Moving to the UK from the Commonwealth

Moving to the UK from the Commonwealth

A Commonwealth citizen is a person residing in a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations. In British nationality law, a Commonwealth citizen is a person who is:

  • A British citizen,
  • British Overseas Territories citizen,
  • British Overseas citizen,
  • British subject,
  • British National (Overseas), or
  • A national of a country listed in Schedule 3 of the British Nationality Act 1981.

Commonwealth citizens can enjoy certain privileges in the UK and other member states. These special rights (if any) are determined by each individual Commonwealth country. This status is more prominent in British law; it has little effect in other Commonwealth countries, such as Australia. British protected persons are not Commonwealth citizens, under the law.

In the past, the majority of Commonwealth people had the right to live and work in the UK, as they were subjects of the British Crown. However, UK moved more towards the EU and Commonwealth countries went on to achieve more independence, causing the rights of Commonwealth citizens to become severely restricted. Now, Commonwealth citizenship no longer frees certain individuals from UK immigration or employment laws.

Citizens of certain Commonwealth countries are classed as “visa nationals” – they must obtain a UK visa to suit the purpose of their travels and the length of time they intend to stay, before travelling to the UK.

Non-visa nationals (aside from a British National (Overseas), a British Territories citizen, a British Overseas citizen, a British Protected Person or a person who under the British Nationality Act 1981 who is a British subject) seeking entry for longer than six months or otherwise than as a visitor must obtain a visa before they come to the UK. This includes Commonwealth citizens from countries such as Australia, Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa.

Right of Abode

Right of Abode is the right to live in the UK free from employment or immigration and restrictions. Right of Abode is enjoyed by all British citizens and certain Commonwealth citizens. These Commonwealth citizens are:

  • Those born before 1 January 1983 to a mother who was a British citizen by virtue of her birth in the UK.  
  • If the father is a British citizen by virtue of his birth in the UK, then he automatically passes on his British citizenship to his child.
  • From 1 January 1983, a mother has also been able to pass on British citizenship in these circumstances.  
  • Women married before 1 January 1983 to a man with the right of abode.

A Commonwealth citizen must have qualified under the above terms by 1 January 1983 and not ceased to have been a Commonwealth citizen subsequently. No one can acquire this right now, and these rights are not available to citizens of countries such as South Africa. A British Passport is evidence for a British citizen’s right to abode.

Commonwealth citizens who for the right to abode must apply for “a certificate of entitlement to the right of abode” to be entered into their passport. When the passport expires,  a new certificate is required. You must make your application to the UK Border Agency if the applicant is in the UK. If the applicant is not in the UK, they must make it to a British Consulate or to a British Embassy or High Commission with a visa section.

The application should be made on the relevant application form and supported by the relevant birth or marriage certificates, passports and photographs. The application fee is usually paid in the local currency of the country where the application is being made.

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Commonwealth Citizens with British-Born Grandparents

There are certain Commonwealth citizens who have the right to live the UK and take up and/or seek employment. Commonwealth citizens with British-born grandparent(s) are given permission to enter the UK for employment purposes if the applicant:  

  • Is able and intends to take or seek employment in the UK.
  • Is aged 17 or over.
  • Can demonstrate that he or she can maintain himself or herself and his or her dependants without recourse to public funds.

Evidence of UK ancestry is proven via birth and marriage certificates – the individual is granted permission to enter for a period of up to five years under discretion of an immigration officer. An application for entry to the UK in this category must be made on the appropriate form to the entry clearance officer of a British Embassy, Consulate or High Commission before travelling.

Applicants may apply to be accompanied by their spouse or civil partner and minor dependent children (whether or not they qualify under this category in their own right) on proof of their relationship to the applicant and of his or her ability to support them. The applicant and their family members might be called in for interview by the entry clearance officer. Should the interview successful, they’ll receive an “entry clearance” sticker (a visa) in their passports for a limited time (usually six months). During this time, they may travel to the UK to take advantage of the permission.

The spouse or civil partner and dependants must enter the UK at the same time as or following the applicant’s own arrival, and are then free to work in the UK within the time period of permission granted. After five years in the UK, the applicant, the spouse or civil partner and dependants may apply for indefinite leave to remain (“settled status” or “ILR”), provided that the applicant has worked continuously in the UK for those five years. The applicant should apply for an extension if the original permission was for less than five years.

Not working continuously in the UK doesn’t necessarily prejudice a subsequent application for an extension or for ILR. The reasons as to why the applicant was not working, how the applicant is financing themselves and their dependants and evidence that the applicant has looked for other work during this time will be required

The UK Border Agency might question whether his or her initial intention of coming to the UK to seek employment was genuine. If a Commonwealth citizen does not qualify to enter under this category, it may be open to him or her to be sponsored by an employer under the new points-based system.

Working Holiday Makers

Nationals participating in  Commonwealth, British overseas citizens, British overseas territories citizens, or British nationals (overseas) aged between 17 and 30 may come to the UK for a holiday of up to two years under the old working holiday maker scheme. Recently, this scheme was replaced by the new Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS), which is also open to some non Commonwealth countries. Those individuals who are already in the UK as working holiday makers are allowed to stay for the full duration of their visa, but will not be permitted re-entry if they have less than 6 months remaining on their visa and have left the UK temporarily.

Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme

Under the new points-based system, 18-30 year olds can apply for the Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS). This scheme first started in 27 November 2008, and applicants are awarded points for their nationality, age and their ability to maintain themselves financially without relying on public funds.

There is a fund requirement and applications from those already in the UK are not accepted. Successful applicants are granted two years to do whatever work they like during their stay in the UK, except for self-employment (subject to certain exceptions), working as a professional sportsperson or working as a doctor in training. YMS temporary migrants may also engage in privately-funded studies, voluntary work and au pair placements as and when they wish. YMS applicants must not have any children under the age of 18 who are either living with them or for whom they are financially responsible. A spouse or civil partner can accompany the applicant only if he or she qualifies in his or her own right. Those who have previously spent time in the UK under the Working Holidaymaker scheme are not eligible to apply under the YMS. There are annual allocations of places on the YMS for the following participating countries: Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Monaco, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, and Taiwan.

If you’re looking to visit the UK or move here, get in touch with us today. Our advisors will help you apply for the best visa to suit your needs.

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