A new law called The Illegal Migration Act 2023 has recently come into force. The Act has brought about significant changes to the UK asylum and immigration system for people who arrive in the UK on or after 20 July 2023. We are in the process of updating the Toolkit to reflect these developments. For now, please be aware that some of the information in the Toolkit may be out-of-date for people who arrived in the UK after that date. To stay up to date with any changes to the Toolkit, please sign up to our newsletter here.

This page looks at applying to stay in the UK based on the length of time you have already spent in the UK. These applications for the right to remain are known as “long residence” applications.

Read this page to find out about the immigration rules that allow you to apply to stay if you are 18-24 years old and you’ve lived in the UK for more than half your life; if you’re over 18 and you’ve lived in the UK for than 20 years even if some or all of this was without immigration status; or if you’ve lived in the UK for less than 20 years but there are exceptional circumstances meaning you couldn’t live in another country. The “20 years” rule replaces the previous rule that allowed you to apply if you’d lived in the UK (even without immigration status) for 14 years.

These applications under the immigration rules based on the length of time in the UK are considered to be “private life” applications. If you do not meet these immigration rules, it may be possible to apply to stay on the basis of your human right to your private life in the UK outside of these rules, but it is difficult to succeed in applications outside of the rules. Read more on the Human Rights page of this guide.

The immigration rules

The immigration rules allow people to apply for leave to remain in the UK if:

  • you are between 18 and 24 years old and you’ve lived continuously in the UK for more than half your life
  • you are under 18 and you’ve lived in the UK continuously for at least seven years, and it would be “unreasonable” to expect you to leave the UK. See our If You Have Children page.
  • you are 18 years old or over and you have spent less than 20 years in the UK and would face very significant problems living in the country you’d have to go to if not allowed to stay in the UK.
  • you are 25 years old or over and you have lived in the UK continuously for 20 years.  See section below.

An application under these criteria is described by the Home Office as “applying on the basis of your private life”.

The Home Office guidance on private life applications says that “very significant” problems in the country you’d have to go to must go beyond the “usual obstacles” someone faces when they move country.  They give examples of usual obstacles as: having to learn a new language, or needing to find a job.  On the Home Office website information about these applications, the example they give of “very significant problems” is, “you do not speak the language and could not learn it”.

20 years’ long residence rule

Previously the immigration rules allowed you to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain if you could show you had been in the UK continuously for 14 years – including if some or all of that time was without leave to remain.

The immigration rules now require 20 years’ continuous residence if some or all of that residence was not “lawful”, and this only enables you to enter the 10-year route to settlement (if your application is successful you will be granted leave to remain for 2.5 years, and will then need to have four periods of this before applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain).

This route is for people over the age of 25. If you are younger than 25 years old, see the rules regarding young people above, and the rules regarding leave to remain based on the rights of a child here.

Time spent in prison cannot be counted towards the 20 years spent in the UK, but does not break the period of continuous residence (you can use the time you spent in the UK before you were in prison, and add it to time spent in the UK after release from prison).

You can find the application form and guidance notes for this application on the Home Office website here.

Bear in mind that it is difficult to provide evidence of 20 years’ continuous residence if periods of that have been without regular immigration status. You may not have had formal accommodation or income. The Home Office look more positively on official documentation proving your residence in the UK, but you may not always be able to get this. Think about who could provide statements to evidence your presence in the UK. Home Office guidance says that they expect to see evidence that covers every 12 month period of the 20 years. Although this is not what the law says, if you cannot provide evidence that covers every year of the 20 years, the Home Office is likely to refuse your application. A judge may make a different decision if you appeal the refusal, however.

Suitability criteria and exclusions

There are “suitability” requirements to meet the criteria for these private life applications, meaning that criminal convictions, “bad character”, poor immigration history or unpaid NHS debts could disqualify you.

It is possible to apply “outside of the rules” in long residence/private life applications if you cannot meet the suitability requirements, but it is hard to succeed in applications outside of the immigration rules.

The time periods used to calculate your length of time in the UK to meet the criteria above cannot include any periods of imprisonment in the UK.

Making an application

You can find the link to the online “private life” application form and guidance notes on the Home Office website here.

The Home Office website provides a list of the basic information and documents you will need to provide with the application.  Read it here.  You are likely to need to provide more evidence than this. For example, if you are applying on the basis of how long you have been in the UK, you will need to provide strong, independent evidence proving this.  If you are applying on the basis you would face “very significant obstacles” in the country you would be removed to, you will need to provide strong evidence to support this.

Application Fee

There is a fee for the application. To find out how much you will need to pay for yourself and any dependants, read the latest Home Office guidance on UK immigration and nationality fees.

You will need to pay the health surcharge as part of this application, unless you fall into one of the exempt categories. To find out more about the health surcharge, see here.

If you are destitute and cannot afford to pay the application fee and health surcharge, you can apply for a fee waiver.

The Home Office definition of being destitute is if you and/or your dependants do not have adequate accommodation or any means of obtaining it (whether or not your other essential living needs are met); or you have adequate accommodation or the means of obtaining it, but cannot meet your other essential living needs.

See here for more information about applying for a fee waiver.

If your application is successful

If you are successful in your application, you will be granted 2.5 years’ leave to remain.

You can apply to renew your leave to remain (before it runs out). If successful, you will be granted another period of 2.5 years’ leave to remain.

After ten years – that is, 4 x 2.5 years’ leave to remain – you will be able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

In October 2021, the Home Office announced a concession through which they may reduce the period of leave to remain from ten years to five years for people with leave under the “18-24 years old, more than half of your life in UK” rule. Read more here.

There is generally no access to public funds such as welfare benefits or homelessness support while you have these time-limited periods of leave to remain. You would need to demonstrate exceptional circumstances in order to have this “no recourse to public funds” restriction lifted. Read more here.

If your application is refused

If your application is refused, you may have the right to appeal the decision.