Explore Commonwealth Visa Options


The United Kingdom shares a unique and enduring bond with the Commonwealth, an association spanning 56 member countries. Linked historically through past British colonial governance or ties to the British Crown, this diverse international community epitomises cultural, social, and economic collaboration.

For Commonwealth citizens, this connection is further acknowledged through specific UK visa pathways, which facilitate easier access to entry and residency based on historical ties and mutual agreements. While there is no dedicated “Commonwealth visa”, the following immigration routes may be available to eligible Commonwealth citizens:


a. Ancestry Visa: For those with a grandparent born in the UK, offering a route to residency.

b. Right of Abode: Grants the freedom to live and work in the UK indefinitely to those who are eligible.

c. Youth Mobility Scheme: Allows younger Commonwealth citizens to live and work in the UK for up to two years.

d. BNO Visa: Allows Hong Kong’s British National (Overseas) citizens to live, work, and study in the UK, offering a pathway to citizenship.

e. Other UK Visas: Such as family or work visas, which, while not exclusive to Commonwealth citizens, remain a viable option for those meeting specific criteria.


Understanding the different visa options available is crucial for Commonwealth nationals considering living, working, or studying in the UK.

In this guide, we set out the specific eligibility criteria for each of these routes, as well as the advantages and limitations they provide.


Section A: UK Ancestry Visa


The Ancestry visa is ideal for those who wish to explore their family roots and work in the UK.

The benefits of this status include the right to work and live in the UK, along with eligibility to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after five years, which can lead to citizenship.

Additionally, holders have access to the National Health Service (NHS).

However, there are limitations; recipients cannot access public funds such as benefits or the state pension and must prove financial independence without relying on public assistance.


1. Eligibility Requirements


The Ancestry Visa allows citizens from Commonwealth countries who have a grandparent born in the UK, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, or in what was formerly the Republic of Ireland before 31 March 1922 to live and work in the UK. A core requirement is the intent to work in the UK.

To qualify, applicants must:


a. Be a Commonwealth citizen.

b. Be 17 years of age or older.

c. Have proof that one of their grandparents was born in the UK, including former territories before their independence.

d. Be able and planning to work in the UK.

e. Be able to financially support themselves and any dependents without access to public funds.


2. Application Process


Start by preparing essential documents such as your birth certificate, the birth certificates of the parent and grandparent through whom you’re claiming ancestry, proof of your ability to work (such as a CV), and proof of financial means. Next, fill out the online application form, which requires detailed personal information along with specifics about your ancestry and the reasons for your application.

You then have to pay the application fee and the healthcare surcharge, which provides access to the UK’s National Health Service. Schedule an appointment at a visa application centre to submit your biometric information, including fingerprints and a photograph.

Finally, submit your application and all supporting documents either through the online portal or by physical mail, following the instructions provided in the application process.


3. Key Pointers for Applicants


a. Documentation: Ensure all documents, especially birth certificates and financial evidence, are clear and valid. Any discrepancies can delay or result in the denial of the visa.

b. Preparation for Interviews: While not always required, be prepared for an interview where you will need to demonstrate your intent to work and your ties to your UK ancestry.

c. Renewal and ILR: Plan for the future; keep records of your employment and residency status to support your application for ILR.

d. Legal Advice: Considering the complexities of immigration law, consulting with a legal expert or an immigration advisor can help avoid common pitfalls and ensure a smooth application process.


Read our guide to the UK Ancestry visa.


Section B: Right of Abode in the UK


The Right of Abode in the UK is granted to certain individuals, affording them the freedom to live, work, and enter the UK without immigration restrictions.

The Right of Abode offers several significant advantages to those who hold the status. It grants permanent residence in the UK without any time restrictions, allowing holders to settle indefinitely.

Unlike many other immigration categories, there are no restrictions on employment; holders can work without needing a separate visa or work permit.

Additionally, there is no requirement to pay a healthcare surcharge, which is often a necessity for many other visas to access the National Health Service (NHS).

This status also provides greater security compared to other visas, which might require renewal or could be revoked under certain circumstances.

You cannot apply for the Right of Abode, but you can apply for proof of your status.


