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Settlement in the UK

20 Jul 2018

This briefing gives details about how many migrants are granted settlement in the UK every year, their demographic characteristics and the various bases for their grants of settlement. It also discusses permanent residence for non-EEA citizens.

  1. Key Points
    • There were 63,941 grants of settlement to non-EEA migrants in 2017. This was an overall decrease of 73% since the 2010 peak, though there was a 5% increase in grants of settlement from 2016 to 2017
    • In 2017, 36% were granted due to ‘other reasons’, 28% were granted on the basis on employment, 28% were granted on the basis of asylum, and 8% were granted on the basis of family formation and reunification
    • Grants of settlement on the basis of asylum have grown since 2008, but remain well below their mid-2000s peak. Grants for ‘other discretionary reasons’, which include former asylum seekers, became the most frequent category for the first time since 1997
    • Migrants entering the UK with a family visa in 2011 were more likely to gain settlement within 5 years later compared to those who entered with a work or a student visa
    • The countries with the highest proportion of nationals obtaining settlement 5 years after entry are Pakistan (among those entering with work visa in 2011) and Nigeria (among those entering with family visa in 2011)
    • Grants of permanent residence to EEA nationals and their family members increased sharply after the EU referendum
  1. Understanding the Evidence

    A grant of settlement from the British government confers legal permission to live permanently in the UK without being subject to immigration control, although it does not confer full citizenship status. Data on settlement (also known as ‘indefinite leave to remain’, or ILR) come from Home Office administrative sources. The majority of grants are from individuals that are already living in the country (98%). EEA citizens are not currently subject to immigration control and therefore are not included in the settlement data.

    The Home Office counts all grants of settlement issued and publishes data on the total number of grants, the basis of grants (residency and work, family, asylum, study) and demographic information on the recipients (age, gender, nationality). Since grants of settlement involve a transaction with the government, trends over time are not purely the product of migrants’ arrivals and subsequent decisions to stay; changes in government policies and capacity for processing applications can also influence trends in settlement data. In addition, the successive EU enlargements during the 2000s meant that European citizens of countries such as Poland (2004 enlargement) or Romania (2007 enlargement) were no longer included in the statistics on settlement.

    The ‘family’ category is a possible source of confusion in settlement data. Settlement grants on the basis of family go to individuals who are related to a British citizen or previously-settled British resident (usually as their spouse or child). People can also qualify for settlement as ‘dependents’, or family members of migrants who are themselves just gaining settlement. That is, when the “principal” migrant in the family qualifies for settlement, that person’s dependent family members are eligible to be granted settlement at the same time. Thus, ‘dependents’ are a grey area for statistical categorisation – they qualify for settlement because of their family relationship with the ‘main applicant’, but that main applicant must have some other basis (such as work with residency or asylum) for settlement. Some analyses group dependents with other family settlements while others group dependents with the ‘principal’ settlement applicant. In this briefing dependents are usually classified in the same category as the main applicant in their families.

    Under EU law, EEA citizens receive ‘permanent residence’ (PR) rather than settlement. This is a different status and it has some key differences from settlement. In particular, while the UK remains a member of the European Union it is not necessary for EEA citizens to apply for PR, although from November 2015 this card is required for citizenship applications for EEA nationals. EEA citizens are deemed to automatically acquire permanent residence if they have been continuously living in the UK for at least 5 years as a student, worker, self-employed person, self-sufficient person or jobseeker, and they can apply for documentation to show that they have acquired PR status. This is expected to change after the UK leaves the EU, at which point EU citizens, whether or not they are already permanent residents, will be required to apply for ‘settled status’. More information on the settled status programme is available on a dedicated government webpage.

Overall levels of settlement in 2017 were down by 73% from the 2010 peak, though there was a 5% increase from 2016 to 2017

The highest ever number of recorded settlement grants in the UK (since comparable records began in the 1960s) was in 2010, at 241,192. The number of grants of settlement decreased between 2010 and 2012 after which it temporarily increased in 2013. The declining trend continued until 2016, followed by a 5% increase of settlement grants in 2017.

As shown in Figure 1, in 2017 there were 63,941 grants of settlement to non-EEA migrants. This is the second lowest level since 1998, the lowest being in 2016 with 60,670 settlement grants (note that citizens of countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007 were still non-EU citizens before those dates and thus included in settlement grants.) The increase from 2016 to 2017 was small (5%) and still represents a 73% decrease from the 2010 peak.

Prior to the peak in 2010, the trend over the past two decades had been mostly growth. Annual settlements averaged at 54,070 in the five-year period from 1990-1994, and grew in each of the next five-year periods to an average of 68,570 during 1995-1999, 125,760 p.a. (2000-2004), and 156,428 p.a. (2005-2009). There is reason to think that the 2009-2010 peak was an outlier to this trend. Some of this peak was driven by “other discretionary” settlement grants stemming from a programme to clear a backlog of unsuccessful asylum seekers, discussed in more detail below.

