Juan Eu Konek

The 20-year Rule on Long Residence for Undocumented Migrants and How to Regularise your status in the UK

By: Kyla Allyna Donnelly 

Introduced on 9th July 2012, the 20-year long residence replaced the 14-year rule, which formerly allowed undocumented migrants to apply for a shorter and more direct route to settlement. Prior to 2012, undocumented migrants who lived ‘continuously’ in the UK are permitted to apply for an Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) following their continuous 14 years continuous residence. However, since the introduction of the 20-year rule, an applicant is required to have continuously resided in the UK for at least 30 years, which includes the 20 years precarious residence and four successful Leave to Remain applications for 30 months at a time, totalling a further 120 months or 10 years. Arguably, this reflects the strict and hostile nature of the Home Office as the new rule amounted to the pulling of the carpet under the feet of most would be applicants at the time.

Nevertheless, to reflect the rights of undocumented migrants to a family and private life under Article 8 of the ECHR, Paragraph 276ADE(1)(iii) of the Immigration Rules allows a person who have lived continuously for at least 20-years in the UK to apply for leave to remain basis. Although some applicants might think that residing in the UK for the last 20 years would allow the Home Office to be more compassionate and understanding of their status, the human and economic impact of this rule should not be underestimated. Aside from completing the correct application form and making a valid application for leave, applicants must also satisfy the ‘suitability requirements’ generally on grounds of public good PL 2.1. and PL 2.2 of the Immigration Rules. This normally means that you should not have any criminal records (public good) and are not making an application for right to private life based on sham marriage.

Furthermore, the Home Office also requires proof of residence and continuous period of residing in the UK; therefore, one has to go on to show that he/she has lived in the UK continuously in the last 20 years back. It is suggested a paper trail showing what one has been up to over the years would be helpful. It is simply not enough to show photos taken in the UK or letter of support from friends over the years; proper documentations such as bank statements, medical records, passport stamps, tenancy agreement, employment records, HMRC documentations, utility bills, and colleges enrolled are just some of the examples of paper trail you should be able to show the Home Office. However, the problem lies with this: how many applicants would be able to acquit themselves by producing any of this evidence? Once undocumented, people are forced to become practically invisible to authorities. This marginal existence means avoiding any chances of being traced such as registering with ‘official’ institutions required for securing a contract of employment. This means undocumented migrants are forced to work cash-on-hand to be able to sustain themselves. Additionally, their insecure status disadvantages their pay prospects and can fail to protect them from exploitation and abuse in workplace. Therefore, applicants face a dilemma: risk the consequences of being deported from the UK or risk refusal of their Leave to Remain application by living in the shadows. Ultimately, these are the documents that the Home Office asks applicants to provide knowing fully that most applicants are not able to show these paper trails due to their illegal status.

The precarity of undocumented migrants has led to many of their human rights being effectively denied. Their state of invisibility denies their right to work and rent whilst limiting access to healthcare – contravening Article 25 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The latter links to the financial impact this 20-year rule pose for future applicants. Applying for Leave to Remain under the 20-year rule is undeniably more expensive compared to the 14-year rule. Regularise.org estimated in 2021 that the 20-year rule route represents an increase of more than £11,000 in costs for an undocumented person to eventually be granted ILR. At this time, the current fee for every Leave to Remain application is £1,033 and an Immigration Health Surcharge Fee of £624 per year. The final fee for Indefinite Leave to Remain application is currently at £2,389. For undocumented migrants who are not allowed to legally work in the UK, or even after obtaining their Leave to Remain status, have no rights to recourse to public funds or other welfare benefits, these Home Office fees create a higher financial threshold and ensures that access to healthcare becomes linked to immigration status.

As reiterated at the beginning of this article, The 20-year long residence rules do require applicants to satisfy a number of thresholds and to be aware of the many rules and exceptions which might mean they are not eligible. Living in the UK for the past two decades or more does not mean that the Home Office will be compassionate of one’s status no matter how integrated their life is in the UK. Anyone who wants to enter the UK or any country should respect each country’s immigration rules and avoid any mishaps with the authorities and the law to avoid paying the consequences in the future.