1. Eligibility Requirements


Right of Abode is typically granted to British citizens on an automatic basis and Commonwealth Citizens who meet the following criteria:


a. Those with a parent born in the UK (including the Channel Islands and Isle of Man).

b. Those who, before 1 January 1983, were citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies with a parent who was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies at the time of their birth or adoption.


Some female Commonwealth citizens may also qualify through marriage.


2. Apply for Proof of Right of Abode


If you are a Commonwealth Citizen and you believe you have the Right of Abode, you can apply for proof of your status in the form of a Certificate of Entitlement, which is then included in your passport.

The application process varies depending on whether you are inside or outside the UK, although you will typically be required to complete an online form and provide supporting documents.

The following documents are typically required:


a. A valid passport.

b. A certificate of entitlement to the Right of Abode, which needs to be applied for and included in your passport.

c. Birth certificates or adoption papers showing your or your parent’s birth in the UK.

d. If claiming through a parent, their marriage certificate and evidence of their citizenship status during your birth may also be required.


In the UK, Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man, the application fee is £550. It’s essential to read the guidance to ensure eligibility before filling out the form online, where you typically can retain your documents while the application is processed. Alternative application methods are also available.

Decisions usually arrive within 8 weeks when applying within the UK.

If applying from outside the UK or from a British overseas territory, the process also costs £550 and decisions typically take about 3 weeks following an appointment at a visa application centre.

If approved, your certificate of entitlement will be included with your decision letter.

This certificate needs to be reapplied for whenever your passport expires.

You cannot obtain a certificate if you already have a British passport or a valid certificate of entitlement in another foreign passport.


3. Key Pointers for Applicants


a. Gather Documentation Early: Collect all necessary documents, including birth certificates and any necessary legal paperwork, as early as possible.

b. Ensure Accuracy: Make sure all information provided in the application is accurate and up-to-date to avoid delays.

c. Use Official Sources for Information: Always use government websites or contact official hotlines for the most reliable and current advice.

d. Legal Consultation: Consider consulting an immigration lawyer or a professional with expertise in UK nationality law to navigate complex scenarios or if your case involves uncommon circumstances.

e. Check Eligibility: Double-check eligibility requirements, especially in complex cases like those involving historical changes in nationality laws or adoption.


Read our guide to the Right of Abode.


Section C: Youth Mobility Scheme


The Youth Mobility Scheme allows young people from specific countries to experience life in the UK, enhancing their personal and professional development through work and travel opportunities.

Participants in the programme have the opportunity to study, be self-employed or work in most jobs across any skill level, although there are some exceptions, such as professional sports or coaching roles.

The visa also offers the flexibility to travel in and out of the UK throughout its validity, which is typically 2 years.

If you are from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or South Korea, you can apply for the Youth Mobility Scheme visa if you are aged between 18 and 35. For applicants from other parts of the world – specifically Andorra, Iceland, Japan, Monaco, San Marino, and Uruguay – the age range for eligibility is 18 to 30 years. In the case of Hong Kong (for SAR passport holders) and Taiwan, applicants must be selected in the Youth Mobility Scheme ballot as a prerequisite to applying for the visa.

Additionally, British overseas citizens, British overseas territories citizens, and British nationals (overseas) who are between 18 and 30 years old can apply for this visa. Similar to the other categories, applicants must be 18 years or older when the visa starts and under 30 when applying. Applications can be submitted before turning 18, and it is allowable for the visa to begin after the age of 30.

Only those from Australia, Canada or New Zealand can apply to extend their stay under this scheme, and participants cannot be accompanied by family members under this route.

There is a different scheme for Indian nationals called the India Young Professionals Scheme visa.


1. Eligibility Requirements


To be eligible for the Youth Mobility Scheme, the following must be met:


a. Age Requirements

Applicants must be aged between 18 and 30 or 18 and 35 for some nationalities.


b. Nationality Requirements

Only nationals from designated countries and territories can apply. The list of participating countries includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, Andorra, Iceland, Japan, Monaco, San Marino and Uruguay. Nationals of Taiwan and Hong Kong (with a SAR passport) can apply under the Youth Mobility ballot.


c. Financial Requirement

Applicants must have access to a certain amount of funds to support themselves during their stay (the exact amount can vary but is generally around £2,530).


d. No Dependent Children

Applicants must not have children under the age of 18 who live with them or for whom they are financially responsible.


e. Previous Participation

Applicants must not have previously spent time in the UK under the scheme or in the former ‘Working Holidaymaker’ category.


