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Ben Maitland explains the benefits of the UK Ancestry immigration route for those who qualify and their relatives.

The UK Ancestry visa: a handy route to settlement for Commonwealth citizens with UK-born grandparents

The history of the Commonwealth is linked to the decolonisation of the British Empire in the first half of the last century, with the vast majority of the Commonwealth of Nations’ 56 states former British colonial territories.

As well as cultural, political, legal and sporting links, Commonwealth countries share many familial connections with the United Kingdom, and this is reflected in one of the easiest routes to British citizenship for Commonwealth nationals who qualify: ancestry.

How generous are the UK Ancestry visa rules for Commonwealth citizens?

When the UK Ancestry immigration route was first introduced it was pretty measly compared with the rights Commonwealth citizens had previously enjoyed. The UK Ancestry provisions came into force at the beginning of 1973 courtesy of the Immigration Act 1971, having been drafted during the lead up to the UK’s seismic and pivotal shift away from the Commonwealth and towards the EU.

Now, however, the UK Ancestry route is the pick of the crop for those who are eligible, as it is unusually generous compared to other UK immigration routes, with some unique advantages.

I do not intend to repeat the rules of the route which are set out in Appendix UK Ancestry as well the Home Office Guidance, but I will highlight how it differs and is more generous than other immigration routes.

Initial requirements for the Ancestry immigration route

There are only a few requirements. The applicant must be a Commonwealth citizen and at least 17 years of age at the time of application with a grandparent born in the UK or British Isles (this includes the Republic of Ireland if the grandparent is born before 31 March 1922 or a British registered ship or aircraft).

There is no requirement for the applicant’s parent or grandparent to have been married and the applicant or the parent can have been adopted if the adoption is recognised in the UK.  Step-parents or step-grandparents do not count though.

Financial and work requirements for the UK Ancestry visa

So far, so generous, but then we get to the work and financial requirements. Firstly, there is no need for sponsorship. In fact, there is no need for work. It is almost unique as an immigration route in allowing an applicant to simply show that they are ‘able to work and intend to seek and take employment’. Even the old Tier 1 Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, aimed at recruiting the brightest and the best, usually required evidence of previous earnings, but under the UK Ancestry route a 17-year-old Commonwealth citizen with a UK-born grandparent need only demonstrate they are able and intend to work. This can be done by providing past evidence of work anywhere in the world or future offers of employment in the UK, including registering with a UK recruitment agency. Work includes, employment, self-employment, part-time work and even voluntary work, though obviously this last category will require stronger evidence in meeting the financial requirements.

The financial requirements themselves refer to a previous and more generous era where the applicant need only show they are able to maintain and accommodate themselves and any dependants while in the UK without recourse to public funds. The rules specify that this can include ‘credible promises of financial support from a third party, such as a relative or friend of the applicant’.

Switching to and extending a UK Ancestry visa

Switching into the Ancestry route is only possible where an applicant has already entered the UK on an Ancestry visa. However, there is no requirement for the UK Ancestry route to have been the most recent grant of permission. So an applicant can enter on the UK Ancestry route, switch into another route and then switch back into the UK Ancestry route again.

Unlike other routes such as the Youth Mobility Scheme, the UK Ancestry route can be extended indefinitely.

How is Ancestry a particularly good route to UK settlement?

The anomalous attributes of the UK Ancestry route are clearest when it comes to the requirements for settlement.

Usually with UK immigration routes to settlement, an applicant for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) will need to still be on the route for which they qualify for ILR at the time of application. While the usual rules apply regarding residence, absences, English language and Knowledge of Life in the UK, there is no requirement for the applicant’s most recent permission to stay to have been on the UK Ancestor route, so they can rely on any previous five-year period of residence they have held as a UK Ancestor visa holder.

Unlike many other work visa routes, there is no requirement to be employed at the date of application or to have been continuously employed over the relevant five-year period. If applicants are employed at the date of application, the evidence required can simply pertain to their current employment or self-employment. If they are unemployed at the date of application, they can still qualify, but they will have to provide evidence of employment for as much of the five-year period as possible and either explain periods of unemployment or provide evidence they were looking for work.

The benefit of a UK Ancestry visa for relatives wishing to settle in the UK

Perhaps one of the best aspects of the UK Ancestry route is how dependent partners can qualify for settlement. Under most work visa routes, as well as family members under Appendix FM, partners need to complete a specific qualifying period of the route to get settlement, usually five years. In many instances, previous time spent in the UK under a different route may not count towards this qualifying period.

Under the UK Ancestry route though, there is no specific qualifying period for dependants.  Dependent partners qualify for settlement as soon as the person on UK Ancestry qualifies for settlement or British citizenship. It also means, and the guidance gives an example of this, where an applicant with permission to stay in the UK subsequently marries a person who has already been granted settlement on the UK Ancestry route, they too can be eligible for settlement, even though they have spent no time on the route themselves.
Fifty years on and it seems, for the moment at least, the UK Ancestry route has escaped the Home Office’s all-pervasive desire for uniformity and kept some of its idiosyncratic characteristics to the benefit of those commonwealth citizens with UK ancestry and their dependants.

You can contact us for advice on negotiating this or any other UK Immigration routes on +44(0)207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com.