The United Kingdom (UK) has a longstanding reputation for academic excellence. Home to the world’s oldest university in the English-speaking world, the UK attracts over 500,000 international students annually. In fact, the UK is amongst the top three countries students choose for international education around the world.

Find out whether you need to apply for a UK student visa, and how the application process works.

UK visa requirements and general immigration criteria are managed by UK Visas and Immigration, which has an easy-to-navigate site to help you determine whether you need a UK student visa. While Swiss nationals and those from the EU/EEA states do not currently need a visa to study in the UK, all other international students are likely to need one.

Understanding Higher Education:

Higher Education refers to degree education, and includes both undergraduate (Bachelor) and postgraduate (Masters and Doctoral) studies.

• Bachelor’s degrees are typically awarded after three (3) years of full time study in the

UK, except in Scotland. It will take four (4) years if the student is studying in Scotland, or

if the student adds a year of work experience in between their study terms, referred to as a sandwich year. Professional degrees, such as medicine, veterinary and architecture degrees, require five (5) years of study.

• Students can earn a Master’s degree in one year, while a Doctorate is typically completed in three to five (3-5) years.

• Students can also pursue an Integrated Master’s degree, a four-year program that

combines undergraduate and graduate studies. Students are admitted after A-levels

(further education), and do not receive a Bachelor’s degree in the process.

Higher Education is typically offered by universities, though some Further Education colleges and institutes also award degrees and foundation degrees (a two-year degree) in partnership with a recognized body. A recognized body is a higher education institution that is recognized by British government through legislation, and authorized to award degrees in the UK.

Spotlights of some of the best Universities in the UK:

Types of UK student visa

  1. If you’re studying a short course and are over 18 years old, you may be eligible for a short-term study visa. This is valid for up to six months for most short courses and can be extended for a stay of up to 11 months for English language courses.
  2. If you’re studying a longer course, you’ll need to make sure your chosen institution holds a Tier 4 Sponsor License. You can either apply for a Tier 4 (Child) student visa (if you’re aged 4-17 and want to study at an independent school in the UK) or a Tier 4 (General) student visa for those aged 16 and over.

UK student visa requirements

Your course provider may be willing to help you to apply for a UK student visa once you have been offered a place on a course; ask to find out if this is the case. You can apply for the visa up to three months in advance of the start date of your course.
Contact us as early as you can and be sure to allow plenty of time to complete the process.

UK student visas are awarded on a points-based system. In order to meet all the UK student visa requirements, you’ll need to provide:

  • Details of your passport
  • A recent photograph
  • An unconditional offer of a place on a course offered by a licensed Tier 4 Sponsor, evidenced by a ‘Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies’ (CAS) form from your course provider
  • Proof of adequate English language skills, demonstrated by passing one of the secure English language tests (SELT). You will not need to provide this if you’re from an English-speaking country such as the United States or have completed a qualification equivalent to a UK degree in an English-speaking country.
  • Proof you have financial support throughout your stay in the UK.
    Proof of financial support can take the form of bank statements or a letter from your financial sponsor, showing you can cover your tuition fees, accommodation and living costs. The money you need to show covers your course fees for your first year of study and living costs for up to a maximum of nine months. The amount you will need depends on whether you are applying as a child or adult and also whether you will be studying in or out of London. You must show that you have held the money for at least 28 days. The end of that 28 day period must not be more than one month before the date of your application.

You may also be required to produce documents showing your academic qualifications, and to attend an interview or biometric test, which includes a digital scan of your fingerprints. Depending on your country of origin, you may also be required to have certain medical vaccinations or undertake a tuberculosis test.

If you’re 16 or 17 years old and applying for the Tier 4 (General) student visa, you must have written consent from your parents/guardians that you can live and travel independently.

UK student visa fees

The current fee for the Tier 4 (General) student visa is £348 (~US$440), with an additional £348 fee per person for any dependents. You’ll also need to pay a healthcare surcharge of £150 per year (~US$190) in order to access the National Health Service (NHS) during your stay (this will rise to £300 (~US$380) from late 2018).

