The secrets of the UK Ancestry visa – and how to get yours   

The UK Ancestry visa is one of the most versatile immigration routes in the UK. Many South Africans can qualify for this visa through a British-born grandparent. Sable International discusses some lesser-known intricacies and loopholes of this route.

This content is supplied by Sable International


What is the UK Ancestry visa?

The UK Ancestry visa allows Commonwealth citizens with a grandparent born in the UK, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, to live and work in the UK without any restrictions for a five-year period. Commonwealth countries that qualify include South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Dependants on the UK Ancestry route

This visa allows you to bring your dependants with you to the UK. This means your spouse, unmarried partner and any children under 18 who are included on your visa will have the same rights as you.

When a family intends to immigrate to the UK together, the main applicant and their dependants will need to apply together from outside of the UK. The dependants can join the main applicant at a later stage but will have to make a separate application from outside the UK. 

Who is eligible for a UK Ancestry visa?

You can apply for a UK Ancestry visa if you’re a Commonwealth citizen and are able to show that one of your grandparents was born:

  • In the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man or,
  • Before 31 March 1922 in what is now Ireland or,
  • On a ship or aircraft that was either registered in the UK or belonged to the UK government

In addition, you must be able to show that:

  • You are 17 years or older
  • You are able to work and you intend to work or seek employment in the UK for the duration of your visa
  • You can support and accommodate yourself and any dependants without access to any public funding

You can also claim ancestry if either you or the relevant parent were adopted. You may not, however, claim UK ancestry through your step-parents.

While visas like the Spouse visa or Skilled Worker visa are only valid for an initial two-and-a-half-year period, meaning you have to extend your visa before you will be eligible for indefinite leave to remain, the Ancestry visa is issued for long enough to qualify. After spending five years in the UK on the Ancestry visa, you will be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR), if you:

  • Have lived in the UK continuously for five years
  • Haven’t spent more than 180 consecutive days out of the country
  • Pass your English language test and Life in the UK Test

After spending a further 12 months in the UK on ILR, you may apply for UK citizenship through naturalisation and, if successful, you will be able to get a British passport.

Read more: New route to UK residency and citizenship thanks to a British granny – Sable International’s Mishal Patel

What are some secrets of the UK Ancestry route? 

1. Not everyone needs to satisfy the continuous residence requirement 

The continuous residence requirement is met when you have completed a five-year period of lawful and unbroken residence in the UK. You will “break” continuous residence if you are out of the UK for more than 180 days in any 12-month period – unless there are serious and compelling reasons. 

If your UK Ancestry visa was granted before 11 January 2018, then your absences will be assessed differently. 

In the UK Ancestry category, only the main visa holder needs to satisfy the continuous residence requirement for the purpose of ILR. Dependants on this route are not subject to the same requirement and do not need to complete five years of residence. This means that they can spend any amount of time outside of the UK and still qualify for indefinite leave to remain when the time for application comes.

2. Section 4L and other claims to citizenship 

As above mentioned, a key requirement for the Ancestry visa is to demonstrate lineage to a UK-born grandparent. In June 2022, Section 4L of the British Nationality Act 1981 came into effect which corrected historical injustices such as gender discrimination. Essentially, this means that there are people who may unknowingly be able to apply for British citizenship through their ancestry, instead of having to wait out the remaining time on their Ancestry visa and apply for ILR first.

Discover if you qualify for British citizenship through your heritage. Take our free British citizenship assessment.

While Section 4L as well as other routes to citizenship like Section 4C may offer the main applicant an option for immediate nationality, this may open the door of many benefits to your dependents also. If you became a British citizen while holding a UK Ancestry visa, then your children may also be eligible for British citizenship and your spouse or partner may qualify for ILR immediately.

3. You can get expedited UK citizenship for dependants

It is possible for spouses/partners and children who are dependents under the UK ancestry visa to obtain indefinite leave to remain immediately after the main applicant becomes a British citizen through an alternative route. Furthermore, dependent children may also have a route to British citizenship. It is important to note that this will only work if the main applicant becomes a British or settled person whilst they were holding a UK ancestry visa. 

Before embarking on any application for British citizenship, we urge you to discuss your case with one of our experts as there as there are factors you will need to consider for your dependants.

4. What if my spouse or partner is on a different visa category? 

It is possible to apply as a “dependant” of a UK Ancestry visa holder if you are in the UK on your own visa under a different visa category. If you are a spouse or unmarried partner to someone who is in the UK with a UK ancestry visa that will shortly be eligible for indefinite leave to remain, you could qualify for ILR with them – irrespective of how long you have been in the UK for.

The loophole here is that you don’t have to switch into the UK Ancestry visa category to be considered a dependant. As long as you meet the relationship criteria and definition of a spouse or partner, when your spouse or partner applies for ILR, you can be included on their application.

A practical example of this would be if Emily is already in the UK for a year on a Skilled Worker visa but her husband, James is nearing the five-year mark on his Ancestry visa. Because they are married, Emily meets the required definition of a spouse. James will be able to include her as a dependant on his ILR application and Emily won’t have to fulfil her five-year continuous residence requirement for ILR.

It is important to note that this is not possible for people who are in the UK as visitors or have been granted permission to stay for less than six months.

If you think you may be eligible for an Ancestry visa, get in touch with us on [email protected] or give us a call on +27 (0) 21 657 2180.