How I got my ILR Settlement Visa Approval in the Midst of a Global Pandemic
The process to get a visa approval is stressful at the best of times, let alone during a period where people are legally required to stay in their homes. Though I've had plenty of visa experience (see my post on my fiancé visa approval here), submitting and the subsequent approval of my UK ILR Settlement Visa has been an entirely new experience altogether.
An ILR visa, or a Settlement visa, means the person in question can stay in the country for an indefinite length of time, as opposed to the FLR visa, which only allows the visa holder to stay for 2.5 years. An ILR visa can be equated to an American Green Card. To be eligible to apply, you must have lived in the UK for a total of 5 consecutive years on your current visa (in my case, it was the FLR(m), or spousal visa.)
As was the case with all of my visas (four now!), we did not hire a solicitor or seek any outside legal help. Whilst this is a viable and worthwhile option for those whose visa cases may be a bit more complicated, or who simply do not want to do the paperwork and evidence-gathering themselves, we have always found the process easy enough (if not time consuming), so do it on our own.
Here was my personal process to my eventual ILR visa approval:
1. Check Eligibility
Eligibility will differ slightly due to which route you choose, but for my FLR to ILR visa, considering I still live with and am married to my spouse, who is a British citizen, I needed to prove eligibility on the following points:
- Have lived in the UK for the last 5 years consecutively
- An income of over £18,600 a year (it increases if you have dependants)
- No criminal record in the UK
- Can pass the Life in the UK Test
- Meet the English Language requirements
Because my country of origin is an English-speaking country, I was exempt from this requirement. The others, though, I had to provide paperwork and details proving I met the standards. For my detailed post on how to pass the Life in the UK Test, please click here.
2. Complete Application on Gov.uk
The application paperwork for the most part is fairly straightforward, though incredibly detailed and lengthy. It's 16 pages long, and broken up into several parts, such as:
- Personal Information (ie, Name, DOB, gender, residence, etc)
- Nationality Details (From your country of origin)
- Addresses (all past residences in the UK)
- Spouse/Partner details (proving that you are genuinely married, they are a UK citizen)
- Travel History
- Current Partner Personal Information
- Biometric Residence Permit Details (for your current visa)
- Finance (your employment information)
3. Required Documents
Perhaps the most time-intensive part of the visa is the gathering of all of the required documents. Many of them were repeats of the ones I needed for my Fiancé Visa and FLR(m) Visa, so we felt quite prepared to do this, as we've got them saved in storage folders, and reuse quite a lot of the same information, with various updates.
The required documents for my Family Route Settlement Visa were:
- My current passport from country of origin (USA, for me)
- A declaration signed by my partner (document provided for download) - A signed contract of employment from my employer
- A signed contract of employment from my partner's employer
- 6 months payslips from my employer
- 6 months payslips from my partner's employer
- Letter from my employer confirming salary and permanent employment
- Letter from my partner's employer confirming salary and permanent employment
- 6 months bank statements from my account
- 6 months bank statements from my partner's account
- 6 letters addressed to both my partner and I, at least one from each of our past UK residences
- Evidence of Council Tax Costs for our current residence
- Evidence of my partner's settled status in the UK (we used his passport)
- Current Biometric Permit (in this case, my FLR(m) visa)
- Evidence of monthly housing costs (we attached our mortgage agreement)
It sounds like quite a lot, doesn't it? Usually, we would need to either ship these documents off to the Home Office in Sheffield, or bring them along with us for an in-person appointment, but because of the pandemic, we were unable to do either. Instead, I was sent an email inviting me to download an app called UKVCAS, which allowed me to virtually upload my documents via the camera on my phone.
In the name of full transparency, I'm often open about how expensive visa applications are - and I think it's important for people to know, as you don't get a refund should your application be refused (although the Home Office insist that they will often try to ask for more supporting information rather than just issuing a flat refusal). My ILR Family Route visa cost £2408.20, which was the cost for an in-person appointment (usually you'd get a decision on your visa approval day-of, which is why the in-person appointments are a bit more costly). It is a bit disappointing that considering I was unable to attend an actual appointment for my visa, that they didn't refund a portion of this cost, but the Home Office didn't acknowledge this at all.
5. Life in the UK Test
A major difference in the ILR visa as opposed to the FLR is that you must pass the Life in the UK Test in order to be approved. Usually you'd need to book this a month or two before submitting your visa application (one of the questions on the application is if you've passed the test and they ask you to provide a reference number). However, again because of the pandemic, testing centres were closed for several months while the country was in lockdown. Once they reopened, I had only a few weeks before my current visa expired, so the UKVA helpline recommended I submit my application before I'd even had a chance to take the test. Thankfully, I was able to book the test in for shortly after I'd submitted my application, and passed the first time. The testing fee is £50 for every attempt you make, which was another reason I was keen to pass the first time.
For more information on how I passed my LitUK test, please read my detailed post about it.
6. Approval Process
The UKVA website says that approval for the ILR visa can take up to 6 months, and due to COVID delays, they suspected it may be longer. I submitted my visa application mid-July, and had to wait to submit my documents via the app (they were accepting documents in waves) until mid-August. I then got my visa approval the week before Christmas, so sometime mid-December, which makes my approval process four months.
Whilst I was waiting on my visa, my current FLR(m) visa expired. I was informed by the UKVA helpline that when awaiting a new visa approval, your current visa is extended. My employer was thankfully happy with this explanation, and I obviously did not leave the country during the time, so I encountered no issues with this, other than some anxiety over living with an expired visa for about three months!
All in all, it was a difficult and nerve-wracking process, heightened by the uncertainty of the global pandemic. If you have any questions about my process, or would like any more details about a certain step in this visa journey, please feel free to contact me! As a disclaimer, I always like to say that I am NOT a qualified visa advisor, but I am always more than happy to offer advice or personal experiences from this process.