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1040 Abroad

UK-US FTA Negotiations

The Diaspora Advocates for Easier Movement Between United States and United Kingdom
By Olivia McLaren
Published on August 24, 2020

Legacy Statue The Legacy sculpture by Mark DeGraffenried is at the Royal Albert Dock, Liverpool. It was given to the people of Liverpool by the Mormon Church as a tribute to the many who embarked from Liverpool to start a new life in America. Approximately nine million people emigrated through the port. Photo by Ian Houston

The United States and the United Kingdom are currently negotiating the terms of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to support trade and investment between the two economies post-Brexit, with a goal to bring the agreement before Congress by the end of the year. Leading figures in transatlantic relations are proposing to add movement of people to the negotiating agenda to facilitate the “special relationship” between the two nations.


The United States has reciprocal, special visa categories for nationals of Australia, Chile, Singapore, Canada, and Mexico that evolved from FTA negotiations with those countries, but nothing similar exists for UK nationals. According to the FTA negotiating agenda published by the UK and the US governments, the focus is boosting trade and investment between the two economies, but movement of people is markedly absent from that agenda.

At present, there are many Americans and UK nationals who would love to work, study, or even retire abroad, but the administrative and financial burden placed on visa applicants and their sponsors is prohibitive. In many cases, there are no suitable visa options. For example, the United States has no visa that would allow a UK national to retire in the United States, even if they have the means to do so and would benefit the local economy.

There are many options for easing access and advocates are hoping to influence the agenda, creating new opportunities for individuals and businesses to enhance the transatlantic relationship. Perhaps the most well-supported of the options under discussion by advocates is expansion of the UK ancestry visa to Americans.

Ancestry Visa

Millions of Americans claim ancestry from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and the frequency of travel between the United States and these nations is extraordinarily high. A group led by Ian Houston, Washington DC Ambassador for the Scottish Business Network (SBN) and former executive director and legislative director of the American Foreign Service Association, and Fraser Grier, New York Ambassador for SBN and a US immigration lawyer, have started a campaign promoting an extension to Americans of the UK ancestry visa currently offered only to citizens of the 54 Commonwealth nations. This ancestry visa is available to individuals over 17 years of age who have a grandparent born in the United Kingdom. It allows them to live in the UK with family members for a 5-year period and creates a path to citizenship.

Ian and Fraser confirmed, “Our group is comprised of individuals who claim heritage from each nation within the UK: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Some are immigrants themselves and some are 1st or 2nd generation Americans. They care deeply about the potential opportunities for their own families and for their respective diaspora communities, encompassing millions of people. Our main objective is to spark conversation with elected representatives, members of local and state government, and nonprofit organizations on the multitude of benefits this innovation could bring for both the UK and US.

As ambassadors for the Scottish Business Network we see this innovation will have a direct impact for commerce and be a tool for enhancing enterprise and deepening cultural engagement not just for Scottish companies and institutions but firms and organizations across the UK and the US.”


Reciprocity is a fundamental tenet of immigration law; we will only extend privileges to others that are of similar and equal benefit to privileges bestowed on us. Accordingly, were the ancestry visa extended to Americans, we would expect to see the United States offering the same or similar opportunities to UK nationals.

For example, something like the Q-2 visa created for the Irish Peace Process Cultural and Training Program (2000), which allowed young people from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to gain work experience in the United States, may be of commensurate value. Or perhaps even a new points-based visa for UK nationals that included family ties as a consideration. The overriding concern is identifying the social and economic benefits together with the proportionality of any proposal.

For more information, please see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-uks-approach-to-trade-negotiations-with-the-us and https://ustr.gov/countries-regions/europe-middle-east/europe/united-kingdom/us-uk-trade-agreement-negotiations . To learn more about the ancestry visa proposal, contact ian@sbn.scot or fraser@sbn.scot.

Olivia McLaren is an American lawyer based in Edinburgh, Scotland, who specializes in U.S. immigration law


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