Figure 1

Source: Home Office, Immigration Statistics October to December 2017, settlement table se.02

The overall decrease in settlement grants since 2010 is not driven by a single category, however: work, family, and ‘other’ bases for grants of settlement have all declined considerably since that year. The only exceptions to this declining trend were 2013 and 2017, when the grants for settlement respectively increased by 19% and 5% compared to the previous year.

The apparent interruption in the increasing trend between 2006 and 2008 may represent changes in policy and record-keeping, rather than an actual change in patterns of migration and settlement application (see evidence gaps and limitations below). In April 2006, the residency requirement for settlement grants for migrants in work-based categories changed from four years to five years. This temporarily reduced settlement as people waited an additional year for eligibility, but then may have led to higher numbers once the wait ended.
Settlement grants are also affected by the number of entries in previous years, which affect the number of people newly eligible for settlement after a period of residence. For example, one reason behind the decline in work-related settlement grants from 2011 to 2014 is the falling numbers of work visas that were issued for people coming to the UK from 2007-2009. See our briefing: Immigration by Category: Workers, Students, Family Members, Asylum Applicants.

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The decrease in settlements from 2013-2016 was driven by declines in the family and work categories, while 5% increase in 2017 was led by the asylum and other categories

Figure 2

Source: Home Office, Immigration Statistics October to December 2017, settlement table se.02

The declining trend in family-based settlement initiated after the changes to the Immigration Rules in 2012 has not stopped in 2017 despite the 5% increase in grants for settlement during the last year. The 2012 policy change extended the time required before applying for settlement as a spouse or civil partner from 2 years to 5 years. This has led to a temporary reduction in the number of people newly eligible for family settlement. Overall, family formation and reunion has become a smaller share of settlement over time, remaining well below its 56% share of settlement grants in 1997.

Grants on the basis of employment and residency (including dependents) peaked at 84,347 in 2010 before falling to 38,712 by 2014 and further down to 18,111 in 2017. The decline from 2010 onwards is consistent with a decrease in the numbers of people coming to the UK for work in the second half of the 2000s. The number of people granted entry visas for work in Tiers 1 and 2 of the points-based system (plus their dependants), for example, fell by more than 40,000 between 2006 and 2009.
There has also been a decrease since 2006 in the share of work migrants gaining settlement within 5 years. According to the Home Office “Statistics on changes in migrants’ visa and leave status: 2016”, 19% of people issued skilled work visas in 2011 gained settlement (14%) or citizenship (5%) 5 years later. This is a decline compared to the 25% who gained settlement 5 years after being issued a skilled work visa in 2009. Some, but not all, of the decline in the share of work migrants gaining settlement may be attributable to the £35,000 minimum income threshold, which restricts eligibility for work-based settlement for workers who would otherwise have become eligible for settlement from April 2016.

Employment was the most frequent category of settlement grant from 2008 to 2016, with one exception in 2013 when settlement for family reasons was slightly higher. In 2017, however, the most frequent category was settlement due to ‘other reasons’ (36%), discussed further below. Work-related grants for settlement represented 28% of the total, a decrease of 10 percentage points compared to 2016. The asylum category (28% of the total) increased by 4% compared to 2015, while family is, as in 2015, the migration category where fewer people were granted settlement (8% of the total).

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Grants of settlement on the basis of asylum have grown since 2008. Settlement due to ‘other reasons’ became the most frequent category for the first time since 1997

Settlement grants to asylum seekers are not only represented in the asylum category. In fact, former asylum seekers have been also placed in the ‘other’ reasons for settlement category. This category includes a type called ‘other discretionary grants’ which includes a programme to resolve a backlog of cases involving refused asylum applicants who continued to live in the UK (Home Office 2010: 124, xvii). The Home Office states that the programme began by prioritising candidates for removal, and then progressed to those who ‘may be allowed to stay in the UK’.

The grants of settlement for asylum (including dependents) have fluctuated since 1997 in both absolute terms and as a share of all settlements. There were 11,780 settlements for asylum (20% of all settlements) in 1997, (a peak of) 67,810 in 2005 and 17,722 in 2017 (about 28% of all settlement of that year). The peak in 2005 came from the Family ILR Exercise (Home Office 2010: 38), which granted settlement to some asylum seekers whose cases had not been decided after three years or more of living in the UK. The decline after 2005 probably stems from two factors: a long-term drop in numbers of asylum seekers, and the temporary effects of another policy change that year. In August, the UK stopped granting immediate settlement to refugees and other asylum applicants. Instead, applicants were granted limited leave to remain with the opportunity to apply for settlement after five more years of UK residence. Thus, new refugees granted leave to remain in 2006 would not be eligible for settlement until 2011, after which the numbers began to increase again.

But what the data do reveal is that grants of settlement under this ‘other’ category increased more than sixfold from 2006 to 2010. In 2006, this category comprised 9% of all settlement grants, including 7,720 labelled as ‘other discretionary grants’ in more detailed figures. By 2010, ‘other’ grants had increased to 82,686, or 34% of the total, before falling to 8,746 by 2012 (6.7% of total grants). After this year, the settlement grants due to other reasons continued growing, surpassing the work-related grants in 2017 and becoming the most frequent category for settlement for the first time since 1997 (22,843 or 36% of the total settlement grants in 2017).

