A couple of months ago, Tola and I received our UK Indefinite Leave to Remain / Permanent Residency.
Technically, ours was a straightforward route. If you’ve been employed in the UK on an applicable work permit for 5 years, you’re very likely to have it approved at the end of the time period. Nonetheless, that 0.01% uncertainty and in our case 24 hour wait still made us feel a bit tensed.
A UK ILR means that we can live in the UK permanently. It also means no more visas to work or study, access to the National Health Service (NHS) without paying the NHS surcharge, as well as other applicable social benefits. Any child born while you have an ILR is also a British citizen by right.
Tola jokes that he’s upgraded my life, as I filed as his dependent. I countered that my employing law firm was going to sponsor my work visa anyway. In truth, filing as a dependent had its advantages.
But first, how and why did we end up in the UK? You can read on for the back story and the 8-year journey, or jump straight to the bottom for the ILR application tips and guidance.
You may know we both went to school and university in Nigeria. I had never been to the UK and Tola had visited a couple of times. But he moved here first for his masters in January 2011. After convincing me to ditch my Harvard Law and US law school dreams in favour of a UK LLM degree, I moved to the UK on a Cambridge Commonwealth Scholarship in October 2012. This marked the end of across-the-ocean long distance relationship. As I settled and lived in Cambridge, Tola took up a job in academia in Coventry. The visa situation was relatively easy because the UK Post Study Work visa still existed at that time. This allowed graduate students a period of two years to remain in the UK. So his PSW visa sometime in began in August 2012 to end in August 2014. The PSW was later cancelled that year but has now been re-introduced.
The PSW did not count towards the five-year period mentioned above. Although Tola could have switched to a qualifying Tier 2 visa because his employer was a recognised sponsor. At that time though, he claimed he wasn’t a 100% certain about remaining in the UK. So he was going to try it out for the two year period and possibly return home to Nigeria. I also think the process of switching from PSW to Tier 2 and the extra costs to be incurred was a deterrent.
On my part, at the end of my LLM, I had to return to Nigeria in 2013 on the terms of my scholarship. But I had also secured a top job at a UK law firm. Only glitch was that it was to start in 2015! The law firm was also a qualifying sponsor and would have sponsored my work visa / Tier 2 visa.
To cut this short, we had our civil ceremony in April 2014, and I filed as a dependent on Tola’s PSW visa to join him in the UK. We included the entire kitchen sink and more in that application especially as he had only two months left on that visa. From wedding photos, to email communication spanning six years, phone records, hand written letters and cards, his UK documents – all sorts! By our traditional and Church wedding in June and July 2014, I had received my visa and we were ready to give the UK a chance.
I started UK law school (the Legal Practice Course) in July 2014 after I arrived the country. With a dependent visa, I didn’t need a study visa. Tola’s PSW had two months left but he was going to remain with his employer and they had filed for his Tier 2 work permit.
In August 2014, after the PSW expired he switched to a Tier 2 visa, I again filed as his dependent. I resumed my new job in London in March 2015, and Tola still worked in Coventry. To make both locations work for us, we had decided to live in Milton Keynes. It was approximately a one hour commute east and west for both of us
The initial Tier 2 visa was for a period of 3 years which began in August 2014 and expired sometime in August 2017. It was then renewed for a further 3 period to expire in August 2020.
When we had our son in 2017, we applied for a dependent visa for him as well. Although he technically didn’t need this, a permit is required for overseas travel. And we planned to travel with him at five weeks so we went for it!
In August 2019, and after five years on the Tier 2 visa we became eligible and secured the ILR at some point later.
I’d heard of someone who put in her resignation from her current employer / visa sponsor because she had secured a new job and they were going to file for her. Unfortunately, the filing was not successful. As she had already resigned, the current permit became inactive and she had to leave the UK. That’s the concern of many work permit holders and switching jobs.
Tola hadn’t really fancied changing jobs all these while which worked perfectly for us. And then in February 2019, he got headhunted for a role he was very keen to take up. Our ILR application was to be made in August. I was a bit anxious.
“Can’t they wait till August?” I asked. They couldn’t, and wanted an immediate response and start.
“Maybe you don’t have to take up the job? I’m sure something better will come up after August. Why take chances?”
“It’s a great one Kachi,” he countered. “Don’t worry about it”.
He applied to switch visas first and had secured the new work visa before uttering a word about resigning.
The only downside was that we had to make full payments for a new application which was going to be valid for just under 5 months. Worse when you think that we still had a valid from from the first employer.
The dependent can switch jobs easily! What most people on a Tier 2 visa will tell you is that because your permit is tied to your employer it is such a pain to switch jobs because you have to find a qualifying employer and secure another work permit. As a dependent with a valid visa, you’re not the main applicant and this doesn’t apply. So I switched jobs easily, while Tola didn’t actively consider for the most part.
We only had to submit one application all the time – dependent is really just an appendage (although one that pays full cost). But from a logistics perspective, there was one main applicant and it was an easier process.
The process itself is rather straightforward but there are a few tips that could help for a smoother process.
Before you’re granted ILR, the UK government needs to be sure that you can live and integrate in the UK. I had thought this test needed to be taken after the application, but the pass result must be submitted with the application. So book and take your test ahead of time. It seems like an easy test but it could be tricky and people fail it.
Most people use the Life in the UK test book and online data bank of questions to study for it. I chose that route while Tola listened to podcasts during his daily drive. I was a bit nervous because I didn’t feel prepared enough and was writing a test with him. What if he passed and I failed? Thankfully we both passed! More details on the test here.
You’ll need to have proof of this. If you have a UK higher degree that would be fine. For us both, our masters degree sufficed. If not you may need to take the IELTS or other similar exam. More details here.
You are eligible for the ILR provided you haven’t spent a certain amount of time outside the UK within the five year period. You’ll need to provide evidence of this by showing your date of absences and any travel outside the UK. If you travel extensively, this could be a bit of a pain locating the dates of travel. It’s advisable to create an excel sheet, gather and input the information ahead of time.
A number of documents are required for the ILR application process. While these do not seem onerous in themselves, it is helpful to review the list ahead of time and ensure they are easily available. These include previous communication from the Home Office, letters from current employers, payslips and documents showing continuous residence such utility bills and council tax statements. In our case the documents showing continuous residence needed to have both our names on them – so we had to search for documents that fit the bill.
Rumour has it that the UK government makes more money from visa and settlement applications than from taxes! The visa applications and ILR are not cheap. For 2019/2020, the ILR costs were £2,389 per person. And yes, dependents pay the full cost. This is the standard fee for the regular turnaround time. But it’s worth investing in the priority service to get a decision within 24 hours. That’s an extra cost per person of £800. So approx £3,200 per person.
With all of this, you should be fine!
Are you in the UK ILR process or PR journey in another country? How has the journey been? Have you emigrated previously? What country, if any would you consider emigrating to?
PS: Today marks exactly 12 years since we met! Read our “how we met” story.