The UK Ancestry Visa allows Commonwealth citizens who meet certain eligibility criteria to come to the UK for up to 5 years to work and study, and to be accompanied by family members. In this Ancestry Visa guidance, we look at what the UK Ancestry visa is, who could be eligible and the process to follow when making your application to the UK Home Office.
What is the UK Ancestry Visa?
An ancestry visa is a visa that will allow a Commonwealth citizen with ancestral links to the United Kingdom to live in the UK. As such, if your application for an Ancestry Visa is successful, under your conditions of stay you will be allowed to work and study in the UK. You will also be allowed to bring family members to live with you.
There are generally no restrictions under an Ancestry Visa as to the type of work you can undertake. You may wish to work in an employed role for a UK employer or, alternatively, you may want to establish your own business to enable you to work for yourself. It is even possible to do both under this type of visa, unlike other visa options that do not provide the same flexible employment options.
Note also that Ancestry Visa holders must show they can accommodate and financially support themselves, as they are ineligible to access public funds in the UK.
Who is eligible?
You will be eligible to apply for an Ancestry Visa if you meet all of the following eligibility criteria:
- You are aged 17 and over
- You are a Commonwealth citizen
- You are able to prove that one of your grandparents was born in the UK and Islands
- You are able and planning to work in the UK
- You are able to satisfy the maintenance and accommodation requirement, ie; you have sufficient funds without recourse to public funds to support and house yourself and any dependants
To satisfy the “ancestry” requirement, you must show that you have a grandparent born in any one of the following circumstances:
- In the UK, including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man
- Before 31 March 1922 in what is now the Republic of Ireland
- On a British-registered ship or aircraft
Please note that the birth of a grandparent in a British colony or a military base overseas will not make you eligible for an ancestry visa. You can, however, still claim ancestry even if either you or the relevant parent were adopted, or born outside marriage in the UK. That said, UK ancestry cannot be claimed through step-parents.
How do you apply for the Ancestry Visa?
You apply for a UK Ancestry Visa from outside the UK. You cannot switch into this visa if you are already in the UK on another visa. You must submit your application online to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), the division of the Home Office responsible for the United Kingdom’s visa system.
Having submitted your application and paid the requisite application visa fee, you will need to provide your supporting documentation and enrol your biometric information, ie; a scan of your fingerprints and digital photograph of your face at a visa application centre in your country residence.
If your application is successful, you will be issued a 30-day permit to travel to the UK. You must arrive in the UK within this 30-day time limit or you will have to make an application for a new 30-day permit. Once in the UK, you will have ten days to collect your biometric residence permit from the nominated collection location, as stipulated in the Home Office correspondence. Failure to collect your BRP on time can result in a £1,000 fine and your visa could be withdrawn.
What are the Ancestry Visa supporting documents?
When submitting your application for an Ancestry Visa, in addition to providing your current passport or valid travel document, you will need to provide various documents in support to demonstrate that you satisfy the eligibility criteria.
This documentation could include the following:
- Your full birth certificate
- The full birth certificates of the parent and grandparent that your ancestry claim is based on
- The marriage certificates for your parents and grandparents if they were married
- The legal adoption papers if you or the parent that your ancestry claim is based on are adopted
- Evidence that you are planning to work in the UK
- Recent bank statements to show that you have enough money to support yourself
- Any tuberculosis test results if you are resident in a country where you are required to take the test
Other documents may be required depending on your circumstances. Taking professional advice will ensure you compile and submit a comprehensive submission.
In relation to the “work” requirement, you do not have to be working at the time you apply for an Ancestry Visa, but you must have the ability and intention to work in the UK. In other words, you must show with reference to documentation that you genuinely intend to seek work in the UK and have a realistic prospect of finding work.
As such, you will either need the offer of a job from a UK employer or, where you plan to work for yourself, a business plan for self-employment.
How long does the Ancestry Visa take to process?
The earliest that you can apply for an ancestry visa is 3 months before you travel. However, once you apply you should get a decision from UKVI within 3 weeks. However, due to ongoing COVID restrictions, applicants are advised to confirm processing leadtimes when making their application.
How much does the Ancestry Visa cost?
The fee to apply for an Ancestry Visa from outside the UK is £516. However, depending on what country you are in, you may be able to pay an additional fee to get your visa processed faster. You will need to check with your visa application centre as to what priority services are available.
In addition to the visa application fee, you may also be liable to pay the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge (IHS) as part of your application. By paying the IHS, once your visa has been granted, this will entitle you to use the National Health Service in the UK.
Typically, unless you are exempt, you will need to pay the surcharge if you are a national of a country outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and you are applying for a visa to work, study or join your family in the UK for more than 6 months, but are not applying to remain in the UK permanently.
The IHS will be calculated on the basis of how much leave you are granted, typically at a rate of £624 per year per applicant. By way of example, if you are granted an ancestry visa for a period of 5 years, you will be liable to pay £3,120 (5 x £624). Any dependants joining you in the UK will also need to pay the same amount.