2. Application Process


Before applying, confirm that your nationality is eligible and that you meet the age requirements for the visa. Make sure you have the necessary savings to support your stay in the UK.

Complete the online application form, pay the visa fee, and cover the healthcare surcharge. You will also need to provide your fingerprints and a photograph at a visa application center to fulfill the biometrics requirement.

Be aware of the annual quotas set for each participating country; once these are filled, no further applications will be accepted until the following year.


3. Key Pointers for Applicants


a. Eligibility Check: Verify that you are from a country that participates in the Youth Mobility Scheme. Also, confirm that you are within the age limit for your country.

b. Financial Requirement: You need to prove that you have enough funds to support yourself during your stay in the UK. This usually means showing a specified amount in savings.

c. Application Timing: Submit your application at the right time. Be aware of the opening dates for your country’s quota. Applications are competitive, and slots fill up quickly.

d. Document Preparation: Gather all necessary documentation before beginning your application. This includes your passport, bank statements showing your savings, and any other required supporting documents.


Read our detailed guide to the Youth Mobility Scheme.


Section D: British National (Overseas) Visa


The BNO visa allows British National (Overseas) citizens from Hong Kong to live, work, and study in the UK. This status was created in 1987 and applies to those who were British Overseas Territories citizens by connection with Hong Kong before the handover to China in 1997.

The BNO visa grants the right to work, study, and access public services, including the NHS. This visa also provides a pathway to settled status after five years and the opportunity to apply for British citizenship following an additional year.

Additionally, it allows the holder to bring dependents, including a spouse and children under 18.

However, there are limitations to consider. Applicants cannot claim most public funds, such as unemployment benefits, and must demonstrate English language proficiency and financial stability. The visa application process also entails significant costs, including a healthcare surcharge.


1. Eligibility Requirements


To be eligible, applicants must meet the following requirements:


a. Must have BNO status; however, you do not need to hold a valid BNO passport to apply.

b. Normally resident in Hong Kong or the UK.

c. Can accommodate and support yourself financially in the UK for at least six months.

d. Have a commitment to learn English, if not already proficient.

e. Have obtained a tuberculosis test result from a clinic approved by the Home Office if applying from Hong Kong.


2. Application Process


Before applying, ensure you meet all eligibility criteria mentioned previously. Begin by gathering the necessary documents, which include proof of BNO status, proof of residence, evidence of financial means, and tuberculosis test results.

You apply online through the official UK government visa and immigration website. During the application, you will need to pay the application fee and a healthcare surcharge.

Part of the process includes providing your biometric information, such as fingerprints and a photograph, at a visa application centre.

Finally, complete the application process by submitting your application along with all the required documents. This comprehensive preparation and submission process is crucial for a successful application.


3. Key Pointers for Applicants


a. Financial Planning: Ensure you have sufficient funds to support yourself and any dependents in the UK without relying on public funds.

b.Healthcare Surcharge: Prepare to pay the healthcare surcharge, which provides access to the NHS but can be costly.

c. Documentation: Prepare your documentation in advance to avoid issues or delays.

d. Legal Guidance: Consider consulting with an immigration lawyer or expert to navigate complex situations and ensure all paperwork is accurately completed.


Read our full guide to the BNO visa.


Section E: Windrush Cases


The Windrush Scheme was introduced for members of the so-called ‘Windrush generation’ and their families, helping rectify historical injustices by affirming their legal status and rights within the UK.

The scheme applies to Commonwealth citizens who arrived in the UK before 1973, those with a right of abode or settled status who arrived before 1988 and certain family members of eligible Windrush individuals, ensuring they can obtain documentation confirming their status in the UK.

With official documentation proving legal status in the UK, these individuals benefit from access to public services and benefits and the possibility of obtaining British citizenship at no cost.

However, the scheme does not apply to those who arrived after 1988 who do not already have settled status.

