Are you from (or living in) Central America but planning on moving to the UK? Here’s what you need to know about long-term visas, Indefinite Leave to Remain, and eventual citizenship.
Most Central Americans (apart from citizens of El Salvador) won’t need a visa to travel to the UK as tourists or for visiting family and friends, although they must still meet the Standard Visitor eligibility requirements. But those seeking to stay in the UK for over six months (or permanently) should apply for suitable visas.
What visas are available for you when moving to the UK?
Central American citizens moving to the UK have access to a plethora of different visas. Some visa programs are more demanding than others but offer more freedom once granted. Choosing the right visa type can be a very challenging task, so it’s worth speaking to a qualified immigration expert.
As a rule of thumb, you should submit your visa application before traveling, although exceptions exist for certain business travelers. The application must have the proper supporting documentation with it to lend credence to your eligibility.
The available visas for Central Americans moving to the UK fall under the following categories:
- Work visas
- Business visas
- Family visas
- Student visas
Below, we’ll focus on the visas that may earn you the possibility of applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) and, in time, British citizenship.
Central Americans with job opportunities in the UK can apply for the following long-term work visas:
- Skilled Worker Visa: For skilled workers who fulfill certain salary and skill level thresholds
- Health and Care Worker Visa: For healthcare professionals with qualified job offers from the National Health Service (NHS) or one of its suppliers
- Scale-up Worker Visa: For those talents with job offers from a rapidly-growing UK business
- International Sportsperson Visa: For elite professional sportspersons or coaches
- Minister of Religion Visa (T2): For those offered a position as a minister of religion, member of a religious order, or missionary
Central American entrepreneurs interested in moving to the UK and investing in a UK-based business to acquire ILR status have limited options, since the British government scrapped regular entrepreneur and investor visa programs in the wake of Brexit.
The only available visas for entrepreneurs and businesspeople that may qualify you for ILR (at time of writing) include:
- Innovator Visa: For those wishing to run an innovative venture in the UK that’s distinct from anything else on the market and also endorsed by an approved body
- Global Talent Visa: For potential leaders in academia, research, arts, culture, and digital technology
Central American citizens wishing to reunite with family members residing in the UK (who are either British citizens or permanent residents) can apply for a family visa.
Family visa routes that make you eligible for settled status and, potentially, British citizenship include:
- Spouse/Partner Visa: For Central Americans over the age of 18, whose spouse/partner is a British citizen (or in the UK under ILR/settled status) and with a UK-recognized union. They must prove they’ve been living together for the past two years to apply.
- Fiancé Visa: For those not yet married or joined in civil union, but are planning to do so within the next six months of arrival from Central America
- Parent Visa: For parents of a British or UK-settled child (or applying for settlement)
- Child Visa: For children who have a family visa (except if their relative has refugee status or humanitarian protection) and whose parent is a British citizen or legally settled in the UK. Children under 18 who were born in the UK before their parents settled therein are also eligible, regardless if they never had a visa
- Adult Dependent Relative Visa: For dependents over 18 whose caretaker relative lives in the UK without relying on public funds
Student visas, by themselves, do not grant access to Indefinite Leave to Remain status. Still, you may switch to a Graduate Visa or a High Potential Individual (HPI) Visa, which will open the gateway for some of the eligible work visas.
How to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain
Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) gives Central Americans clearance to live in the UK on a permanent basis and enter and leave the country at their leisure, free from strict immigration control.
Furthermore, ILR constitutes a springboard toward becoming a British citizen.
To apply for ILR, you must have been living legally in the UK for five years. For some Innovator or Global Talent visa holders, this timescale could drop down to three years.
Other requirements include the following:
- You must have lived in the UK under an eligible visa (non-eligible visas won’t count towards your qualifying period if you opt for the 5-year route)
- You must not have violated any UK immigration laws or committed any serious offenses during your stay
- Your legal residence in the UK must have been continuous, meaning your absences from the UK should not have exceeded a period of 180 days within a 12-month timeframe
- You ought to show you have knowledge of the English language at least at level B1 on the CEFR scale. Do this by passing an English exam or a degree taught in English at an approved institution of higher learning
- You should pass the “Life in the UK” test, which evaluates your knowledge of British history, culture, and traditions
You’re exempt from the English language requirements if:
- You’re over 65.
- You’re under humanitarian protection.
- You were a victim of domestic abuse.
- You’re a widow/widower of a British citizen or UK-settled person.
You would not have to take the Life in the UK test if you’re over 65 years of age, under 18, or have a confirmed long-term mental or physical condition.
You would be exempt from applying for ILR if:
- You’re eligible for British citizenship by descent or on any other grounds for automatic granting
- You’re a child dependent of a British citizen or UK-settled person
- You’re an adult who relies on the long-term care of a family member with British citizenship or settled status
- You’re a refugee resettled in the UK via the Gateway Protection Program
How to Apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain
To apply for ILR, you need to provide the following documents:
- Two identical passport photos
- Document showing your current leave to remain or visa
- Documents supporting your absences, if any
- Documents showing you fulfill the minimum income threshold (whenever applicable) and have the financial means to support yourself (bank statements, pay slips, etc.)
- Proof you’ve met the English language prerequisite and passed the “Life in the UK” test (if applicable)
An ILR application should take up to six months to be processed and you must pay a £2,404 ($2,570) fee. The process is almost entirely done online. You can upload your biometric data through the UK Immigration: ID Check app or by scheduling an appointment with the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS).
Can I Lose My ILR Status?
You could only lose your Indefinite Leave to Remain if:
- You’ve been abroad for more than two years
- You committed a serious crime that may warrant deportation or obtained your leave fraudulently
- The UK government deems it necessary to revoke your ILR to preserve the public good
- You are the spouse, partner, or dependent of a person who’s been subjected to a deportation order.
Obtaining British citizenship
Central Americans with ILR status can apply for British citizenship after 12 months, unless they’re married to a British citizen and have lived in the UK for at least three years before the application date, in which case they’re not bound to a waiting period.
If you were born in the UK on 1 January 1983 or later, you also can claim automatic British citizenship and request a confirming letter or your UK passport.
You can also ask for citizenship if:
- You have a British parent (though certain conditions apply and you might not pass citizenship to your children)
- You hold another type of British nationality (e.g., you’re a British overseas citizen, British protected person, etc.)
- One of your parents is a “British overseas territories” citizen
- You’re not recognized as a citizen of any country (you’re stateless)
- You had UK citizenship but gave it up
- You couldn’t get citizenship earlier because of an exceptional circumstance
To apply under ILR, you must fulfill the following conditions:
- Your absences from the UK should not have exceeded 450 days during the previous five years, nor 90 days during the last 12 months
- You should not have broken any immigration laws
- You must be of outstanding character (e.g., no criminal convictions or fraudulent behavior.)
- You must prove your knowledge of English
- You ought to have passed the “Life in the UK” test
- You must be under ILR status for 12 months unless married to a British citizen (as stated earlier)
Whether you’re a Central American moving to the UK for work, study, family, or any other reason, we hope we’ve given you some insight on the legalities of doing so.