Immigration procedures and visas

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The UK welcomes postgraduate students from all over the world. Entering the UK is, for most students, fairly straightforward, but there are rules and regulations about immigration and visas that you need to know about.
 

Keep Up To Date With Immigration Rules

The laws on immigration change from time to time, but we shall describe here the regulations that you need to be aware of. But – it is important that you check the current regulations and identify exactly what regulations apply to you and your family by looking at the latest advice on the UK Border Agency Visa Services website and seeking the advice of a visa application centre or British mission overseas that offers a visa service in your own country (see below).

New procedures (called the Points-Based System) for assessing whether a visa should be given to those from outside the European Economic Area who have applied for entry into the UK have been introduced since 2008. Visit the UK Border Agency Visa Services website to check the current situation. The UKCISA website also has some useful advice about what you should be considering in the light of the proposed changes.

Students from the European Economic Area

If you are a citizen of a country in the European Economic Area (EEA), you are entitled to enter the UK as a visitor, to work or as a student with few restrictions, and to bring your family members with you (although if you are from Bulgaria or Romania, current rules mean that you may have to apply for a registration certificate if you want to work in the UK). All you will need is a valid passport that you will have to show when you enter the UK. The European Economic Area is made up of the countries of the European Union (EU) plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The European Union countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK. In addition, while Switzerland is not formally a member of the EEA or the EU, it is regarded as a member of the EEA for most immigration purposes.

Students from outside the European Economic Area

From 1 September 2007, all citizens of any other country have needed prior student entry clearance to enter the United Kingdom for the purpose of study. You can enter as either as a student visitor or a student.

The advantage of being a student visitor is that you are exempted from the requirement for student entry clearance being granted before being allowed into the UK. This category is open to those who wish to study in the UK for six months or less, whose course is on the Register of Education and Training Providers and who do not want to work part time during their studies or extend their leave to remain in the UK beyond this time. However, if you do not want these restrictions, then a student visitor visa is not usually appropriate.

The alternative is a student visa, particularly if your program will last longer than six months. This entitles you to stay in the UK for the length of your postgraduate program, and to work for up to 20 hours per week during term time and full time during vacations without needing a work permit.

Visas

Visas are certificates that are put into your passport or travel document and are issued by the British government at British missions overseas that offer a visa service, which are usually the British Embassy or Consulate in your own country. A visa will give you permission to enter the UK.

Visa services are also provided in some countries by visa application centres, run in partnership between the UK government and commercial companies. These are usually located in populated areas, making it easier and more convenient to apply for a UK visa. Each centre employs trained staff, who deal with all visa enquiries and applications, collect biometric information and relevant fees, and provide applicants with face-to-face advice about their application, including whether they have included all the right paperwork. The application is then passed on to entry clearance staff at the local British mission (as visa application centre staff are not involved in this stage), who will then consider the application before deciding whether to issue or refuse a visa.

If there is no British diplomatic mission, UK visa services may be provided by the embassy or consulate of a country that has agreed to carry out this role for the UK. The location and contact details of the visa application centres or British missions that offer a visa service in your own country can be found on the British government websites listed in the Further information section .

The UK government has also set up a website for online visa applications, Visa4UK , which enables applications from many (but not all) countries for a UK visa or entry clearance online using a secure internet connection. Some countries also accept payment of visa fees online. Applicants are taken through the visa application process step by step. Visa4UK has more information, including the eligible countries.

The UK Border Agency Visa Services website also provides detailed information on all aspects of immigration and applying for permission to enter the UK. Before applying for a visa, you should look in detail at this website, and also at the website of the UK government’s UK Border Agency , where you will be able to find information about individual questions that you have and how to make general enquiries about visas etc.

The entry requirements you must meet before you are eligible for a visa are concerned with the place where you want to study, your course, your ability to follow it, your finances, and your plans during and after your studies, and are outlined in more detail in the UK Immigration Rules .

