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If you want to join your partner in the UK, you’ll need to apply for a UK spouse visa or partner visa. However, that may not be the only visa that could get you to the UK. If you’re a Commonwealth citizen (from South Africa or Australia, Hong Kong and Canada) with a grandparent who was born in the UK, you may also be eligible for an Ancestry visa. We look at the requirements of both visas and how you can qualify.

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When you need to apply for a partner or UK spouse visa

The partner and spouse visa are two common names used to refer to the UK Family visa. You need a partner visa if you want to move to the UK with your partner or spouse. Your partner must be a British citizen, a UK permanent resident or have indefinite leave to remain in the UK. This visa is valid for two-and-a-half years and allows you to work without restriction and leave and enter the UK as often as you need to.

You must apply for your visa in your home country. If you’re already in the UK on another visa, you can switch to a spouse visa from within the UK. 

UK spouse visa requirements

Before you can apply, there are a few requirements you must satisfy. You and your partner must:

  • Have met in person
  • Intend to live together permanently
  • Satisfy the financial requirement
  • Meet the English language requirement
  • Have suitable accommodation in the UK

You also need to prove one of the following:

  • You’re married, in a civil partnership or in a long-term relationship of more than two years
  • Your marriage or civil partnership is recognised in the UK
  • You and your partner intend on getting married or entering into a civil partnership within six months of arriving in the UK

If you’re applying as a fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner, you must show that any previous marriages or civil partnerships have ended and that you plan on getting married within six months of arriving in the UK.

Financial requirements

If both you and your partner are resident in the UK, then the financial requirement can be met by either one of you. In situations where one partner is a non-EU citizen, then the non-EU national will be responsible for meeting the financial requirements. This means that you must have one of the following:

  • Annual gross income of £18,600
  • Cash savings of £62,500
  • A combination of the above

Your financial requirements will increase with every dependant you include on your application. Your dependants must be under 18 years of age and still living with you.

See also: 25% of UK spouse visa applications are refused every year – make sure yours isn’t one

The English language requirement

Applicants from certain countries will need to take an English language test to prove they can speak English. This is a verbal test and so it’s important that you answer questions as clearly as possible.

You don’t need to take a test if you hold a degree that is recognised in the UK. Should you decide to use your qualifications instead of taking the test, you’ll need to have this approved by UK NARIC – the agency responsible for recognising international qualifications and skills in the UK.

Get tested for TB

Applicants from certain countries, including South Africa, will need to get tested for tuberculosis. Your results will need to be included with your application. You must take your test at a UKVI-approved clinic or your results won’t be accepted.

The immigration health surcharge

You must pay the immigration health surcharge (IHS) if you’re from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and intend on staying in the UK for longer than six months. This will give you access to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and you won’t have to pay to visit a GP or hospital. You may need to pay for dental and optical treatment and medication prescribed by a doctor.

How much does a spouse visa cost?

Your visa will cost you (and every dependant you include on your visa) £1,523 if you apply outside of the UK. If you’re switching to this visa from within the UK, you will pay £1,033.

How long will it take to process your UK spouse visa?

The time depends on whether you apply for the standard or fast track service. Entry clearance applications take 60 to 90 days for standard service and 30 to 40 days for priority service. Spouse visas that are applied for from within the UK are processed between 120 to 180 days using the standard service. You have two priority options: a five-day and 48-hour turnaround time.

Processing times can be affected by whether you have completed your application correctly or the amount of spouse visas being processed by the Home Office. Make sure to check your information and that you’ve included all the required documents. Getting help from a UK immigration specialist can give you peace of mind that your application is completed correctly and ensure that it’s processed a lot smoother.

Extending your UK spouse visa

If you want to remain in the UK after your initial visa comes to an end, you can apply for a spouse visa extension. This will allow you to stay in the UK for another two-and-a-half years. You must apply before your initial spouse visa expires or you’ll have to leave the UK.

When your spouse visa extension comes to an end and you’ve spent five continuous years in the UK (two-and-half years on both your initial spouse visa and your visa extension), then you may be eligible for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or UK permanent residency (should you meet all the requirements of ILR).

ILR allows you to remain in the UK for an indefinite period. You can leave and re-enter the UK and have access to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Once you’ve held ILR for 12 months you’ll be eligible for UK citizenship.

See also: British citizenship and indefinite leave to remain: Why you need to know the difference

When you should apply for a UK Ancestry visa

If you’re from a Commonwealth country (such as South Africa, Australia, Hong Kong and Canada) and have a grandparent who was born in the UK, there’s a good chance you could qualify for a British Ancestry visa. This is one of the most sought-after visas as it allows you to live and work in the UK for up to five years, after which you could be eligible for ILR and eventually British citizenship.

