Updates, commentary, training and advice on immigration and asylum law

What is the 20 year rule on long residence and other private life applications?

The immigration rules allow some people to apply to remain in the UK on the basis of long residence. Those who had periods of overstaying can apply for limited leave to remain following 20 years’ continuous residence.

We have a separate briefing on applying for indefinite leave to remain for those who have had ten years of lawful and continuous residence.

What kinds of residence qualify for the 20 year rule?

The 20 year rule on long residence is contained in Appendix Private Life of the immigration rules. Under the 20 year rule, a person does not have to have lived in the UK lawfully, but simply “continuously”.

The definition of “continuous residence” can be found here:

PL 7.2. The period of continuous residence at PL 3.1, PL 4.1. or PL 5.1. does not include any period during which the applicant was serving a sentence of imprisonment or was detained in an institution other than a prison.

PL 7.3. The period of continuous residence at PL 3.1, PL 4.1. or PL 5.1 is broken (i.e. is no longer continuous) if any of the following apply:

(a) the applicant has been absent from the UK for more than 6 months at any one time; or
(b) the applicant has spent a total of 550 days or more absent from the UK during the period of continuous residence at PL 3.1, PL 4.1 or PL 5.1; or
(c) the applicant has been removed, deported or has left the UK having had an application for permission to enter or stay in the UK refused; or
(d) the applicant left the UK with no reasonable expectation at the time of leaving that they would lawfully be able to return.

Effectively, time spent in prison is “disregarded” for the purposes of the calculation. It doesn’t break continuity of leave but neither can it be counted towards it. The guidance confirms this: “Time spent in prison will not be counted towards the period of continuous residence, but time before and after that imprisonment can be counted”.

What prevents a person from qualifying for the 20 year rule?

The only requirements to meet under the 20 year rule are:

  • applying using the correct form;
  • making a valid application for leave; 
  • not falling for refusal under the “suitability requirements”; and
  • having lived continuously in the UK for at least 20 years

Therefore, where an applicant has had 20 years’ continuous residence in the UK, their application may only be refused on suitability grounds or if their application is not valid (for example, they did not pay the correct fee).

This is, of course, assuming they can prove they have lived in the UK for 20 years. Where someone enters the country illegally, there is no clear record of the entry in the Home Office’s records so it is especially important to evidence each year of residence, if possible. Even where someone entered on a visa, they are expected to show that they were present in the UK, ideally for each year of their claimed residence, with evidence. This is especially important for any periods that they were without leave.

Where someone does not have documentary evidence showing 20 years of residence, the Home Office will often refuse such applications. However, it is still possible to win an appeal against such a refusal, especially if the applicant can provide witnesses who can give evidence about their residence in the UK.

What kind of status does the 20 year rule lead to?

If the application is successful, an individual will be granted limited leave to remain for a period of 30 months. It will usually have a condition of “no recourse to public funds” attached to it. That condition can be lifted in certain circumstances, explained in detail in this briefing

A person will then be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain once they have accumulated a period of 120 months (i.e. 10 years) lawful residence. So, under the 20 year rule, it will be 30 years from entry to the UK before the person is eligible to apply for settlement.

Other rules on long residence

As well as the 20 year rule on long residence there are some additional long residence rules which are worth mentioning.

Seven year residence rule for children and families

Under Appendix Private Life of the immigration rules, a child who has lived in the UK for seven years might qualify for leave to remain, if he or she can show that it would not be “reasonable” for him or her to leave the UK. Children who meet these rules and were born in the UK can be granted indefinite leave to remain immediately. Those who were not born in the UK can be granted 30 or 60 months’ leave, and will be eligible for indefinite leave after 60 months’ continuous leave. 

Under paragraph EX.1 of the immigration rules, an applicant who has a “genuine and subsisting parental relationship” with that child should also be able to make an application for leave to remain as a parent. You can read more about this route in this blog post.

Registration as British for children with 10 years’ residence

Under section 1(4) of the British Nationality Act 1981, a person will be entitled to registration as a British citizen if he or she:

  1. was born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983,
  2. was not a British citizen at birth,
  3. has lived in the UK for the first 10 years of his or her life,
  4. during that 10 years has not been out of the UK for more than 90 days in any one of those years, and
  5. is of good character.

