What are the 10 and 20 year rules on long residence?


The Immigration Rules permits immigrants to apply to remain in the UK on the terms of long residence. Those here legally can apply for indefinite leave to remain following 10 years’ continuous lawful residence in the UK.


Those who had gaps or periods of overstay can apply for limited leave to remain following 20 years’ continuous residence.


What is the 10 year rule on long residence?


Paragraph 276B of the Immigration Rules enables a person with 10 continuous and lawful years of residence in the UK to apply for indefinite leave to remain. But there are complications and qualifications.


What does “continuous” mean in long residence applications?


Paragraph 276B does not stand alone; other nearby paragraphs define some of the words and terms used. Paragraph 276A(a) sets out the definition of “continuous” for the purposes of paragraph 276B and the other long residence and private life rules.


(a) “Continuous residence” means residence in the United Kingdom for an unbroken period, and for these purposes a period shall not be considered to have been broken where an applicant is absent from the United Kingdom for a period of 6 months or less at any one time, provided that the applicant in question has existing limited leave to enter or remain upon their departure and return, but shall be considered to have been broken if the applicant:


(1) Has been removed under Schedule 2 of the 1971 Act, section 10 of the 1999 Act, has been deported or has left the United Kingdom having been refused leave to enter or remain here; or

(2) Has left the United Kingdom and, on doing so, evidenced a clear intention not to return; or

(3) Left the United Kingdom in circumstances in which he could have had no reasonable expectation at the time of leaving that he would lawfully be able to return; or

(4) Has been convicted of an offence and was sentenced to a period of imprisonment or was directed to be detained in an institution other than a prison (including, in particular, a hospital or an institution for young offenders), provided that the sentence in question was not a suspended sentence; or

(5) Has spent a total of more than 18 months absent from the United Kingdom during the period in question.

We can see from this paragraph that leaving the UK is broadly permitted, as long as the person:

  1. Has leave when he or she leaves;
  2. Does not remain outside the UK for more than six months at any one time; and
  3. Has leave when he or she returns.


There is one exception to the requirement of having leave at the time of leaving and returning to the UK.

The Long Residence guidance confirms that continuous residence is not broken if someone departed the UK before 24 November 2016, but after the expiry of their leave to remain, and applied for fresh entry clearance within 28 days of that previous leave expiring, and returned to the UK within 6 months.


Are absences from the UK permitted for long residence applications?


Any absence of more than six months will break “continuous residence” and so will departing the UK in certain circumstances. A break in continuous residence will in effect restart the clock.


In particular, the person is not allowed more than 18 months outside the UK in total, which is a period of 540 days. Days of departure and return do not count towards the total; it is only whole days outside the UK which count.


The Home Office policy on long residence cases covers some situations which seem to fall outside the rules. For example, the policy states that where there are absences in excess of six months at once or 540 days in total: it may be appropriate to exercise discretion over excess absences in compelling or compassionate circumstances, for example where the applicant was prevented from returning to the UK through unavoidable circumstances.


Caseworkers are instructed to consider the reason for absences and whether the applicant returned to the UK as soon as they were able. There is little further elucidation of when discretion might be exercised, suggesting that it will be rare, but not impossible.


For example, an application being successful on this basis when we could show that the applicant as outside of the UK for more than six months because the Home Office initially refused the application for entry clearance but later reversed its decision.


Had it not been for the Home Office’s first erroneous decision, the applicant could have returned to the UK within six months.

What does “lawful” mean?


To succeed under the 10 year rule, the 10 years of residence must be continuous and lawful.


“Lawful residence” is defined at paragraph 276A (b) as:


“Lawful residence” means residence which is continuous residence pursuant to:

(1) Existing leave to enter or remain; or

(2) Temporary admission within section 11 of the [Immigration Act 1971] (as previously in force), or immigration bail within section 11 of the 1971 Act, where leave to enter or remain is subsequently granted; or

(3) An exemption from immigration control, including where an exemption ceases to apply if it is immediately followed by a grant of leave to enter or remain.


So living in the UK with leave to enter or remain is lawful for the purposes of a long residence application, as is temporary admission or bail (e.g. asylum seekers) or exemption from control (e.g. diplomats) if that status is immediately followed by leave.


Where a person overstays, even for a short period or even accidentally, this will be unlawful residence. On the face of it, any period of overstaying at all will break a period of continuous lawful residence. There is a policy which may assist in some cases and which allows limited exceptions to be made.


Is it possible to qualify under the 10 year rule even if there are gaps in lawful residence?


The Long Residence guidance confirms that an application may be granted even when there are periods of overstay, provided the applicant:

Has short gaps in lawful residence through making previous applications out of time by no more than 28 calendar days where those gaps end before 24 November 2016

Has short gaps in lawful residence on or after 24 November 2016 but leave was granted in accordance with paragraph 39E of the Immigration Rules meets all the other requirements for lawful residence

Paragraph 39E, in turn, states:


This paragraph applies where:


(1) The application was made within 14 days of the applicant’s leave expiring and the Secretary of State considers that there was a good reason beyond the control of the applicant or their representative, provided in or with the application, why the application could not be made in-time; or

(2) The application was made:


(a) Following the refusal of a previous application for leave which was made in-time or to which sub-paragraph (1) applied; and

(b) Within 14 days of:

(1) The refusal of the previous application for leave; or

(2) The expiry of any leave extended by section 3C of the Immigration Act 1971; or

(3) The expiry of the time-limit for making an in-time application for administrative review or appeal (where applicable); or

(4) Any administrative review or appeal being concluded, withdrawn or abandoned or lapsing.