Qualifying criteria

To get a British Ancestry visa, you must meet all the following requirements:

  • You are 17 years or older
  • One of your grandparents was born in the UK
  • You are a Commonwealth citizen
  • You intend on working in the UK
  • You can financially support yourself any dependants

The benefits of an Ancestry visa

Work without restriction

An Ancestral visa allows you to work in any field you want. You can change jobs without having to get approval from the Home Office and your employers don’t need to worry about your visa status.&

Travel freely

From the UK you can easily explore the rest of Europe by plane or train. You could even sneak in a spontaneous weekend trip to Paris or Rome.

Bring your family with you

Your dependants can either be your married or unmarried partner and any children (adopted or biological) under the age of 18. They will have the same rights as you and will be eligible for ILR when you are – no matter how long they’ve been in the UK.

Should they only be able to join you at a later stage, it’s possible to add them as dependants after you’ve moved to the UK.

Indefinite leave to remain

One of the main requirements of ILR or permanent residency is that you spend five continuous years in the UK. Since the Ancestry visa is valid for five years, you may be eligible should you remain in the UK for the duration of your visa and meet all the other requirements.

Once you’ve held Indefinite leave to remain for 12 months, you can then apply for British citizenship.

Additional requirements for the Ancestry visa

Similar to the spouse visa, you’ll need to pay the immigration health surcharge, which gives you access to the UK’s National Health Service and allows you to see a doctor. If you’re from a country where you must get tested for TB, you’ll need to do this at a clinic approved by the UKVI and submit your results with your application.

How much does an Ancestry visa cost?

The fee for an Ancestry visa is £516. You must apply for your Ancestry visa from your home country and cannot switch to this visa from within the UK.

How long will it take to process your UK Ancestry visa?

If you’ve completed your application form correctly and provided the required documents, it should take three weeks to process your visa.

If you apply using the standard route, the processing times are roughly 15 working days. You can speed up the process by using the priority service and your decision will be made in five working days.

It’s best to get advice from a UK immigration specialist, this will ensure you don’t waste your time and money by submitting an incorrect application.

Extending your Ancestry visa

If you do not meet the requirements for indefinite leave to remain after five years on the Ancestry visa, you also have the option of extending your visa. This is a great option if your goal is to obtain indefinite leave to remain and eventually become a UK citizen.

You can only apply for an extension from within the UK and your extension visa is valid for five years. You will need to pay the full immigration health surcharge again. You can apply for indefinite leave to remain once you meet the requirements, even if it’s not after the full five years of the extension.

See also: How to calculate your costs before you immigrate to the UK

Quick summary of the differences between a UK spouse visa and Ancestry visa

Main factors

UK Ancestry visa

UK spouse visa

Qualifying criteria

  • Must be 17 years and older
  • One of your grandparents was born in the UK
  • You are a Commonwealth citizen
  • You intend on working in the UK
  • You can financially support yourself and any dependants
  • Have met each other in person
  • Intend to live together permanently
  • Satisfy the financial requirement
  • Meet the English language requirement (dependent on your circumstances)
  • Have suitable accommodation in the UK

    You also need to prove one of the following:

  • You’re married, in a civil partnership or in a long-term relationship of more than two years
  • Your marriage or civil partnership is recognised in the UK
  • You and your partner intend on getting married or entering into a civil partnership within six months of arriving in the UK

Financial requirements

Enough funds to cover the cost of your trip to the UK and initial accommodation (roughly £1600).

Annual gross income of £18,600, or:

  • Cash savings of £62,500
  • A combination of the above

Additional requirements

  • Immigration health surcharge
  • TB test (dependent on the country you apply from)
  • Immigration health surcharge
  • TB test (dependent on the country you apply from)
  • English language test (Dependent on your circumstances)

Visa fees

£513 per applicant

  • £1,523 if you apply from outside of the UK
  • £1,033 if you’re switching to this visa

Processing time

  • Entry clearance five to 15 days
  • UK two to 15 days
  • Entry Clearance 30 to 90 days
  • UK two to 120 days

Extension period

Five years

Two-and-a-half years

Benefits

  • Live and work without restriction
  • Leave and re-enter UK freely
  • Can include family members on visa
  • No financial requirement
  • No formal work requirement
  • No extension, valid for the full five years
  • Can include family members on visa
  • Leave and re-enter UK freely
  • Live and work without restriction


Our registered immigration experts can help you get the right visa for your circumstances and goals. Get in touch with our team at immigration@sableinternational.com or give us a call on +27 (0) 21 657 2180 (SA), +44 (0) 20 7759 5330 (UK) or +61 (0) 3 8651 4500 (AU) to find out about your options.

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