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Settlement Visa: How to Settle in the UK

Under the current UK immigration system, there is technically no such thing as a “settlement visa”. When people refer to a “settlement visa”, they are normally referring to settlement in the UK (Indefinite Leave to Remain or ILR), which provides the right to stay here permanently without a visa.

Most immigrants to the UK gain settlement once they have held a qualifying visa for a certain amount of time (5 years in most cases). Whether your visa will qualify you for settlement and the amount of time, you will need to wait until you can make a settlement visa application depends on the type of visa you currently hold.

In addition to Indefinite Leave to Remain, there are several other ways to gain settlement in the UK, as we will explore in this article.

How to settle in the UK

Some of the most common ways to settle in the UK are as follows:

British citizenship vs settlement visa

A UK settlement visa is not the same as British citizenship. Settlement is a step towards achieving British citizenship. Those who gain a settlement visa are able to apply for British citizenship after 1 year.

While those with a settlement visa in the UK can stay permanently, they can lose their status if they spend 2 or more consecutive years outside the UK. Those with British citizenship can, however, spend as much time as they wish outside the UK without the risk of losing their status. Furthermore, unlike those with a settlement visa, citizens enjoy the full rights of other UK nationals and can apply for a British passport.

In the next section, we will look at some of the most popular visa routes that allow holders to later qualify for a settlement visa.

Apply to Settle in the UK as a Spouse / Child / Dependant Relative

As a family member of a settled person, you may be eligible to settle in the UK under the family visa scheme once you have lived in the UK continuously for the required amount of time (5 years in most cases). The family visa route is most commonly used by spouses/partners and children of those who have settled in the UK. It is also possible for other family members to settle under the family route, including those who need to be cared for by a relative in the UK (adult dependent relative).

UK spouse settlement visa

As the spouse of a settled person, you can apply for a UK spouse visa if you are married, in a civil partnership, or unmarried but have lived together for at least 2 years. Once you have lived continuously in the UK for 5 years on a spouse visa, you can then apply settle to remain permanently in the UK with your partner.

Child Settlement visa

To gain a child settlement visa under the family visa route, applicants must be considered child dependant. Being a child dependant means that the applicant must live with their parents (unless they attend university or boarding school), is financially dependant on their parents, and does not live an independent life with their partner.

To make a successful application for a child settlement visa, applicants must:

  • Have a valid family visa as a child
  • Have a parent who is a British citizen or settled in the UK
  • Still, be a dependant on their parent
  • Pass the Life in the UK Test and meet the English language requirements if over 18 years when applying

Other dependent family member settlement visa

Other dependent family members who may be able to gain a settlement visa under the family visa route include adult-dependent relatives. Adult dependant relatives are family members (e.g. parents) who come to the UK to be cared for by a family member who is settled in the UK or a British citizen. This typically happens because the relative is unable to receive the care they need in their home country and hence come to the UK to be looked after by their family member.

To make a successful application for a settlement visa as an adult dependent relative, the UK-based family member must be settled (or in the process of settling) in the UK and have enough funds to care for the applicant for at least 5 years. There is no requirement for applicants under this route to pass the Life in the UK test or meet the English language requirements.

UK Settlement visa on Work, Business, or Long Residency

Those who do not qualify for a settlement visa under the family immigration scheme (as outlined above) can apply if they meet the minimum residency requirement on another qualifying visa (e.g. work visa or business visa).

Work-related UK settlement visa

The most popular way of gaining a UK settlement visa is through one of the various work visa routes. It is important to note, however, that not all work visas lead directly to settlement, e.g. the High Potential Individual (HPI) visa. That said, if a work visa does not qualify the holder for a settlement visa, it is possible to switch to a different type of visa that does qualify without leaving the UK.

Some of the most popular work visa routes that lead to a settlement visa UK include the Skilled Worker visa, the Health and Care Worker visa, and the new Scale-up visa. To qualify, applicants must normally:

  • Have lived in the UK for the required continuous period (normally 5 years)
  • Remain employed by their sponsor
  • Continue to meet the minimum salary requirements
  • Meet the English language requirement, and
  • Pass the Life in the UK test

Business-related UK settlement visa

Business visas, such as the innovator visa, also offer an excellent way to secure a UK settlement visa. To make a successful application for a settlement visa as an innovator visa holder, applicants must:

  • Have lived in the UK for 3 years or more under their innovator visa
  • Have a new endorsement proving that their business is continuing to grow, and
  • Pass the Life in the UK test

UK Settlement visa on a long residency basis

Another commonly used way to gain a UK settlement visa is on the basis of long residence in the UK. To apply for a settlement visa based on long residence, applicants must:

  • Have lived in the UK for 10 or more years continuously (i.e. no more than 180 days at a time or 540 days in total) – this can be with any combination of visa types or immigration categories
  • pass the Life in the UK Test, and
  • meet the English language requirements

UK Settlement visa requirements

The eligibility rules for settlement visas in the UK require that applicants:

  • Meet the time spent in the UK requirement – this means living in the UK continuously on a qualifying visa for the required time on a lawful basis. Continuous residence means that applicants must not have been absent from the UK for more than 180 days in any 12-month period
  • Pass the Life in the UK Test
  • Meet the English language requirements – typically by having an English qualification at B1, B2, C1, or C2 level, a degree taught in English, or by being from a qualifying English-speaking country, and
  • Be of good character

Depending on the type of visa held, settlement visa applicants may need to meet additional criteria, such as having a minimum salary and remaining in a sponsored job.

How long does a UK settlement visa take?

The UK settlement visa processing time typically takes up to 6 months (this is the standard processing time). If you need a faster decision, you may be able to pay an extra £500 to use the priority service to receive a decision within 5 working days; or an extra £800 to use the super priority service for a decision within 1 working day.

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