ILR – Securing Your Long-Term Future in the UK

Securing Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) from a spouse visa is a significant milestone in the immigration journey of foreign nationals married to British citizens or settled persons in the United Kingdom. ILR is a status that allows individuals to live and work in the UK without any time restrictions, offering a more stable and permanent immigration solution for couples who wish to continue to build their lives together in the UK. We all know marriages thrive on stability, and Indefinite Leave to Remain provides the security and certainty many foreign spouses crave.

Throughout this article, we will look at how you can qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain when living in the UK on a spouse visa. We’ll look at every aspect of the process, from the eligibility requirements to the documents required and, finally, the application process. By the end of this article, we should have answered:

  • What are the eligibility requirements for ILR for a foreign spouse?
  • When can I apply for ILR when I’m on a spouse visa?
  • What documents do I need to provide for ILR as a spouse?
  • How much does the ILR process cost?
  • How long does an ILR spouse application take to be processed?

Read on to find out the answers to these questions and many others.

ILR Eligibility Requirements for Spouse Visa Holders

It’s important to understand the eligibility criteria for ILR from the outset of your spouse visa to ensure a smooth transition once you’re eligible to apply. While immigration law can change and has changed in the past, the expectation is that requirements for ILR will not materially change going forward.

The following eligibility requirements apply to all spouse visa holders:

  • Residence Period: Applicants must legally reside in the UK for 5 years on a spouse visa. You must have maintained continuous residence in the UK for this period, with no absences exceeding 180 days within any 12 months.
  • English Proficiency: The ability to speak, read, and understand English is compulsory for ILR. All applicants must successfully pass an approved English Language Test at level B1 unless they are exempt. Examples of exemptions would include if you possess a degree taught in English, are a national of a predominantly English-speaking country, or are over 65 years of age.
  • Life in the UK Test: As well as being proficient in English, applicants must also demonstrate an understanding of British history and culture. All applicants must pass the ‘Life in the UK Test,’ which asks a series of multiple-choice questions on British customs, traditions, and history.
  • Good Character: All applicants are expected to meet the good character requirement, which means not having a criminal record and no history of violating immigration laws.
  • Financial Requirement: You must satisfy the financial requirement, which means you have a combined income of £18,600 between you and your spouse. This demonstrates your ability to support yourselves without relying on public funds.
  • Genuine Relationship: Your relationship with your spouse must remain genuine, and you must continue to live at the same address.
  • Valid Leave: Throughout your qualifying period, you must have maintained valid leave to remain in the UK. This means applying to extend your spouse visa before it expires.

All of these requirements are in place to ensure that anyone applying for and obtaining ILR is a law-abiding citizen and someone who will be a positive member of British society.

Indefinite Leave to Remain Documents for Spouse Visas 

As set out above, the eligibility requirements for ILR need to be satisfied by clear supporting documentation. When applying, you must provide specific documents to prove you meet the eligibility requirements.

When applying for ILR as a spouse visa holder, you will typically need to provide the following documents:

  • Passports & Travel Documents: Complete copies of all passports used by the applicant within the past 5 years must be submitted. This includes all expired passports, as they provide a record of your travel history.
  • Biometric Residence Permit: If you possess one, you must provide copies of both the front and back of your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) card.
  • Proof of English Language Proficiency: You must provide your English language test certificate showing a score of B1 or greater unless you’re exempt from taking the test. If you’re exempt based on an academic qualification taught in English, a UK ECCTIS certificate must be provided instead. Where your exemption is based on age or nationality, this can be satisfied by submitting your passport.
  • Life in the UK Test Pass Certificate: You must provide your test certificate showing you have successfully passed the Life in the UK test.
  • Proof of Income: To satisfy the financial requirement, you must supply evidence demonstrating your ability to support yourself (and any dependents) without relying on public funds. Documents will vary based on whether you’re employed or self-employed, but it can include payslips, bank statements, or tax documents.
  • Suitable Accommodation: It’s important to demonstrate you’re cohabitating with your spouse in suitable accommodation. To prove this, you should provide copies of your tenancy agreement or a mortgage statement, as well as council tax statement and recent utility bills.

