Does Tier 4 Count Towards UK Settlement?
As anyone familiar with our blogs and the UK immigration system, in general, will know, answers to seemingly straightforward questions are seldom yes or no. When it comes to the question of whether time on a Tier 4 study visa counts towards settlement in the UK, the answer is typically given as no, but matters are not quite so clear cut. In this article, we will explain how long migrants need to be lawfully present in the UK to qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), and how time spent on a Tier 4 visa is counted.
What Are the ILR Qualification Rules for Those on A Tier 4 Study Visa?
The UK immigration system offers a route to Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after having lived in the country continuously and lawfully for a number of years, but not for all visa types. Most commonly, migrants need to have been in the UK for five years; for example, on the Tier 2 skilled work visa. Other visas provide an accelerated route to ILR, including the Investor visa (ILR can be achieved at two or three years depending on the level of investment made in the UK).
Unfortunately, the normal route to ILR is not available to those on a Tier 4 study. Most students in the UK who wish to remain will switch to another visa type (e.g., the Tier 2 work visa or a perhaps even a spouse visa), which will then allow them to start to acquire time towards ILR. By doing so, the clock on time spent in the UK to date is effectively reset; hence if you have been in the UK on a study visa for three years, you will need another five years on a qualifying visa type to then apply for ILR.
There is one way by which time on a Tier 4 visa can count towards ILR; the ‘long residence’ route.
What Is the Long Residence Route to Settlement in the UK?
The long residence route enables a person from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) to apply for ILR if they have been living in the UK for ten years. Crucially, as long as the person has been in the UK legally, different categories of leave to remain (i.e., different visa types) can be combined to make up the ten-year period. This is of particular benefit to those who have been studying in the UK for many years, as they may be able to apply under long residence sooner than they would have under another visa category. For example, a student who has been in the UK on a Tier 4 visa for six years (e.g., if they completed a degree, masters, and a PhD), would be able to apply for ILR through the ten-year-long residence route faster than if they switched to a Tier 2 work visa. In addition, this route to ILR is of benefit to anyone who has moved between different visa categories over the years, never meeting the five-year qualification period before they switched.
To qualify for long residence, you will need to satisfy the following eligibility criteria:
- Have permission to stay (‘leave to remain’) when you apply - in any immigration category, or a combination of different immigration categories
- Have been in the UK legally for ten years (known as your ‘continuous residence’ – see below)
- Have Kept to the terms of your UK visa
- Pass the Life in the UK Test
- Prove you have sufficient English language skills
The critical aspect of any application for ILR, whether through a shorter qualification period or long residence, is that you must meet the continuous residence criteria. In order to meet the continuous residence requirement when applying for settlement of any type, you will need to show that you have not been out of the UK for more than 180 days at a time, or 540 days in total during the ten-year period. The immigration rules also stipulate that you cannot count time spent in a prison, young offender institution or secure hospital, or in Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands.
What Other Visas Can I Switch to From A Tier 4 visa?
This will very much depend on your circumstances. If you are just graduating, you may wish to consider applying for the new Graduate Immigration Route, which will allow you to remain in the UK for a period of two years to find work with an employer who is a licensed sponsor. It is expected that this new route will be open in Summer 2021. Time on this visa will not count towards ILR, however, it will give you the time you need to find suitable employment. And once you have found employment, you can then switch to a Tier 2 visa, which will then count towards settlement.
If you have entered into a relationship with a British national (or person with ILR or settled status) in the UK, then you may be able to apply under the partner/spouse route. A spouse visa will allow you to remain in the UK as long as you remain in the same genuine relationship, and work without restriction. After five years on a family visa, you will be able to apply for ILR.
Other options available to you are the investor visa (for those with at least £2m in investment funds) and the start-up visa (for those wishing to set up a proven innovate business in the UK).
Once you have ILR, you will then be able to apply for British citizenship one year later.
Despite the fact that time on a Tier 4 study visa does not count towards qualification for the five-year route to ILR, there are a number of options available including ILR through long residence and switching to another visa type. If you are unsure of the most efficient path to ILR in the UK, speak to an immigration Solicitor who will look at all of the options available to you based on your individual circumstances.