UK Ancestry Visa – all your questions answered

Ancestry visa
Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

The UK Ancestry visa remains one of the most popular ways for persons and their dependents to live and work in the UK. However, not everyone is lucky enough to qualify under this route. Below we have clarified some of the Ancestry visa issues on which we get many questions.

Applicants from Zimbabwe

Although Zimbabwe is no longer part of the Commonwealth, they are treated as such by the Home Office for the Ancestral visa.

Zimbabwean nationals with a grandparent born in the UK can thus apply for the UK Ancestry Visa if they fulfil all the other criteria.

Applicants from Cyprus and Malta

Until recently, citizens from Cyprus and Malta were able to use their EU free movement rights to live and work in the UK. The ending of free movement between the UK and the EU on 31 December 2020 ended this free movement. Persons from Cyprus and Malta, who did not take up settlement in the UK by this date, no longer have free movement.

However, Cyprus and Malta are members of the Commonwealth.

Nationals from Cyprus and Malta with a grandparent born in the UK can thus apply for the UK Ancestry visa, provided that they fulfil all the other criteria.

Second Ancestry Visas

The UK Ancestry visa is valid for five years. After five years in the UK on this visa, the holder should qualify to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain. If the applicant does not qualify, it is possible to apply for an extension of the visa.

In some cases, persons leave the UK before reaching Indefinite Leave to Remain, and the Ancestry visa expires. In such cases, it is possible to apply for another Ancestry visa from outside the UK. 

Age Limits

Many persons are worried that there is an age limit on the UK Ancestry visa.

To qualify to apply, you have to be 17 years of age or older. There is no upper age limit. However, you will have to prove your intention and ability to work in the UK.

Working while on the UK Ancestry visa

One of the advantages of the UK Ancestry visa is that there are no work restrictions. The visa holder can start his/her own business, be self-employed or employed, or a combination.

However, the visa holder has to work and intend to work while on the visa. If you state that you do not intend to work on your application, the visa will be refused.

Furthermore, to qualify to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after five years on this visa, you will have to provide evidence that you have been working during the five years.

It is also possible to meet the Ancestry visa requirement to work or seek work by doing voluntary work in the UK. However, applicants have to show that they have sufficient funds to support themselves in the UK. If an applicant does not have any income from UK employment, you have to meet this requirement in another way.

Adopted children and Step-children

Breytenbachs have several clients who enquire whether the Ancestral ties must be through blood relations. The good news is that persons can also apply for the UK Ancestral visa if they are adopted. Or through the parent through whom they are claiming ancestry is an adopted child. One can also claim ancestry if either you or the relevant parent were born within or outside marriage.

It is, however, not possible to claim UK ancestry through step-parents.

Dependants qualifying for Indefinite Leave to Remain

One of the interesting rules of the UK Ancestry visa is that dependants of the Ancestry Visa holder can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain at the same time as the main visa holder. However, they will not qualify for British citizenship until they complete their full five-year residence in the UK.

With the new Borders and Nationality Act now in force, we foresee that many Ancestry Visa holders will be able to apply for British citizenship immediately.

The dependants of such Ancestry Visa holders will thus be able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain straightaway as long as the main applicant held a UK ancestry visa before they obtained British nationality. 

They will thus not have to switch into another visa category, such as a spouse or child settlement and can apply for ILR straightaway.

However, the dependents will still have to complete five years of residence in the UK before qualifying for British citizenship. 

English Language Requirement

There is no English language requirement attached to an application for a UK Ancestry visa.

However, you will have to provide evidence of your English language skills when applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain. There are certain exemptions to the English language requirement for ILR. Please speak to your consultant for more information.

Relationship Breakdown

In cases where the relationship between a partner/spouse and the main visa holder breaks down before the dependant has reached Indefinite Leave to Remain, he/she will have to switch to another visa status. If there are no other visa options available for the dependant, he/she will have to return to the home country.

However, we strongly advise that you seek advice in cases where the relationship breaks down before ILR has been reached.

Continuous Residence Requirement

Persons in the UK on the UK Ancestry Visa route should note that they have to meet the continuous residence requirement when applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

To meet the continuous residence requirement, applicants must not have been outside the UK for more than 180 days in any 12 months. The Home Office will allow certain absences, such as travel disruption due to natural disaster or pandemic, or compelling and compassionate personal circumstances. Please speak to your Breytenbachs consultant for more information on this.

Furthermore, a new UK immigration law now requires that UK Ancestry migrants applying for ILR provide evidence of their overseas absences. The evidence can, for example, be in the form of an employment letter, confirming annual leave etc.

How Breytenbachs can help you

Should you wish to apply for the UK Ancestral Visa or have any other questions on this or other Family visas, please feel free to contact us.

You can also find the full rules on qualifying for the UK Ancestral visa at this link.