4 lesser-known facts on obtaining a UK Ancestry visa

Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the Great Clock of Westminster, at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London, England. Picture: Supplied

Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the Great Clock of Westminster, at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London, England. Picture: Supplied

Published Jul 19, 2023


When it comes to attaining residency in the UK, the UK Ancestry visa allows Commonwealth (South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada) 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.

According to Sable International’s director: Citizenship and Immigration, John Dunn, the Ancestry visa allows you to bring your dependants with you to the UK, also allowing your spouse, unmarried partner and any children under 18 who are included on your visa to have the same rights as you.

Dunn said that in addition to proving that you have a British-born grandparent, you have to show that you are 17 years or older; are able to work and you intend to work or seek employment in the UK for the duration of your visa; and, can support and accommodate yourself and any dependants without access to any public funding.

He said that while visas like the Spouse visa are only valid for an initial two-and-a-half-year period, meaning that 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; and 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,” said Dunn.

Here are four other lesser-known facts to obtaining an Ancestry visa, according to Dunn.

The continuous residence requirement

Dunn said 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. Also, there cannot be any breach of immigration conditions,“ said Dunn.

He said if your UK Ancestry visa was granted before January 11, 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,” said Dunn.

Section 4L and other claims to citizenship

According to Dunn, a High Court ruling allowed certain individuals who had a UK-born grandparent to apply for citizenship in May 2018.

“In June 2022, an amendment to 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,” said Dunn.

He noted that while other routes to citizenship may offer the main applicant an option for immediate nationality, this may open the door of many benefits to your dependants 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,” he said.

Expedited UK citizenship for dependants

Dunn also highlighted that it is possible for spouses/partners and children who are dependants 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,” he said.

He suggested that you discuss your case with one of their experts as there as there are factors you will need to consider for your dependants before embarking on any application for British citizenship.

If a spouse or partner is on a different visa category

And finally, 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, said Dunn.

“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,” he said.

Dunn pointed out that 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,” said Dunn.

He said 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.