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Almost 80% of migrants entering with a family visa in 2011 gained settlement or citizenship by the end of 2016, though this share is much lower among those who enter with a work visa (13%) or a student visa (1%)

The data for the 2011 migrant cohort shows that the probability of gaining settlement in 2016 is highly dependent on the route used to enter the UK (family, work or study). As shown in Figure 3, among migrants entering with a family visa in 2011, 79% gained settlement or citizenship in 2016, while this percentage decreases to 13% for those entering with a work visa and to 1% for student visa entries.

Figure 3

Source: Home Office, ‘Statistics on changes in migrants’ visa and leave status: 2016’, volume 1, Tables mj.01, mj.02 and mj.03

The nationalities with the highest number of migrants granted settlement in 2016 were India (16% of the total settlements), Pakistan (12% of the total settlements), and Nigeria (5% of the total settlements). However, this is likely to be related to the fact that these were the nationalities sending the highest number of settlement applications. What is more relevant is to identify the proportion of people gaining settlement for each national origin 5 years after entering the UK with a valid visa.

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The countries with the highest proportion of nationals obtaining settlement 5 years after entry are Pakistan (among those entering with work visa in 2011) and Nigeria (among those entering with family visa in 2011)

Pakistani nationals are the group with the highest proportion of people with settlement grants or British citizenship 5 years after entering the UK with a work visa (42%). The share of people gaining settlement among the 2011 cohort was also high for migrants from China (28%) and South Africa (26%). However, among Americans, Canadians and New Zealanders entering the UK with a work visa in 2011, only 4% had settlement grants or citizenship in 2016.

Table 1

Percentage of people granted settlement or citizenship among the top 12 nationalities in the 2011 cohort issued visas (work, family and study)

Rank (absolute numbers)NationalityNumber who entered with work visa in 2011Granted Settlement or Citizenship in 2016 (%)
3United States12,1644
4New Zealand5,1764
12South Africa2,10026
Rank (absolute numbers)NationalityNumber who entered with family visa in 2011Granted Settlement or Citizenship in 2016 (%)
3United States2,41766
7Sri Lanka1,06463
Source: Source: Home Office, ‘Statistics on changes in migrants’ visa and leave status: 2016’, volume 1, Tables mj.01, mj.02 and mj.03.


With respect to the cohort of migrants entering the UK in 2011 with a family visa, Nigerians are the group with the highest share of settlement grants or citizenship in 2016 (86%), followed by migrants from Philippines (85%), India and Pakistan (83%).

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Grants of permanent residence to EEA nationals and their family members have increased sharply since the UK voted to leave the EU

Grants of permanent residence to EEA nationals and their family members averaged approximately 14,000 per year from 2004 to 2015 (Figure 3). EU nationals’ residence status was considered to be secure under EU law, and a key reason for applying was to confirm residence rights for non-EU family members. From 2004-2015, 45% of PR documents were granted to non-EU nationals.

 In 2016 and 2017 this trend changed. PR document grants averaged 117,000 in these two years, and 87% of grants were to EU nationals. The higher number of PR documents issued to EU nationals still represent a small fraction of more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK (see the Migration Observatory briefing, ‘EU migration to and from the UK’).

Figure 4

Source: Home Office Immigration statistics, Table ee.02
Note: data include non-EEA family members

Evidence gaps and limitations

Changes in settlement grant trends may results from changes in policy or internal record-keeping, rather than actual changes in the numbers of migrants coming to live and settle in the UK. For example, as discussed above, significant changes in the number and bases of settlement grants since 2005 are attributable to changing methods of handling backlogs of asylum applications (Home Office 2010:  38-40). The related rise in ‘other discretionary’ grants creates additional problems for analysis, as we do not have further information on the people granted settlement in this category – for example, how many were main applicants vs. dependents, and what their characteristics are, such as age, gender, and nationality.

The process for EEA nationals to secure long-term residence rights is changing, with a new system expected to be implemented in late 2018. For more information on this process, see the reports and commentaries listed under ‘Rights of EU citizens’ on the Migration Observatory’s Brexit page.


  • Home Office. “Control of Immigration: Statistics United Kingdom 2009.” Statistical Bulletin, Home Office, London, 2010.
  • Home Office. “User Guide to Home Office Immigration Statistics.” Home Office, London, May 2016.
  • Home Office. “Statement of Intent: Family migration.” Home Office, London, June 2012.
  • Home Office. “Settlement.” Home Office, London, 3 March 2016.

Further reading

  • Castles, Stephen. “Guestworkers in Europe: A Resurrection?” International Migration Review 40, no. 4 (2006): 741-766.
  • Castles, Stephen and Mark J. Miller. The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World, 4th ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009: 33-43.

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