Applications may also become complicated when old documentation is required as evidence.

There is no fee to apply for the Windrush Scheme.


1. Eligibility Requirements


The Windrush Scheme is for:


a. Those who arrived in the UK before 31 December 1983, particularly from Caribbean countries, though it applies broadly to pre-1973 Commonwealth arrivals.

b. Children of the Windrush generation, even if they were born in the UK or arrived as minors.

c. People facing difficulties proving their lawful status despite living in the UK for many years.


2. Application Process


To apply for the Windrush Scheme, start by checking your eligibility through a detailed review of the criteria to ensure you qualify. Next, gather necessary documentation, including proof of your continuous residence in the UK, along with any historical records that detail your arrival and life in the UK.

For assistance and to initiate your application, contact the Windrush Help Team through the official channels. You’ll need to complete the application form provided by the Home Office and attach all required documentation.


3. Key Pointers for Applicants


a. Document Collection: As some individuals may lack formal records, alternative evidence like school records, medical records, or employment history can be helpful.

b. Legal Advice: It might be beneficial to seek legal advice if you have a complex case or lack sufficient documentation.

c. Awareness and Advocacy: Stay informed through official channels and community organisations that provide updates and assistance on the Windrush Scheme.


Section F: Alternative UK Visa Routes


Commonwealth citizens may also be eligible to come to the UK under one of the UK’s main visa routes for foreign nationals. Depending on your circumstances, your options could, for example, include a work visa or a family visa.

Work visa options include the Skilled Worker Visa, which requires a job offer from an approved UK employer and meets the skill and salary threshold. There are also sector-specific visas like the Health and Care Worker Visa for medical professionals.

Family visas are for family members, such as spouses, partners, children and parents, of people who are already in the UK or entering the UK on another visa.

Taking professional advice will help ensure you understand all of the possible routes and select the most appropriate for your situation.


1. Differences between Commonwealth and General Routes


a. Eligibility: Unlike Commonwealth-specific visas, which may cater specifically to citizens of Commonwealth countries (like the Ancestry visa or certain youth mobility schemes), general work and family visas are open to all nationalities. This broadens the applicant pool significantly.

b. Application Process: While Commonwealth-specific visas often have cultural or historical eligibility criteria, work and family visas usually require sponsorship by a UK employer or a family member who is settled in the UK.

c. Purpose and Duration: Work visas are typically tied to the length of the employment contract but can be extended. Family visas depend on the nature of the family relationship and can also lead to indefinite leave to remain (ILR) under certain conditions.


2. Application Guidance


Depending on your situation—whether you’re planning to work, join a family member, or study—selecting the right type of visa is crucial. Review the specific criteria for each visa type on the UK Visas and Immigration website.

Next, gather the necessary documentation. For work visas, this includes job offers, proof of qualifications, and salary details. For family visas, evidence of relationships and financial independence is required.

Most family visas require proof that you can support yourself and any dependents without access to public funds. Work visas may also require you to meet a minimum salary threshold.

You can then apply online and provide all required documentation. For many visas, you’ll need to supply biometric information.

Taking professional advice will help you to understand the options available to you in your circumstances.


Section G: Summary


Under the current system, the United Kingdom offers a variety of visa options tailored to meet the diverse needs of Commonwealth citizens.

Each visa type has its own set of requirements, benefits, and restrictions. It’s crucial for potential applicants to carefully review these aspects to determine which visa best suits their circumstances and long-term goals.

Given the complexity of uk immigration laws and the frequency with which they can change, it is highly recommended that those considering applying for a UK visa consult the most current regulations. This can be done through the UK government’s official immigration website, which provides up-to-date information and guidance.

At DavidsonMorris, our legal experts are on hand to offer personalised guidance tailored to your specific situation. Contact us for advice.


Section H: Frequently Asked Questions


Who is eligible for an Ancestry Visa?

Eligibility for an Ancestry Visa is based on having at least one grandparent born in the UK, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, or in what is now the Republic of Ireland before April 1922. Applicants must be Commonwealth citizens and able to work in the UK.


What does the Right of Abode in the UK mean?

