Top ten immigration questions on moving to the UK from South Africa

An overview of the UK immigration options for individuals in South Africa

24 January 2022

In addition to our Top ten tips for moving to the UK from South Africa in which we discussed the importance of pre-arrival planning from a tax and trust perspective, we have set out some key immigration questions individuals should ask themselves if they are considering moving to the UK from South Africa.

1.Why are you moving?

Whether you are relocating to the UK to set up a business or to join your family, you will need to choose an immigration route that best serves the purpose of your move. Broadly speaking, UK visas can be divided into the following categories:

  • Ancestry 
  • Business
  • Family 
  • Investment
  • Study
  • Visit
  • Work

Different types of visa have different advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, it is advisable to apply for the right visa from the outset to ensure that your relocation is as smooth as possible. 

2. When are you moving?

The timing of your arrival to the UK is crucial to your emigration and immigration planning. A UK immigration application will usually consist of the following stages:

  • Gathering information and supporting documents
  • Preparing the online application form
  • Submitting the online form and paying the application fees (no earlier than three months before the proposed arrival date in the UK)
  • Booking an appointment to attend a visa application centre (VAC) in South Africa (or your country of residence at the time)
  • Uploading supporting documents prior to the appointment
  • Attending the VAC appointment in person and providing biometric information (i.e. fingerprints and a photograph), and
  • Waiting for the UK Home Office to process the application.

The time it takes to prepare and submit a UK immigration application depends on your personal circumstances. As discussed in our Top ten tips, you may be considered to be UK tax resident from the 6 April before your arrival. It is, therefore, important to seek professional advice in South Africa and in the UK in the tax year prior to arrival to ensure that your tax and immigration planning align.

3. Are you eligible for British citizenship?

British citizenship is one of the six types of British nationalities, which may be acquired by:

  • Adoption
  • Birth
  • Descent 
  • Naturalisation
  • Registration

Whilst it is common to refer to 'citizenship by double descent', it is a shorthand for a combination of complex exceptions and not a route to British citizenship in its own right. 

British citizens are free from UK immigration control and are entitled to a British passport. If you think you might be eligible for British citizenship, then it is worth checking if you qualify before considering other UK immigration options. 

4. Are you eligible for permanent residence? 

If you are not entitled to British citizenship, then you should consider whether you are eligible for permanent residence. The right to permanent residence in the UK is often referred to as 'settled status' (under the EU Settlement Scheme) or 'Indefinite Leave to Remain' ('ILR') (under other UK immigration routes). Most typically, an individual may qualify for permanent residence after living in the UK for at least five years under a visa that leads to settlement. 

Although the right to permanent residence in the UK may lapse (e.g. due to excess absences), it is possible to revive it. In general, a holder of settled status or ILR is subject to more immigration restrictions than a British citizen but fewer restrictions than someone who is holding a visa. 

5. Which UK visa can lead to settlement?

Provided that the relevant requirements are met, the following UK visas are routes to settlement:

  • Ancestry
  • Business 
  • Family
  • Investment
  • Work

6. Are short-term visas only suitable for a short-term stay in the UK?

Most short-term visas do not lead to permanent residence in the UK. However, in limited circumstances, it is possible to apply for settlement by combining residence in the UK under more than one visa category. The most relevant examples are:

  • Dependants of a UK Ancestry visa holder
  • Long residence (ten years of lawful and continuous residence in the UK)

7. Can you live in the UK as a visitor?

As a visitor, you cannot live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits, or make the UK your main home. Although visitors do not have residence rights in the UK for immigration purposes, it is possible for visitors to become resident in the UK for tax purposes under the Statutory Residence Test. Please see our Top ten tips for further information. 

8. Are new UK immigration routes being introduced in 2022?

Whilst details of the new routes have not yet been published, we are expecting the following three visas to be introduced in Spring 2022:

  • Global Business Mobility
  • High Potential Individual
  • Scale-up

As highlighted in the Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021, the key migration focuses of the current UK government are to 'attract highly skilled people and support inward investment'. You may wish to consider these new routes once they are introduced. 

9. What are your goals?

If you are planning to move to the UK as soon as possible, then you may wish to apply for a visa using the 'super priority service' (if available) instead of trying to establish your right to British citizenship, which can take up to six months for an application to be processed. On the other hand, if your goal is to hold permanent residence or British citizenship, then you may wish to spend more time considering your options at the outset. 

10. How can we help?

Burges Salmon's specialists have substantial experience in immigration, tax, trusts, and estate planning for international clients. If you wish to discuss any of the matters raised in this article, please do get in touch with Catherine de Maid, Suzanna Harvey or your usual contact within the team.

For further information, please also see our webpage, Moving to the UK, which includes more details on the key issues for wealthy individuals looking to relocate to the UK and a link to a series of videos we have produced, including Catherine de Maid and Suzanna Harvey discussing their tips for people moving to the UK from South Africa.

You may also like to view our new App, ResiCheck, which we have launched to help Burges Salmon clients – at no cost – work out whether they are tax-resident in the UK.

This article was written by Catherine de Maid and Myra Leung.

 

Key contact

catherine-de-maid

Catherine de Maid Partner

  • Head of Philanthropy
  • International Tax
  • Succession Planning and Wills

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