In addition, the long residence guidance instruct caseworkers to consider exceptional circumstances when the period of overstay was longer than 28 days and prior to 24 November 2016.


There does not appear to be an equivalent provision when the period of overstay was longer than 14 days after 24 November 2016.The guidance goes on to confirm that:


The threshold for what constitutes ‘exceptional circumstances’ is high, but could include delays resulting from unexpected or unforeseeable causes.


For example:

  • Serious illness which meant the applicant or their representative was not able to submit the application in time – this must be supported by appropriate medical documentation
  • Travel or postal delays which meant the applicant or their representative was not able to submit the application in time
  • Inability to provide necessary documents – this would only apply in exceptional or unavoidable circumstances beyond the applicant’s control, for example: it is the fault of the Home Office because it lost or delayed returning travel documents
  • There is a delay because the applicant cannot replace their documents quickly because of theft, fire or flood – the applicant must send evidence of the date of loss and the date replacement documents were sought


If an applicant does not fall into one of the exceptions above, a period of overstay will mean that the “10 year clock” will need to restart from the time immediately after overstay.

Other Requirements


In addition to showing 10 years’ continuous lawful residence in the UK, to have a successful application under these Rules an applicant must show that:

  • There are no reasons why granting leave is against the public good
  • They have passed the Life in the UK test
  • They speak English at level B1
  • They are lawful residents in the UK at the time of the application except for any period of overstaying for 28 days or less which will be disregarded where the period of overstaying ended before 24 November 2016 where overstaying on or after 24 November 2016, leave was nevertheless granted in accordance with paragraph 39E of the immigration rules.


The earliest that someone can apply under the 10 year rule is 28 days before completing the qualifying period of 10 years.


An application made more than 28 days before 10 years are on the clock will be refused. It is possible to submit such an application at the Premium Service Centre.


What is the 14 year rule on long residence?


There used to be a rule which allowed a person to qualify for indefinite leave to remain after years of continuous residence in the UK, where the residence could be lawful, unlawful or a mixture of both. The rule was abolished in 2012 and it is no longer possible to make use of it. It was replaced with the 20 year rule.


What is the 20 year rule on long residence?


What kinds of residence qualify for the 20 year rule?


The 20 year rule on long residence is contained at paragraph 276ADE(1)(iii) 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” is almost the same as for the 10 year lawful residence route. However, time spent in prison will not break continuous residence. Instead time in prison will simply not be counted towards the period of residence. Time before and after imprisonment can be aggregated to make up the full amount of time.


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


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

  • Not falling for refusal under Section S-LTR.1.2-2.3 and S-LTR.3.1 of Appendix FM, known as “the suitability grounds”;
  • Making a valid application for leave; 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 (generally on grounds of public good) or if their application is not valid (for example, they did not pay the correct fee).


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.


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 10 and 20 year rules on long residence there are some additional long residence rules which are worth mentioning.


Seven year residence rule for children and families


Under paragraph 276ADE(1)(iv) of the Immigration Rules, a child who has lived in the UK for seven years might qualify for limited leave to remain, if he or she can show that it would not be “reasonable” for him or her to relocate abroad.


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.


Registration as British if born in UK plus 10 years’ residence


Under s.1(4) of the British Nationality Act 1981, an individual will be entitled to registration as a British citizens if he or she was born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983 was not a British citizen at birth has lived in the UK for the first 10 years of his or her life during that 10 years has not been out of the UK for more than 90 days in any one of those years and 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 applicant was unaware of the requirements
  • The parents’ absences with the child were entirely voluntary
  • The “half of life” rule for under 25s Immigration Rule 276ADE(1)(v) 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.


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 Paragraph 276ADE(1)(vi) 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 to which he would have to go if required to leave the UK.


There is guidance on what will constitute very significant obstacles in the “Family Migration: Appendix FM Section 1.0b Family Life (as a Partner or Parent) and Private Life: 10-Year Routes” guidance.

The extracts below illustrate how high the test is, at least as far as the Home Office is concerned, and how the Home Office is very rarely inclined to grant applications on this basis:


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 is to assume that the applicant will be able to integrate into their country of return, unless they can demonstrate why that is not the case.


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 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.


Judges might potentially take a more reasonable view. In the case of Secretary of State for the Home Department v Kamara [2016] EWCA Civ 813 Sales LJ 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.


Changes to how judges consider the “very significant obstacles” were also looked at by Thomas Beamont in this post. So, the 10 and 20 yearlong 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 7 and 10 year residence periods for children will be more widely available, but obviously only to children.


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