or settlement on the 20 year route?

A common misconception about the 20 year rule is that a successful application leads immediately to a grant of ILR or ‘settlement’. 

In contrast, a successful application under the 20 year long residence rule merely allows the applicant to regularise their status, by obtaining a grant of limited leave to remain for a period of 30 months, on what is known as the ‘private life route’. This grant generally has a condition of ‘no recourse to public funds’ attached to it, meaning that the applicant cannot rely on state benefits or the NHS.

A person who makes an application under the 20 year rules will only be eligible to apply for ILR once they have accumulated a period of 120 months, or 10 years ‘lawful residence’ on the private life route. This of course means making subsequent applications to renew this leave every 30 months when it expires. 

In general therefore, this means that under the 20 year rule it will in fact be 30 years from the person’s entry to the UK before they are eligible to apply for settlement. 

Can you get British Citizenship after living in the UK for 20 years?

Another common misconception about long residence in the UK is that having lived in the UK for 20 years, a person will be eligible to apply for British citizenship. However, as stated above, the 20 year long residence rules are really a chance for a person to regularise their status in the UK, and start working towards obtaining ILR.

Only once a person has held ILR for at least 12 months will they be eligible to apply for British citizenship. 

Contact our Immigration Barristers

For expert advice and assistance in relation to an application under the 20 year long residence rules, please contact our immigration barristers in London on 0203 617 9173 or via the enquiry form below.


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