Indefinite Leave vs British Citizenship: Benefits & Differences

by | Oct 20, 2021 | British Citizenship, Indefinite Leave to Remain, Naturalisation, UK Immigration

Updated on 10 November 2023

There are a lot of misconceptions about the difference between ILR and citizenship. The truth is that while they may seem similar, there are actually many differences between the two. Although there is a lot of overlap, there are important differences that should not be overlooked. For one, the requirements needed to obtain each status vary significantly from one another. And secondly, different rights are granted under each status. So it’s important to know which status is suitable for you and how you can obtain it.

In this post, we will explore the requirements, benefits and key differences between each status.

ILR Requirements

Indefinite leave to remain, also known as ILR, essentially means permanent residence in the UK. ILR allows you to live and work here without restrictions or a time limit. Once you’ve obtained ILR status, you are no longer subject to UK immigration controls, which means you can travel to and from the UK whenever you like.

There are several (Limited Leave to Remain) visa categories that lead to ILR, but you’ll need to have lived in the UK for a specific period of time. While most visas allow you to apply for indefinite leave to remain after five years, some allow you to apply after two years or even up to 10 years. Regardless of which category of visa you are coming from, each category of visa will have additional requirements that must be met along with the continuous residence and English language requirements to obtain ILR.

Children on dependant visas are granted ILR simultaneously as their parents and do not need to take the Life in the UK test or prove their English language proficiency. 

As of 04 October 2023, the fee for an application for Indefinite Leave to Remain is £2,885. 

Once you obtain ILR, you remain a national of your home country, and you will remain subject to the laws of your country of citizenship.

ILR to British Citizenship 

One of the requirements of British Citizenship by Naturalisation is that you have achieved ILR by spending time living and working in the UK. Naturalisation status gives you the right to a British passport and the full rights of a UK citizen. 

It takes up to six months to process a citizenship application, and you must attend a citizenship ceremony within three months of your application being approved. A standard adult British passport usually takes about six weeks to be issued. There are five basic requirements to apply for British citizenship through naturalisation that most applicants must meet; you must:

  • Be over 18 years old;
  • Be of “good character”. Generally, this means that you have followed laws and respected its rights and freedoms. Such as paying your income tax and National Insurance contributions, among others and passing background checks;
  • Be currently living in the UK;
  • Meet the English language requirements;
  • Pass the “Life in the UK” test.

These are the general requirements for naturalisation, but most applicants must also have the following:

  • Lived in the UK for at least five years without an absence longer than 450 days;
  • Travelled outside of the UK for no more than 90 days in the last year;
  • UK permanent residence (for EEA nationals) or been granted indefinite leave to stay in the UK for non-EEA nationals, and you must have had this for at least one year.

Spouses and civil partners of British citizens may have different requirements. As the application process is complex, it is important that you apply the first time correctly and avoid potential mistakes that may lead to a refusal.

As of 04 October 2023, the application fee for naturalisation is £1580, which includes the citizenship ceremony fee of £80.

Benefits of Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK

With ILR, you retain your nationality. The main benefit to ILR over any other (limited leave to remain) visa category is the freedom to live, work and study in the UK free of time restrictions, meaning that you won’t have to worry about applying for visa extensions or having to leave the UK. 

In addition, having ILR means that you will have access to the UK’s benefits system, and you will also no longer have to pay the immigration health surcharge (IHS) to be able to access the NHS.

Many migrants assume that as they have applied for ILR, they should continue their immigration journey and apply for British Citizenship. However, it is important to seek advice from an experienced immigration lawyer to ensure that British Citizenship is the best route for you and your family. For example, if you acquire British Citizenship and your country of origin does not allow dual citizenship (countries such as India do not allow dual citizenship), you will lose your legal links and status in your home country. This may affect not only you but also your children and family. 

Benefits of becoming a British citizen

There are many benefits of obtaining British citizenship status. 

Once you have naturalised as a British citizen, you will be given the same rights as any other UK national. British citizenship gives you the right to vote in all UK elections and to stand for office.

You will be eligible to apply for a British passport, and you can travel freely in and out of the country and spend as long as you want outside the UK without being subject to immigration restrictions.

The UK government also allows dual citizenship, so you don’t have to give up your original citizenship to become a British citizen. 

Becoming a UK citizen will mean you can apply for citizenship for your children born outside the UK. Any children you have inside the UK will automatically be British citizens.

Differences between ILR and British citizenship

The main difference between holding ILR status and being a British citizen comes down to the rights that you are granted under each. Also, ILR is a necessary step on the path to British citizenship. The main differences are:

You cannot lose your citizenship

While some circumstances can result in your citizenship being revoked, it’s uncommon. With UK citizenship, you can freely enter, exit, live and work in the UK forever. There are no rules about the length of time that you can spend overseas.

However, If you’ve been away from the UK, Ireland or the crown dependents for more than two years, your ILR or settled status will be lost. You will have to apply for a Returning Resident visa. It’s up to the discretion of the Home Office to grant the visa, and you’ll have to prove that you plan to return and live in the UK permanently.

British passport with citizenship

Before applying for citizenship, you must hold ILR for a minimum of 12 months. Once your British citizenship application is successful, you can take the next steps and apply for a British passport. 

Right to vote

While ILR doesn’t let you vote in UK elections, having citizenship gives you voting power, just like any other British citizen or British citizen by birth.

Extra steps

After your citizenship application is granted, you must attend a citizenship ceremony before being given a certificate of naturalisation. Then you can apply for a British Passport. With ILR, however, upon a successful application, you are simply sent a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) as proof of your immigration status.

How can we help

Our friendly and experienced immigration team can assist you with the process of obtaining your citizenship or ILR status. Contact our team at [email protected] or + 44 20 8757 5751.

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