The list above satisfies the standard requirements for an application for Indefinite Leave to Remain. However, your unique circumstances will dictate the exact documents you should provide and whether any additional evidence is required.

Process for Applying for ILR for Spouse Visa Holders

The Indefinite Leave to Remain application process has been streamlined and made entirely digital recently. All applications now follow this process:

  • Confirm your eligibility: Begin by verifying your eligibility and ensuring all of the eligibility criteria set out above are met.
  • Begin the application: Create an online application on the government website. You should select the ILR Set (M) Form for partners and fill in all the application information.
  • Collect your documents: Assemble all of your supporting documents, typically including proof of identity, evidence of continuous residence, documentation showing successful completion of the ‘Life in the UK’ test, financial documents, and proof of English language proficiency.
  • Submit your application: You must submit your application online, including uploading digital copies of all your supporting documents. You must also schedule an appointment at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) centre to provide biometric information.
  • Pay the fees: Pay for the relevant ILR application fee, which currently stands at £2,885 per applicant for the 6-month Standard Service processing option. If you opt for the Super Priority Service, the cost rises to £3,885 per applicant, but you should get a decision back within one working day after the biometric appointment.
  • Attend the biometric appointment: Attend your scheduled appointment, during which your photograph and fingerprints will be captured.
  • Wait for a decision to be made: Await the outcome of your application, with a decision typically taking just one working day through the UKVI’s Super Priority Service or up to six months with the Standard Service.
  • Receive your approval: Upon receiving a successful decision, you will be issued a new ILR biometric residence permit (BRP) ID card, which will be delivered to your home address within 10 working days. The BRP confirms your new immigration status. It is important to note that all BRP cards will expire on December 31, 2024, and no further BRP cards will be issued after this date. The UKVI is transitioning to a fully digital e-Visa system, and starting from January 1, 2025, your immigration status will be accessible online instead of through a BRP card.

When Can I Apply for ILR on a Spouse Visa?

As the saying goes, ‘timing is everything’, which is certainly true when considering when to apply for ILR. The timing of your application for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) is of utmost importance to ensure a smooth transition from your current spouse or partner visa to ILR status. As ILR necessitates 5 years of continuous residence in the UK, it is crucial to avoid applying too early or too late. Applying after your visa expiration could result in complications or even rejection. Likewise, applying too early will likely lead to refusal as you won’t have met the residency requirement at the time of application.

The ideal time to apply and submit your ILR application is 28 days before completing your 5 year residency in the UK. This 28-day window allows for processing time and helps prevent any potential overlaps that might disrupt your continuous stay.

When applying for ILR, it’s essential to remember that any absences from the UK should not exceed 180 days within any 12 months during the qualifying period. Violating this requirement is likely to have a very negative impact on your application and, quite possibly, an ILR refusal. So, if there are significant absences during your stay, you may want to consider extending your spouse visa rather than applying for ILR at this time. If you’re unsure whether you qualify for ILR, please get in touch. We’ll gladly discuss your circumstances and the options available to you.

How much does ILR costs for Spouse Visa Holders?

Application fees for visa and settlement applications are regularly reviewed and updated. As of 2023, the ILR application fees for spouse visa holders are as follows:

  • The Standard Service requires a fee of £2,885 per applicant. This service provides a decision within six months of your biometrics appointment.
  • In some circumstances, you can use a Priority Service for your ILR application for £3,385 per applicant. This expedited service shortens the processing time to five working days after your biometrics appointment.
  • For the quickest possible decision, the Super Priority Service is available for £3,385 per applicant. It guarantees a decision within one working day of your biometrics appointment.

Remember that these application fees are non-refundable and do not cover other potential costs, such as legal advice, English language tests, fees for the Life in the UK test, or charges for biometrics appointments.

Want to know more?

If you want to learn more about Indefinite Leave to Remain, you should visit our comprehensive ILR guide. Alternatively, why not get in touch with us so we can discuss your application and provide you with an understanding of how our knowledge and experience can benefit your application.