The Short Term Study Visa costs £97 (~US$120) for the six month option and £186 (~US$240) for the 11 month visa.

Streamlined visa processes for master’s students at 27 universities

You can now apply for streamlined visa processing to study a master’s degree at one of the 27 eligible universities (listed here), as part of a new Tier 4 Pilot scheme. Your course will need to be 13 months or less and you can apply from inside or outside the UK. The pilot scheme allows you to stay longer after the end of your course (you can stay for six months after you’ve finished your studies) and also means that you won’t need to submit documents showing your academic results or proof of funds. However, you will still need to have these documents to hand in case they are needed, and will still need to follow all the other immigration guidelines.
The universities were selected as their visa refusal rates are consistently the lowest in their area or region.
The 23 universities to be added to the pilot are:

  • Cardiff University
  • Goldsmiths University of London
  • Harper Adams University
  • Newcastle University
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
  • University of Bristol
  • Durham University
  • University of East Anglia
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Essex
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Reading
  • University of Sheffield
  • University of Southampton
  • University of Wales Trinity St. David (Swansea Campus)
  • University of Warwick
  • University of York

Using your UK student visa

When you enter the UK, a UK Border Agency officer will put a stamp on your passport that states the duration of your stay in the UK. For example, if your course is 12 months or more, you can stay for the full duration of the course plus an additional four months. You cannot extend your stay beyond this period.

Before you arrive, you must make sure you are fully immunized, remembering to pack your immunization record in your hand luggage in case you are asked to show the Border Agency officer at your UK port of entry. You should also carry the documents relating to your studies (including your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies or CAS number), your proof of finances and your proof of accommodation.
Depending on where you’re from, you may also be required to register with the police within seven days of arrival in the UK.

Working while studying in the UK

All EU, EEA and Swiss students can work while studying in the UK. Students of publicly funded higher education institutions on Tier 4 student visas can work for up to 20 hours per week during term time and full-time during Christmas and Easter breaks (unless you are aged 16 or 17, in which case the maximum is 10 hours per week during term time).

Many international students choose to work while studying to earn an income, as well as to gain valuable British work experience to support their professional growth.

Students with a valid Tier 4 Student Visa are eligible to work in the UK while studying. The number of hours a student is eligible to work will depend on the level of the education they’re pursuing. Students enrolled in a full-time program at degree level and above can work for a maximum of 20 hours in any given week. If they are studying below degree level, they may work up to 10 hours in a given week.

Students can also work full-time during vacation periods: winter, summer and spring holiday breaks when classes are not in session. 

Note that students in a Master’s program do not get summer vacation. They are expected to study full-time towards their dissertation in the summer, and cannot work full-time during this period. Postgraduate research (PhD) students do not have any specified vacation period. They are permitted up to six weeks of vacation per year, which they can take after getting approval from their supervisor or school.

A student’s Biometric Residence Permit (BRP)will specify any work restrictions a student has. Students should review their BRP when they receive it to verify all the information is correct. 

Graduate Immigration Route – New for 2021

Fact sheet: Graduate Immigration Route

In September 2019, the British government announced a new Graduate Immigration Route, which will become available in Summer 2021. Under the Graduate Immgiration Route, eligible international students will be able to stay and work (or look for work) in the UK for up to two years after completing their studies. It is not mandatory for students to have secured employment to stay in the UK through this route. The Graduate Immigration Route is only available to international students who complete their degree-level courses in or after the summer for 2021. Students will be required to submit an application, and pay the visa fee and Immigration Health Surcharge, to be considered for the route.

The Graduate Immigration Route is non-extendable and does not count towards settlement. However, graduates who find an appropriate job and meet the requirements will be able to switch into skilled work, which is a route to settlement. To learn more, please review the fact sheet issued by the government to announce the program. Limited details are publicly available at this time as the government is still formulating the framework to operate this new immigration route.

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