The Right of Abode allows individuals to live and work in the UK without any immigration restrictions. It is typically granted to British citizens and some Commonwealth citizens under specific conditions.


Can I participate in the Youth Mobility Scheme more than once?

No, individuals can only participate in the Youth Mobility Scheme once. This is to ensure that as many eligible young people as possible have the opportunity to experience life in the UK.


What are the requirements for a Skilled Worker Visa?

Applicants must have a job offer from a UK employer who is approved by the Home Office, meet the English language requirement, and earn a salary that meets the minimum threshold as specified by the job type.


How can I apply for the Armed Forces Visa?

Applications for the Armed Forces Visa involve proving your or your family member’s service in the British Armed Forces, meeting the necessary residency requirements, and following the specific application process outlined by the UK Visas and Immigration.


Are there any language requirements for the Skilled Worker Visa?

Yes, applicants for the Skilled Worker Visa must prove their knowledge of English, which can be demonstrated through various tests approved by the UK government or evidence of completion of a degree taught in English.


What is the importance of the healthcare surcharge?

The healthcare surcharge is a fee paid by visa applicants to gain access to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) during their stay. It ensures that migrants contribute to the health service similarly to UK residents.


Can I bring my family members with me on a Skilled Worker Visa?

Yes, Skilled Worker Visa holders can bring dependents, including a spouse, partner, and children under the age of 18, to the UK.


What should I do if my visa application is denied?

If your visa application is denied, you should review the refusal notice to understand the reasons for the decision. You can then apply for an administrative review or reapply by addressing the refusal reasons in your new application.


How can I ensure my visa application is successful?

To enhance the likelihood of a successful visa application, ensure all your documentation is correct and complete, follow all instructions carefully, and consider seeking advice from a qualified immigration professional.


Section I: Glossary of Terms


Ancestry Visa: A visa available to Commonwealth citizens with at least one grandparent born in the UK, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, or in what was formerly the Republic of Ireland before April 1922, allowing them to live and work in the UK.

Biometrics: Unique physical characteristics, such as fingerprints and photographs, used to identify individuals during the visa application process.

British Overseas Citizen: A category of British nationality held by certain persons associated with former British colonies.
Certificate of Entitlement: A document that proves the holder has the Right of Abode in the UK.

Commonwealth Citizen: A citizen or national of a member country of the Commonwealth of Nations, an association primarily of former British colonies and territories.

Dependent: A family member of a visa applicant or holder who relies on them for financial and/or emotional support, often including spouses, partners, and children.

Healthcare Surcharge: A fee paid by visa applicants from outside the European Economic Area to access the National Health Service (NHS) during their stay in the UK.

Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR): Permission to stay in the UK without any time limit, granted to individuals who have lived in the UK under certain visas for a specified period.

National Health Service (NHS): The publicly funded healthcare system of the UK, providing a wide range of healthcare services largely free at the point of use.

Right of Abode: The right to live and work in the UK without any immigration restrictions, available to certain British citizens and some Commonwealth citizens under specific conditions.

Skilled Worker Visa: A visa category that allows individuals with a job offer from a UK employer who is approved by the Home Office to come to the UK to work. This visa replaced the former Tier 2 (General) visa.

Sponsor Licence: A permission granted to UK employers, allowing them to hire foreign workers under certain visa categories, including the Skilled Worker Visa.

Visa Quota: A cap on the number of visas issued in certain categories, such as the Youth Mobility Scheme, where only a set number of visas are available each year.

Youth Mobility Scheme: A visa program that allows young people aged 18 to 30 from participating countries to live and work in the UK for up to two years, promoting cultural exchange and mutual understanding.


Section J: Additional Links


UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) – Home Office
Overview of various UK visa options, including detailed guidance on eligibility and application processes.


Windrush Help Team – Home Office
Direct support and application assistance for those affected by the Windrush scandal.


British National (Overseas) Visa Information – Home Office
Detailed guidance specifically for BNO visa applicants from Hong Kong.


Citizens Advice
Offers free, confidential advice on legal, money, and other problems, including detailed insights on immigration and visas.


Commonwealth Organisation
Information about the rights and privileges of Commonwealth citizens, including historical and cultural contexts.




Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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