Under certain circumstances, the immigration rules in the UK allow for people to apply for leave to remain in the UK on the basis of long residence. This means that people who have been in the UK for long enough, are able to settle in the UK if they fulfil certain requirements. The two main routes under the Home Office long residency process are the 10 year route for those with continuous lawful residency, and the 20 year route for those who have had periods of unlawful residence during their time in the UK.
The 10 year rule on long residence is laid out in paragraph 276 of the Immigration Rules. It enables people with 10 years continuous and lawful years of residence in the UK to apply for indefinite leave to remain, meaning they can stay in the UK indefinitely, and without being tied to employment, studies or other family members to retain that right. During those 10 years, they must always have had some form of leave to remain, without interruption. That is the “lawful” component of the “10 continuous and lawful years.” Living in the UK with leave to enter or remain is lawful for the purpose of a long residence application, as is temporary admission or time spent out on immigration bail (important for asylum seekers) or exemption from control (important for diplomats, as long as that (temporary) status is immediately followed by leave to remain. If the applicant overstays even just one day, this will be unlawful residence breaking their 10 year count, even if the overstaying is short or by accident. It is not completely impossible to qualify under the 10 year rule if you have short gaps in lawful residence, but it is very difficult and certain criteria must be met.
For the 10 years to be considered as “continuous,” then, the applicant must have spent at least six out of every 12 months in the UK every year of the 10 years they are relying on in their application. Any absence of more than six months will break “continuous residence.” Prison sentences put the counter back to zero, and certain reasons for departures do so as well. Notably, the applicant is not allowed to have spent more than 18 months outside of the UK in total in that 10-year period. Only whole days (more than 24 hours) are counted. If an applicant has spent too much time abroad, caseworkers are instructed to exercise discretion based on the reasons for absence and whether the applicant returned to the UK as soon as was reasonably possible.
If an application under the 10 year rule is successful; the applicant will be granted indefinite leave to remain, and be able to settle in the UK freely.
The 20 year rule on long residence is laid out in paragraph 276 of the Immigration Rules as well. To apply for leave to remain under this rule, the applicant does not have to have lived in the UK lawfully, only continuously. The definition of “continuously” here is similar to the one for the 10 year rule. The main difference is that for the 20 year rule, time spent in prison will not break the count. Instead, time in prison will simply not be counted towards the period of residence. Time before and after imprisonment can thus be added up to calculate the full amount of time spent in the UK.
The main issue with the 20 year rule is the difficulty of proving one’s time spent in the UK, especially the time where the applicant was not residing in the UK lawfully. Evidence is often patchy and hard to obtain.
If an application under the 20 year rule is successful, the applicant will be granted limited leave to remain for a defined period of 30 months. During those 30 months, the applicant will usually not be able to access public funds. To get indefinite leave to remain, the applicant will have to accumulate 10 years of lawful residence through renewed periods of limited leave. In other words, for an applicant with unlawful periods of stay to be eligible for settlement in the UK with indefinite leave, they will have to wait 30 years from the date of entry.
For people who moved to the UK at a young age, there are some special long residency rules. For examples, those under 25 years old can apply for indefinite leave to remain if they have spent over half of their life in the UK. Additionally, a child who has lived in the UK for seven years might qualify for limited leave to remain, if he or she can show that it would not be “reasonable” for him or her to leave the UK.
To sum up, there are a few long residency routes to stay in the UK. The most common ones for adults are the 10 year rule and the 20 year rule. To qualify for the former, the residency has to be lawful and continuous. For the latter, residence need only be continuous, but obtaining indefinite leave to remain will be a long and arduous process.
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