Therefore, you will have to provide evidence that you meet these requirements, for instance:
• Diplomas or educational certificates relevant to the new course, plus any English language qualifications.
• Evidence of any prior UK study or qualifications.
• A letter from the institution where you will be studying, confirming you have been accepted on to a place on a Master’s or Doctoral programme at a recognised UK university (on the Register of Education and Training Providers), as well as giving details of the course and a statement of charges for the course and/or period of research (if appropriate).
• If you are going to use your own savings to fund your studies, letters or statements from your bank covering at least the last three months.
• An ATAS (Academic Technology Approval Scheme) Certificate if you are following a certain type of postgraduate study.
• If you are being sponsored, a letter confirming government or scholarship agency sponsorship (if appropriate), including details of how long the scholarship will continue and what costs it will cover, or, if you are being privately sponsored, a letter from your sponsor showing what their connection to you is, how they will support you during your studies and what the source of the money will be, plus evidence that they will be able to do this.
• Evidence that you intend to leave the UK at the end of your postgraduate programme, including letters from prospective employers, if you know that they will offer you a position on your returning with your qualification, confirming this.

Also, in all countries, you will also need to provide 'biometric' information (scans of all ten of your fingers and a full-face digital photograph), except in a very small number of exemptions, as part of the visa application process.

The procedure for applying for a student visa varies between countries. Detailed information about procedures in each country can be found on the UK Border Agency Visa Services website .

It is important to remember that, if you are planning to bring any members of your family with you to the UK, you will also need to obtain a visa for each of them. This can be done at the same time as making your own application.

Other Important Considerations

Visas can be issued for varying lengths of time and also for single or multiple entries into the UK. A visa may be issued, for example, for only one year, even if you are planning to study in the UK for up to three years. In this case you will need to apply to the Home Office in the UK to have your visa renewed for further years, and you will need to do this in good time. 

Your university, either through the Student Union or the university’s own student services department, will be able to assist you in making an application for a visa extension once you are in the UK. Every university is required by the government to have a named individual who is responsible for student-related immigration advice, and you will be able to find out who that is and how to contact them from the Student Union.

Be sure to check whether your visa is for single or multiple entry. Multiple entry means that you can enter and leave the UK as often as you like while the visa is valid. This means that you can return home for a visit, for example, or travel on holiday to another country, and then be allowed to re-enter the UK. However, if you have a single-entry visa, you are only allowed to enter at the start of your program and leave at the end – and if you leave the country at any other time you will not be allowed to re-enter the UK without a new visa. A single-entry visa will probably not be a problem if you are coming to the UK for a one-year masters program, but if you need to stay longer than this to follow a Doctoral program then you should certainly try to obtain a multiple-entry visa.

In some cases, your visa will be granted, but with the requirement that you register with the police in the UK after you arrive. If this is required, then it will say this clearly in your passport. If you need to do this, you must register with the police within seven days of arriving in the UK. If you will be living in London, then you will need to report to the office in central London that handles such registrations. Elsewhere in the UK, you will need to report to the nearest police station. To register with the police, you will need to pay a registration fee and take with you two passport photographs of each member of your family accompanying you into the UK.

Finally...

There are two other important things to remember about visas and travel to the UK. The first is that you should not be confused by the fact that the parts of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) are sometimes called ‘countries’. While they have some different laws from each other, and Wales and Scotland have their own Assembly and Parliament respectively, all are part of the United Kingdom – so you do not need a passport or visa to travel between them, and there are no restrictions or immigration procedures at the borders between them. Entering one of them from outside entitles you to move freely within all of them.

The second is that we have only described here the visa regulations for entering the UK. If you want to travel outside the UK while you are here as a student, you will still need to satisfy all the visa and entry requirements of any other country you enter, including other countries in the European Union. So, do not assume you can travel to Paris for a week’s holiday without needing to meet the visa and passport requirements of the French government!

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