The UK remains the preferred destination for South Africans looking for great employment opportunities, a high standard of education and a good quality of life. Choosing the right visa can make the process of applying much simpler and can lead to a more successful application. These are your top UK visa options as a South African.

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Applying for a UK ancestral visa

A UK Ancestry visa is one of the most sought-after UK visas because it allows you to live and work in the UK for five years, after which you can apply to remain in the UK permanently. Many South Africans who have a family link to the UK are unaware that they could be eligible for this visa.

To qualify, you must meet all of the following criteria:

  • One of your grandparents was born in the UK
  • You are a Commonwealth citizen
  • You intend to work in the UK

You also need to be over 17 years old and have enough money to support yourself and any dependants joining you in the UK.

Benefits for partners and dependants of an UK ancestral visa holder

Your partner or family members can be included on your Ancestry visa application. This will allow them to move with you to the UK as soon as your visa application is approved. They will enjoy the same rights as the main visa holder – i.e. they too will be able to live and work in the UK for the duration of the Ancestry visa.

Should your dependants decide to join you at a later stage, they will still be able to apply for ILR when you do, even though they have lived in the UK for a shorter time.

A family link to the UK could also make you eligible for British citizenship

If your grandparent or even great-grandparent was born in the UK, you may qualify for UK citizenship. A British Citizenship Assessment can help you discover any possible routes to citizenship that you may be unaware of. The assessment is quick and free, and you’ll receive an instant response on the likelihood of qualifying for citizenship, with guidance on what to do next.

Applying for a UK work visa

Under the new immigration system, the Tier 2 (General) visa category has been replaced by the Skilled Worker route. This visa allows you to live and work in the UK for up to five years.

To apply, you need to have a job offer from and be sponsored by a UK-based employer.

The Skilled Worker visa is points-based, which means you’re awarded points for meeting certain requirements. You must obtain a total of 70 points to be eligible. If you’ve got a job offer for a role that meets the minimum skill level, you only need to have 50 points. In this case, you must be able to show evidence of your English language ability.

You will be allowed to trade characteristics, such as your qualifications, against a lower salary to get the required number of points. If the job offer is less than the minimum salary requirement, but no less than £20,480. You can still apply for a work visa if you have:

  • A job offer in a specific shortage occupation
  • A PhD relevant to the job
  • A PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job

Points are awarded for the following:

Characteristics Type* Points
Job offer by approved sponsor Mandatory 20
Job at appropriate skill level Mandatory 20
Speaks English at required level Mandatory 10
Salary of GBP 20,480 (minimum) – GBP 23,039 or at least 80% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher) Tradeable 0
Salary of GBP 23,040 – GBP 25,599 or at least 90% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher) Tradeable 10
Salary of GBP 25,600 or above or at least the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher) Tradeable 20
Job in shortage occupation as designated by the Migration Advisory Committee Tradeable 20
Qualification: PhD in a subject relevant to the job Tradeable 10
Qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job Tradeable 20

*You must meet all mandatory characteristics to qualify whereas other characteristics are tradeable to reach the 70-point threshold.

Intra-company transfers

The Intra-company Transfer route falls under the Skilled Worker visa. This route lets you transfer to your employer’s UK-based branch. To apply, you need to have been employed at the overseas branch for at least 12 months. This visa does not lead to settlement and British citizenship.

Get a UK spouse visa and move to the UK with your partner

You can apply for a UK spouse visa or partner visa if you’re in a relationship with a British citizen or someone with indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or settled status.

You and your partner must be over 18 and either in a civil partnership or marriage that’s recognised in the UK, in a relationship and living together for at least two years or planning to get married or become civil partners within six months of arriving in the UK.

Partner visas are valid for two and a half years, after which you can extend your visa for a further two and a half years.

Qualifying for British citizenship on an Ancestry visa, spouse visa or Skilled Worker visa

The good news is that the Ancestry visa, spouse visa and Skilled Work visa all lead to ILR and British citizenship. This is how you can obtain both statuses.

Step 1: Get indefinite leave to remain

ILR (also known as permanent residency) is the status you need before you can apply for citizenship. ILR allows you to stay in the UK indefinitely and leave and re-enter the country as often as you wish.

You’ll be eligible for ILR once you’ve stayed in the UK on a work, Ancestry or spouse visa for five continuous years. Since the spouse visa is only valid for two and a half years, you’ll need to extend your visa for a further two and a half years before you can apply.

Other requirements for ILR include:

  • Passing the “Life in the UK Test”
  • Meeting the English language requirements
  • Be of good character

Step 2: Apply for British citizenship

Once you’ve held ILR status for 12 months, you can apply for British citizenship and get your British passport. You also need to meet the following requirements:

  • Have lived in the UK for five years without spending more than 450 days outside the country before you apply (90 days per year)
  • Be “of good character”, which means not behaving in ways that are criminal, deceiving or dishonest, and not breaching any immigration laws

If you’re married/in a partnership with a British citizen, you do not need to wait 12 months after ILR to apply for citizenship. You can apply immediately.

Make sure you know all your visa options

There are other visa categories that we can assist with, such as student visas, business and investor visas and EEA family permits for family members of EU nationals. It’s important to get advice from an experienced immigration consultant who can help you find the best route that meets your long-term goals.

We’ve been helping South Africans move to the UK for over 20 years. If you would like to apply for a UK visa or want to know more about your options, send our immigration team an email and we’ll help you out.

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