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Settlement, Residence and Citizenship for Expats in the United Kingdom

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: July 2013

*In the referendum of 23rd June 2016, a majority of UK voted to leave the European Union. At present, however, until October 2018 at the very earliest, this decision will not have any effect whatsoever on UK immigration laws.

If you are immigrating from within the European Economic Area (the European Union plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) or Switzerland, you are generally free to live and work in the UK for as long as you want. If you not are from one of these countries, you may also be able to obtain these freedoms, though it will take longer.

The first stage of this process, usually available after you have been living in Britain for a minimum of five or ten years, is to apply for settlement, which is also known as permanent residence, and officially referred to as ‘indefinite leave to remain’. To apply for settlement, you will first need to find the correct type of Settlement Form, fill it in and submit it.

Unfortunately, expats do not always receive a hearty welcome in the UK. There is a strain of narrow-minded insularity in the British character that has become inflamed as the number of immigrants has risen during the past decade or so. Reflecting this, the right-wing Conservative-led government imposed new laws restricting immigration. For example, most applicants will need to have at least an intermediate level of communication in English - the level that is needed is officially called B1 or ‘threshold’. The best way to improve your English is to practise with English speakers you work or socialise with. However, you may still want to take English classes at one of the many English language schools. A list of British Council approved language schools can be found on their website, here.

You will also be expected to take the ‘Life in the UK Test’, which tests your knowledge of British people, institutions and culture. As you come to know more about Britain, you will get to know the answers to more of the questions. However, as some questions are obscure even to lifelong British citizens, probably the best way to help improve your score is by doing practice tests on websites such as this one : https://www.theuktest.com/

Another new settlement application requirement is to register or ‘enrol’ your biometric information. ‘Biometrics’ are simply your ten fingerprints and a digital photo of your face. The information is unique to each person and will be used to identify you. You can get your biometrics enrolled at most main post offices.

If your application is successful, you will have ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in the UK and will not have to go through immigration control when you re-enter the country. However, there are further stages to go through before you can become a full citizen.

A UK residence permit is officially known as ‘leave to remain’. This is granted for a number of years. For example, if you have been established as a genuine refugee, you may be granted an initial residence period of five years. Depending on your circumstances, your leave to remain may be extended by, for example, a year at a time.   

Your residence will also affect whether you pay tax in the UK. Previously, this was simply based on how many days you have stayed in Britain: if it was more than half a year, you were deemed a UK taxpayer. From April 2013, the strength of your family, work, property and social connections with Britain are also taken into account.

British nationality status is complicated because of the special relationship that Britain has with Commonwealth countries and territories. There are in fact six types of British nationality. Most immigrants, however, will want to apply for standard British citizenship.

In certain circumstances, such as if you have one of the other kinds of British nationality or if you have strong family connections with Britain, you may be eligible to register as a British citizen. Otherwise, the route to citizenship is via naturalisation. Once you have gained indefinite leave to remain, if you want to become a British citizen, you will need to live in the country for another 12 months. Once you have done this, if you have been living in the UK for five years, and physically present in the country for more than 75% of this time, you can apply for citizenship.

To be eligible for citizenship, you must have sufficient knowledge of British life (demonstrated by passing the Life in the UK test), and be of good character and sound mind. You must also be able to communicate in English to an acceptable level. If your level of English is too low, you will need to pass an English for Speakers of Other Languages course in English and citizenship. If your application is successful, you will have the right to live in the UK and freedom of movement within the EU.



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