The UK has a long global history with the former British Empire spanning across the world, later followed by the formation of the Commonwealth.
Today, the Commonwealth still stands with 54 voluntary member states, almost all of which are former British territories.
For citizens of those countries, there is a special Ancestry Visa category that is available for people to live and work in the UK. It’s a streamlined route specifically for the Commonwealth – as long as you have a grandparent that was born in the UK. That’s where the ancestry part of the visa comes in.
As with all visa applications, there are certain conditions attached and paperwork to fill in before you can apply.
But let’s start by having a quick look at the Commonwealth and which countries are included in this visa category.
The Commonwealth of Nations was formed in 1931. It’s made up of countries from across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, the Americas and the Pacific, and includes both developing and advanced nations.
As part of the structure of the organisation, leaders from member countries meet every two years to discuss matters relating to the Commonwealth. There is also a Commonwealth Charter that outlines values such as democracy and peace for member governments to follow.
But most people are probably aware of the organisation through the international sporting event, the Commonwealth Games that is held every four years.
Today, any country can join the Commonwealth of Nations and it’s no longer made up of just former British territories.
Members include Australia, Canada, Cyprus, India, Kenya, Malta, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Africa. The full list of member nations can be found at the official Commonwealth website.
The Ancestry Visa is strictly for people over the age of 17 from Commonwealth nations that can claim British heritage, but only as far back as a grandparent.
That means if you have British ancestry, but it goes back further than your immediate grandparents, then this visa route is not for you. In that case, there are other options for moving to the UK, such as through work, studying or as an entrepreneur.
If you do have a grandparent that was born in the UK, including the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Ireland before 1922, or on a British-registered ship or aircraft, then you can apply for the Ancestry Visa.
This visa route also recognises legal adoption. So, even if you or your parent were adopted, you should still be able to claim ancestry.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Home Office will only accept applications from people outside of the UK. If you are already in the country then you will have to leave to apply for the visa.
The first step of the process is to make sure that you can prove UK ancestry. This can be done with the following documents:
Other documents to include in the application are:
Another thing to consider is the fee. Applications cost £516 plus a healthcare surcharge, so that needs to be factored into the budget.
Once an application has been submitted, decisions usually take three weeks, but you can pay an additional fee for a priority service.
The leave to remain, which means the length of time that you can stay in the country, is quite generous with the UK Ancestry Visa.
The initial time period granted for approved applications is five years, and the visa can then be extended for another five years.
If after the first five years you want to stay in the UK on a permanent basis, you can even apply for indefinite leave to remain.
For people with British heritage and connections to the country, this visa route offers a pathway to settling permanently in the UK and even British citizenship.
Or, if long-term settlement is not for you, the Ancestry Visa can simply be used as an opportunity to explore your heritage and experience living and working in the UK before heading back home.
The UK Ancestry Visa also allows you to study and bring family members (partner and children under 21) with you. But you cannot access public funds, so you must be able to work, including in self-employment.
The UK Ancestry Visa is considered by many immigration specialists as one of the most flexible and least restrictive visa options for moving to the UK.
The main reason for this is that you don’t need a job offer or sponsorship to secure the visa, which means you can work in any job. You can even study without having to apply for a student visa.
The only prerequisite is that you can prove your British ancestry. After that, the application process should be fairly simple, and you can look forward to starting a new life in the UK.
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