The Home Office has discretion to allow an application even where absences exceed 90 days in any one year or more of these 10 years. Guidance on when discretion will normally be exercised is contained in the Registration as British citizen: children document and is as follows:

You should normally waive excess absences if:

  • the number of days absent from the UK in any one of the years does not exceed 180 days and the total number of days over the 10 year period does not exceed 990 days
  • the number of days absent exceeds 180 or 990 respectively but was due to circumstances beyond the family’s control, such as a serious illness

You must not waive excess absences over 180 days in a single year or 990 days in the 10 year period where:

  • the only reason was that the applicant was unaware of the requirements, without there being any special circumstances
  • the parents’ absences with the child were entirely voluntary

In addition, since July 2022, the Home Office’s guidance confirms that they will “normally register” children who have lived in the UK for 10 years, even when they were not born here, when:

  • the child is in the UK lawfully
  • the parents have regularised their own status
  • where necessary, both parents consent to the registration or any objections by the non-applying parent are ill founded
  • there is no reason to refuse on character grounds (see the guidance on good character)

The guidance also goes on to set out circumstances in which they will consider granting registration, even when the above requirements are not met.

The “half of life” rule for under 25s

Appendix Private Life allow applicants aged between 18 and 24 years old who have spent half of their life living continuously in the UK to apply for leave to remain. Successful applicants can ask to be granted 30 or 60 months leave, and will be eligible for indefinite leave after 60 months’ lawful residence in the UK. 

However, applications can still be refused on the basis of too many absences from the UK during that time or on various public good grounds.

The “very significant obstacles to integration” rule

Lastly, Appendix Private Life also allows those who do not meet any of the above rules to apply for leave to remain where there would be “very significant obstacles to the applicant’s integration into the country where they would have to live if required to leave the UK”.

There is guidance on what will constitute very significant obstacles in the guidance on Private life. The extracts below illustrate how strict the test is, at least as far as the Home Office is concerned, and how officials are very rarely inclined to grant applications on this basis, in particular for those who arrived in the UK as adults:

When assessing whether there are “very significant obstacles to integration into the country to which they would have to go if required to leave the UK”, the starting point for someone who has lived outside the UK as an adult is to assume that the applicant will be able to integrate into their country of proposed return. In such a case the burden of proof is on the applicant to demonstrate that in his or her case there are now very significant obstacles to that integration.

[…]

Where there are no family, friends or social networks in the country of return that is not in itself a very significant obstacle to integration – many people successfully migrate to countries where they have no existing ties.

[…]

Where there is credible evidence that an applicant cannot speak any language which is spoken in the country of return, this will not in itself be a very significant obstacle to integration, especially if the applicant will be returning with or joining family members, unless they can also show that they would be unable to learn a language of that country, for example because of a mental or physical disability.

[…]

Lack of employment prospects is very unlikely to be a very significant obstacle to integration – in assessing a claim that an absence of employment prospects would prevent an applicant from integrating in the country of return, their circumstances on return should be compared to the conditions that prevail in that country and to the circumstances of the general population, not to their circumstances in the UK.

Judges might take a more reasonable view. In the case of Secretary of State for the Home Department v Kamara [2016] EWCA Civ 813, Lord Justice Sales held:

In my view, the concept of a foreign criminal’s “integration” into the country to which it is proposed that he be deported, as set out in section 117C(4)(c) and paragraph 399A, is a broad one. It is not confined to the mere ability to find a job or to sustain life while living in the other country. It is not appropriate to treat the statutory language as subject to some gloss and it will usually be sufficient for a court or tribunal simply to direct itself in the terms that Parliament has chosen to use.

The idea of “integration” calls for a broad evaluative judgment to be made as to whether the individual will be enough of an insider in terms of understanding how life in the society in that other country is carried on and a capacity to participate in it, so as to have a reasonable opportunity to be accepted there, to be able to operate on a day-to-day basis in that society and to build up within a reasonable time a variety of human relationships to give substance to the individual’s private or family life.

The case of Parveen v Secretary of State for the Home Department[2018] EWCA Civ 932 is a useful reminder that it is important for anyone making a “very significant obstacles” argument to particularise and set out in detail why it is that that specific applicant would encounter significant obstacles to re-integration — rather than simply quoting case law and precedents.

Conclusion

The 20 year long residence rules do require applicants to meet a number of requirements and to be aware of the many rules and exceptions which might mean they are not eligible. That said, they are not impossible to meet and individuals will be successful if they meet the rules. The seven and 10 year residence periods for children will be more widely available, but obviously only to children.

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Alex Piletska

Alex Piletska is a solicitor at Turpin Miller LLP, an Oxford-based specialist immigration firm where she has worked since 2017. She undertakes a wide range of immigration work, including family migration, Points Based System applications, appeals and Judicial Review. Alex is a co-founder of Ukraine Advice Project UK and sits on the LexisPSL panel of experts and Q&A panel. You can follow her on Twitter at @alexinlaw.

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