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UK Student Visas and Immigration Procedures

UK Student Visas and Immigration ProceduresThe UK welcomes postgraduate students from all over the world.

For most international students, entering the UK is fairly straightforward, as long as you follow the rules and regulations about immigration and visas and make sure you get the correct documentation.

Let’s take a look at the visa and immigration rules and regulations that you should be aware of.

What is a visa?

A visa is a certificate that is put into your passport or travel document. A UK visa is issued by the British government at British missions overseas that offer a visa service, these are usually the British Embassy or consulate in your own country.

A visa will give you permission to enter the UK for your postgraduate studies and, in some instances, will also give you permission to work in the UK for a certain number of hours for the duration of your studies.

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 visa 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. You should be able to find the location and contact details of the visa application centres or British missions that offer a visa service in your own country by searching British government websites online.


Keep up to date with immigration rules

The laws on immigration change from time to time. In this article we shall describe the regulations that you need to be aware of at the time of writing the article, but changes can happen, so it is important that you check the current regulations and identify exactly what regulations apply to you and your family at the time of applying for your visa. The best way to do this is by looking at the latest advice on the UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) website and seeking the advice of a visa application centre or British mission overseas that offers a visa service in your own country).

A procedure called the ‘Points-Based System’ is currently used for assessing whether a visa should be given to those from outside the UK. This does not apply to Irish citizens or EU citizens with status under the EU Settlement Scheme, as they are automatically allowed entry into the UK to work and study.

Visit the UKVI website to check the current situation on what you need to meet the criteria. For example, depending on where you are from, you may need proof of English language proficiency through an English language test like Cambridge English.

The UK Council for Student International Affairs (UKCISA) website also has some useful advice about what you should be considering in the light of any recent or proposed changes. The UKCISA is the UK's national advisory body that serves the interests of international students and those who work with them.

Applying for a student visa

The ‘Student’ visa has replaced the Tier 4 (General) Student visa. You can apply for a Student visa to study in the UK if you’re 16-years-old or over and you:

  • Have been offered a place on a course by a UK university or any other licensed student sponsor.
  • Can prove you have enough money to pay for your course and support yourself.
  • Can speak, read, write and understand English – you may need to pass an English language test to prove this.

Please note, you must not travel to the UK before the start date given on your visa.

Students from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein

If you or your family are from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein and you or a family member started living in the UK before or on 31st December 2020, you may be able to apply to the free EU Settlement Scheme.

The deadline to apply for this was 30th June 2021, however you may still be able to apply if you are:

  • Joining a family member in the UK.
  • Have ‘reasonable grounds’ for being unable to apply by the deadline, for example you were the victim of domestic abuse or had a serious illness.

Check if you can still apply to the EU Settlement Scheme for settled status.

When to apply for a student visa

If you are applying for a Student visa from outside the UK, you can apply for your visa up to six months before you start your course.

If you are applying for a Student visa from inside the UK, you can apply for your visa up to three months before your course starts.

You must apply for your Student visa before your current visa expires, and your new course must begin within 28 days of your current visa expiring.

How long can you stay in the UK on a Student visa?

The length of time that you can stay in the UK on a Student visa depends on the length of your course and the other study you’ve already completed in the UK.

If you’re aged 18 or over and are studying a degree-level course, you can usually stay in the UK for up to five years.

Can you extend your stay in the UK?

As an international student you might be able to extend your stay in the UK if you are continuing your studies at a UK university and can extend your Student visa.

You may also be able to switch to a ‘Graduate’ visa to stay in the UK for longer. This can enable you to stay in the UK for at least two years after successfully completing your course

When you can travel to the UK

Once you have your visa you can arrive before your course starts.

This can be either:

Up to one week before, if your course lasts six months or less.

Up to one month before, if your course lasts more than six months

You must not travel to the UK before the start date given on your visa, even if your course has started.

Student visa fees

It costs £363 to apply for a Student visa from outside the UK.

It costs £490 to extend or switch to a Student visa from inside the UK.

You must pay the visa fee for each person that joins you.

Student visa entry requirements

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.

You will have to provide evidence that you meet certain requirements – the documentation that you may need to provide could include:

  • Diplomas or educational certificates relevant to the new course.
  • 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 masters or PhD program 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 Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) 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 program, including letters from prospective employers, if you know that they will offer you a position on your returning with your qualification, confirming this.

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 exact procedure for applying for a Student visa in the UK varies between countries. Detailed information about procedures in each country can be found on the UKVI 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.

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, it will state 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 are going to 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.

UK student application process

The UK Student visa application process can seem quite overwhelming and some of the eligibility requirements are rather difficult to adhere to – this is to prevent abuse of the immigration system in the UK.

However, UK authorities recognise the importance of international students in the UK. As former Prime Minister Theresa May explained, “International students not only make a vital contribution to the UK economy, but they also make our education system one of the best in the world. But it has become very apparent that the old student visa regime failed to control immigration and failed to protect legitimate students from poor-quality colleges. The new system is designed to ensure students come for a limited period, to study, not work, and make a positive contribution while they are here.”

It is essential that international students continue to come to the UK for their postgraduate studies as they make a fantastic contribution, both in terms of educational research and studies, as well as to the UK economy.

Travel between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

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 their own Assemblies and Parliaments, they are all 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 any one of them from outside of the UK entitles you to move freely within all of them. So even if you have a single-entry visa, you can travel freely between them.

Travel between the UK and the rest of Europe

If you want to travel outside the UK to the rest of Europe while you are a student, you will still need to satisfy all the visa and entry requirements of any other country you enter, including the 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!

Student visas – useful websites

Here are some useful websites for international students who want to study and work in the UK:

Home Office

Visa applications
Working in the UK website

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)

Guidance and information

Embassies & consulates worldwide

Contact information for all overseas consulates, embassies and other diplomatic mission offices


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