When submitting your visa application online, you will pay the surcharge as part of your application or when you book an appointment at a visa application centre. In the event that you paid the surcharge for more years than you were granted leave, you will automatically receive a partial refund.
What if my Ancestry Visa application is refused?
There are various reasons why an application for an Ancestry Visa may be refused, for example, where the applicant has failed to prove that they are actively seeking work or where they have been unable to locate their grandparent’s original birth certificate.
However, in the event that your Ancestry Visa application is refused, there is no right of appeal. You will only be able to ask UKVI for an Administrative Review of their decision where you believe that the initial decision was incorrect.
In circumstances where your application has been refused on the basis that you failed to meet the eligibility criteria, or to provide the necessary documentation in support, then the refusal decision is unlikely to be overturned on review.
Take professional advice on your case to understand your options to challenge the Home Office’s decision, or whether a new application or a different immigration route would be appropriate in your circumstances.
Can I extend my Ancestry Visa?
With a UK Ancestry Visa, you can stay in the UK for a period of up to 5 years, and you’ll be able to extend from within the UK for a further 5 years.
To renew your visa, will need to submit an online application prior to expiry of your existing visa, together with your documentation in support. You will also need to include any dependants who are on your current visa, including children who have turned 18 during your stay.
You will be asked to make an appointment at a UKVCAS service point to provide your biometric information. There is a fee of £19.20 for enrolling your biometric information. You can upload any documentation into the online service or, alternatively, have them scanned at your UKVCAS appointment.
If you are applying to extend your visa from within the UK, the application fee is £1033.
When applying to extend your Ancestry Visa, a decision will usually be made by UKVI within 8 weeks of your application date if using the standard service.
Due to COVID, fast-tracked processing has been restricted to certain immigration applications, and you will need to check if priority processing is available for the Ancestry route at the time of making your application. UKVCAS services permitting, you may be able to take advantage of the priority or super priority service for faster processing at an additional cost. Under the priority service, you will receive a decision within five working days, or with the super priority service, where your appointment is on a weekday, you will receive a decision on your application by the end of the next working day after enrolling your biometric information, or 2 working days if your appointment is at the weekend.
Does an Ancestry Visa lead to ILR?
If you have lived in the UK under an Ancestry Visa for a period of 5 years or more, you may also be eligible to apply to settle in the UK permanently. Settlement, or ‘indefinite leave to remain‘ (ILR), means you can stay in the UK free from any immigration restrictions on an indefinite basis.
As well as meeting the residence requirement, you must also show that throughout the qualifying period you have been working or genuinely seeking work.
If you do not meet all the necessary requirements for ILR, you can instead apply for an extension to your Ancestry Visa to ensure you retain lawful status.
With ILR, you are also on the route to British citizenship. To apply for citizenship, you must have lived in the UK for 12 months with ILR status, unless you are married to a British citizen or person with UK settled status, in which case you can apply as soon as you attain ILR.
That said, where you were born outside the UK and one or both of your parents are British citizens, you may already be classed as a British citizen by descent. In these circumstances, you will not need to apply to naturalise as a British citizen.
Naturalising as a British citizen is a time and cost-intensive process. The eligibility criteria are stringent, including an assessment of the length of your UK residency, absences from the UK during your residency period, your character, language ability and financial means. If your citizenship application is refused, you will lose the application fee.
Seek expert immigration advice if you are looking to apply for British citizenship to ensure you understand your current status and nationality options, and if you do proceed with the citizenship application, ensure your submission is comprehensive in evidencing your eligibility.
DavidsonMorris are experienced UK immigration specialists offering guidance and support to individuals in relation to UK immigration status and Home Office applications. We can advise on the eligibility criteria you will need to evidence a UK Ancestry Visa and the process you will need to follow for your application. We can also help where you have dependants applying with you or where you are looking to extend your visa.
For specialist UK immigration advice, contact us.
Ancestry Visa FAQs
How long can you be out of the UK on an Ancestry Visa?
If you leave the UK and your Ancestry Visa expires, you can apply for a new visa from your home country. Remember also that if you want to apply for ILR, you must not have excessive absences from the UK.
How many times can you apply for Ancestry Visa?
There is no limit to the number of times you can apply to extend your Ancestry Visa, provided you remain eligible. After 5 years in the UK under the Ancestry Visa, you may also become eligible for UK Indefinite Leave to Remain.
How do I get a UK Ancestry Visa?
You can apply from your home country, provided you are a Commonwealth national, aged 17 years or over, you have at least one grandparent born in the UK or Islands; Ireland (if before 31 March 1922); or, in certain circumstances, on a British-registered ship or aircraft, you are able to work and intend to seek employment or work in the UK and you can financially support yourself.
Last updated: 3 December 2020