How to relocate from South Africa to the UK – UK immigration visa routes for South Africans

South African citizens who would like to immigrate and settle in the UK have a wide range of UK visa categories to choose from. The most popular UK immigration routes chosen by South Africans & leading to ILR and British Citizenship, are the UK Ancestry Visa, spouse/family visas and work visas. We discuss those UK immigration options in more detail further below. However, you may also wish to read the UK immigration rules where you find the UK visa information.

If you are South African and of British ancestry

Before progressing to the visa application, it is important to remember that some South Africans may qualify for British citizenship without the need for a visa. This is because many South Africans have British ancestry and could have been born British or may have a right to register as a British Citizen. The assessment involves tracing of your family history.

UK immigration visa options for South Africans to relocate to the UK

General points to note for all UK visa types

If you are South African and intend to move to the UK, you most likely would need to first obtain a UK visa. There are some requirements that are applicable to all UK visa categories in a similar way.

In the below we list the main requirements and key steps in the UK visa process. Depending on the visa type, it may take between a few weeks to a few months before you get your visa. Preparation, attention to detail and patience are important in the process of obtaining any UK visa. :

  • Collect all the required specified documents for your chosen UK visa category. For the UK visa applications it is important to provide the exact documents that are mandatory in the Immigration Rules. Without those documents your visa application is likely to be refused.

UK Ancestry visa for South Africans

UK Ancestry visa is for Commonwealth citizens, including South Africans, who are 17 or over at the date of planned arrival in the UK and who are able to prove that one of their grandparents was born in the UK or Islands.

Applicants must intend and be able to work in the UK (job offer is not mandatory for the initial application but some other evidence of intention and ability to work needs to be provided, e.g. job applications, CV, evidence of qualifications).

Dependant spouse and children may apply at the same time but they may also apply later. What is more, dependants do not need to have the 5 years residence to apply for ILR at the same time as the Ancestry visa holder.

The Ancestry visa is granted for 5 years and it leads to Settlement (ILR) after 5 years of continuous residence in the UK on the Ancestry visa.

Ancestry visa can be obtained more than once. For example, if Applicant decides to leave the UK, he/she can apply for Ancestry visa again in the future.

UK Spouse visa and other family visas for South Africans

Spouse/family visas are another common way to immigrate to the UK from South Africa.

The main family visa category is the Spouse/civil partner visa. This visa is for those who want to bring their wife/husband/partner to the UK to live here together as a family on permanent basis. Successful application for a spouse visa requires good knowledge of the relevant immigration rules and meticulous attention to detail in preparation.

The immigration requirements and supporting documents required by the Home Office are complex. We talk in more detail about the spouse/partner visa on a separate page.

In case of an unmarried partners and same sex unmarried partners, the requirements are in some aspects different to the married couples or those in registered civil partnerships, especially when it comes to proving a genuine and subsisting relationship which requires evidence of 2 years cohabitation. We talk in more detail about that on separate page.

In case when someone wants to bring their fiancé to the UK there rules also different in terms of some aspects of the visa. We talk about them on a dedicated page. Those who choose to apply for a fiancé visa should note that this visa does not give the right to work in the UK. Only once the spouse visa is obtained, the foreign spouse can start work in the UK.

There are several types of family visas, each with their distinctive requirements and procedures. Family visa applications are one of the most complex in the UK immigration system. It is therefore prudent to seek help from an immigration expert to maximise your chances of successful spouse or partner visa application.

UK Skilled Worker and other UK work visa routes for South Africans

The main type of UK work visa leading to settlement/ILR in the UK is the Skilled Worker visa. There are also other sponsored work visas, called Global Business Mobility (GBM) visas, but the GBM visas do not lead to settlement. We therefore do not focus on them in this article. The other possible unsponsored UK work visa routes are the Global Talent visa and Innovator Founder visa.

UK Skilled Worker visa route for South Africans

The key requirements for the Skilled Worker visa (note: the Skilled Worker visa replaced the previous Tier 2 General visa) are listed below:

Have a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS – work permit) issued by a UK employer holding immigration sponsor licence.

Minimum salary £26,200 per year or Soc Code minimum, whichever of the two is higher. There are a few exceptions when the yearly salary may be lower (e.g. job on the Shortage Occupation List or migrant worker qualifies as a ‘New Entrant’.

Minimum hourly rate £10.75 per hour but may be higher depending on the job type.

Minimum skill level NQF 3 (equivalent to A-Level).

English language CEFR Level B1 in speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Not falling for refusal under any of the General Grounds for Refusal (‘Good Character’).

Detailed Skilled Worker visa requirements are in the Home Office immigration rules.

UK Health & Care visa for South Africans

The Health and Care Visa was launched on 4 August 2020 and it forms part of the Skilled Worker visa route. The Health and Care visa is only available to specified professions: qualified doctors, nurses and allied health professionals who have been trained to a recognised standard and who have good working English. The scope of the visa was extended to include eligible persons working in the social care sector.

Just like for the Skilled Worker visa, for the Health & Care visa you must first receive a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS – work permit) issued by a UK employer holding immigration sponsor licence.

There are a number of benefits of the Health & Care visa, and we list them below:

UK Innovator Founder visa

UK Immigration rules on Innovator visa have recently changed on 12/04/2023. There is new Appendix Innovator Founder introduced instead of the previous Innovator Route. The new rules stress that ‘The applicant must be a genuine Innovator Founder applicant.’

The Innovator Founder route is for a person seeking to establish a business in the UK based on an innovative, viable and scalable business idea they have generated, or to which they have significantly contributed.

The application must be supported by an endorsing body. An applicant must have a key role in the day-to-day management and development of the business.

A partner and dependent children can apply on this route. The Innovator Founder route is a route to settlement.

UK Global Talent visa

The Global Talent visa is for those individuals who are world leaders or emerging world leaders in the fields of:

  • digital technology,
  • humanities,
  • engineering,
  • science,
  • medicine,
  • the arts,
  • architecture,
  • research,
  • film and television,
  • fashion design,

The key requirement is obtaining an endorsement from a designated competent body (DCB) for the particular field of applicant’s expertise. The DCBs are: