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Difference Between ILR, Settled Status and Permanent Residence in the UK

The words and terms used by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) in their guidance, forms, website, and letters can lead to confusion for migrants and prospective migrants. While the Home Office has started to make the information it provides easier to digest, there is still a long way to go. One such area of confusion is that of settlement. The terms “Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)”, “EU Settled Status”, and “Permanent Residence (PR)” may sound the same, but as with many aspects of immigration law, the devil is in the detail, and there are subtle differences. All 3 provide considerable benefits for migrants coming to the UK and provide a bridge to gaining British citizenship, but if you and your family plan to make the UK your permanent home, it is important to understand the differences and which to apply for. In this article, we will explain what is meant by “Indefinite Leave to Remain”, “EU Settled Status”, and “Permanent Residence” and the differences between them.

What is Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)?

If you have Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), there is no time limit on how long you can stay in the UK; in other words, it means you are settled in the UK. ILR is available to both EU and non-EU nationals as long as they have been living in the UK for enough time on an eligible visa. Not all visas provide a route to ILR, hence it is really important to know this when you apply for immigration permission to come to the UK. For example, an ICT visa does not lead to ILR, but a Skilled Worker visa does (it is possible that the ICT visa scheme will be changed in early 2022 to provide a route to settlement).

Not only must you have been living in the UK on a qualifying visa for enough time (typically 5 years, but this can be done in 2 or 3 years with certain visa types), this must be continuous. This means you must not have been outside the UK for more than 180 days in any 12 month period.

If you have ILR, you are free to:

  • Work in the UK in any business, profession or employment, including self-employment
  • Study in the UK
  • Vote in the UK
  • Access the NHS without cost
  • Access benefits and other public services
  • Travel to and from the UK without restriction

Once you are granted ILR, you will be able to apply for British citizenship after a further 12 months.

While your right to stay in the UK is permanent, it will lapse if you spend 2 or more years outside the UK. It can also be taken away (revoked) if you are deported (e.g. if you are convicted of a serious crime).

If you are an EU citizen and you already have Indefinite Leave to Remain, you will not need to apply for Settled Status (discussed below) to remain in the UK. However, you may still wish to apply for Settled Status as it allows you to spend more time outside the UK without losing your status.

If you are an EU citizen and you moved to the UK after the 31st December 2020, then you will not be eligible for Settled Status, but you will still be eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain after 5 years of continuous residence (this may be less depending on the type of visa you hold).

What is Settled Status?

Settled Status means that the individual has the right to live, work, and remain indefinitely, free of immigration control. It also means that the holder can access public funds (e.g. benefits), and after 12 months, apply for British citizenship.

The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was launched in January 2019 to allow eligible EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens living in the UK to remain (i.e. it confers the right to reside) when freedom of movement came to an end on 1st January 2021. Settled Status (and Pre-Settled Status as we will discuss below) is a term only used by EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens who started living in the UK before the end of 2020. The scheme officially closed to new applications at the end of June 2021, but it is still possible to apply if you have a valid reason for making a late application. This might be the case if you were unable to apply due to an accident, injury, illness, or if you were a victim of domestic abuse if you have a strong reason for which you can provide evidence.

Under this scheme, EU citizens can apply for and receive Settled Status if they have been in the UK continuously for 5 or more years. Those who have not yet reached the 5-year mark will receive Pre-Settled Status, which will give them up to 5 years to gain full Settled Status.

What is the difference between ILR and EU Settled Status?

The main differences between ILR and EU Settled Status are as follows:



Settled Status

Who can apply?

Open to EU or non-EU nationals who have held an eligible visa and lived for a qualifying period in the UK

Settled Status is only available to EU, EEA, and Swiss nationals who have been living in the UK before the end of 2020 and have a valid reason for making a late application (after 30th June 2020)

How long can you be absent from the UK before losing status?

2 years

5 years

Is the application free?

No, the fee is £2,389


How easy is the application process

Relatively lengthy process requiring evidence to prove eligibility

Quick and easy process

Eligibility criteria

Subject to several eligibility criteria (often depending on the type of visa held), including financial requirements, English language requirement, and the Life in the UK test.

Open to any EU, EEA, or Swiss national living in the UK before the end of 2020 with a valid reason for making a late application.

Settled status vs pre-settled status

Pre-Settled Status is granted to those who have not yet been living in the UK for 5 years. If granted, this gives them more time to reach the 5 year period required for full Settled Status.

What is permanent residence?

The Permanent Residence Card Scheme pre-dated the EU Settlement Scheme and also provided the right to reside in the UK free of immigration control. To be eligible for permanent residence, an EU citizen from outside of the UK must have been working, self-employed, self-sufficient, studying, or looking for work (also referred to as exercising treaty rights) in the UK for 5 or more years.

This scheme is now closed to new applicants.

One of the key limitations of this scheme is that residence cards have not been valid since 31st December 2020. The UK Government website currently states that EEA citizens and family members of EEA should use the EU Settlement Scheme instead.

How can I check my immigration status?

If you are unsure of your current status, you can check this online using UKVI’s ‘View and prove your immigration status’ service. You can also use this to prove your right to live, work, and rent in the UK.

Which settlement scheme should I use?

When deciding which route to choose to gain settlement in the UK, we recommend considering the following:

  • You can no longer apply for a permanent residence card as this scheme is no longer open to applications
  • You will only be able to apply for Pre-Settled or Settled Status under the EU Settlement Scheme if you were living in the UK by 31st December 2020 and you have a valid reason for not applying by the deadline of 30th June 2021. If you are not sure if you have a valid reason, speak to an immigration Solicitor who can advise you.
  • The EUSS application process is much faster and straightforward compared to ILR and is free of charge.
  • If you are a non-EU/EEA/Swiss national, you will need to apply for ILR, assuming you are eligible.

Once you have ILR or Settled Status, you will be able to apply for citizenship. To apply for UK citizenship, you must:

  • Be over 18
  • Have held ILR, Indefinite Leave to Enter (ILE), or Settled Status for at least 1 year
  • Have been living in the UK for exactly 5 years before you apply
  • Prove your knowledge of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic
  • Have passed the life in the UK test
  • Intend to continue living in the UK
  • Be of good character

How Can Reiss Edwards Help?

Our team will be happy to have a chat with you to discuss your situation and answer any questions you may have. Reiss Edwards is a top-tier immigration law firm based in Central London. We work with individuals, high-net-worth investors, and small, medium, large, and multi-national businesses to assist with their immigration and global mobility needs. We can assist with all aspects of your settlement application, including:

  • Explaining the immigration and settlement options available to you, your family, and your workers
  • Handle your application, including gathering the evidence and documents needed to support your case
  • Deal with UKVI on your behalf, including answering any questions they raise
  • Providing advice on how you can overcome any issues which may impact your eligibility
  • Review your application before it is submitted
  • Handle any refusals for a visa, settlement, or citizenship application.
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