The United Kingdom (UK) is one of the top destinations in the world for international students. It’s acclaimed for its excellent academic reputation and quality of life. Approximately 1 in 5 students in the UK are international, and the region has the second-highest number of international students in the world. To study in the UK as an international student, you’re going to need a visa. Here are key things you need to know about UK visas for international students.
Which UK Student Visa is Right for You?
If you’re 16 years old or older, and want to study a higher education course in the UK, a Student visa (formerly known as a General student visa – Tier 4) is likely the best choice. However, if you’re 4-17 years old and you want to attend an independent (private) school, you may apply for a Child Student visa. We’ll discuss how to apply for a Child Student visa below, and a Student visa in the next section.
If you’re applying for a Child Student visa, you’ll need written consent from your parent or guardian to study in the UK, proof that you’ll have sufficient funds to support yourself while studying, and an unconditional offer from an independent school.
How to Apply for a UK Student Visa?
These visa applications are submitted online. You may apply either from outside the UK, or inside the UK if you want to extend your student visa or switch from a different visa type. Generally, applications from outside the UK take less time, with an average three-week response rate. Inside the UK, it usually takes within eight weeks to get a decision.
If your supporting documents need to be verified, you have a criminal conviction, or you need to attend an interview, it may take longer to hear back.
Students can’t apply for a visa more than three months before the start of their program.
In the UK, student visas are sponsored by the licensed institution you’ll be studying at. You must have an unconditional offer of admission by a licensed sponsor before you can apply. This will arrive as a reference number called a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS), which you’ll add to your visa application.
Remember: Plan out your application timeline! You must apply for your visa within six months of receiving your CAS.
UK Student Visa Criteria
Per the UK Government’s website, the following courses or programmes are eligible for Student visas:
“You can do one of the following courses:
- A full-time course leading to a qualification that’s below degree level (RQF level 3, 4, or 5) with at least 15 hours a week of organised daytime study
- A full-time course leading to a qualification that’s degree level or above (RQF level 6, 7, or 8)
- Full-time course at degree level or above (RQF level 6,7, or 8) that’s equivalent to a UK higher education course and is being delivered as part of a longer course overseas
- A part-time course leading to a qualification that’s above degree level (RQF level 7 or above)
- A recognised foundation programme for postgraduate doctors or dentists
- An English language course at level B2 or above in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.”
If you’re studying in Scotland, their education system does not use the RQF scale as noted above. Refer to an official source for a qualification comparison.
Note: You may also need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate if you’re studying sensitive topics at RQF level 7 or above.
Information Required for UK Student Visas
International students need to submit several supporting documents with their student visa application. Use the UK government’s website to learn which ones you must provide.
In general, international students need the following documents:
- A current passport or other valid travel documentation.
- Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS).
- Biometric information.
- A valid ATAS certificate (if required by your course and nationality).
- English-language proficiency proof.
- Proof you can pay tuition and support yourself (and any family travelling with you).
- If you’ve received sponsorship for your course fees and living costs over the past 12 months, you’ll need written consent for your visa application from your financial sponsor.
- Proof of parental or legal guardian consent and proof of their relationship with you if you’re under 18.
- Tuberculosis test results (if applicable).
When you submit your visa application, you’ll be asked to make an appointment at a visa application center to provide your biometric information (fingerprints and a photo). Some students may be asked to use the UK Immigration: ID Check app to scan their identity document instead. It depends on where you’re from and what kind of passport you have. Either way, you’ll be told which to do when you apply.
If you provided biometric info, pick up your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) after arriving in the UK. Your visa decision letter will indicate where you need to go, and when it must be picked up by. The BRP is a legal document with your:
- Name, date, and place of birth
- Biometric information
- Immigration status and conditions of stay
- Your access to any public services or benefits, including healthcare
Your BRP does not confirm your right to work or rent accommodations. Those are separate processes.
If you used the UK Immigration: ID Check app, you will not be issued a BRP. Instead, prove your right to work and live in the UK online.
English Language Ability
The UK government requires students to have a certain level of English language knowledge when they apply for a student visa.
Important Note: The English-language requirements for a student visa can be different than those needed for admission into the course you’re studying.
Your visa sponsor (the academic institution) will assess your English-language abilities. The most common way to do so is taking a government-approved Secure English Language Test (SELT).
Academic institutions often make their own language assessment based on the qualifications you submit during admissions. They may waive the SELT requirement.
Some international students must show they’ll have enough money to support themselves while in the UK. Students from some countries are exempt from this requirement, so check to see whether this is a necessary step.
Financial capacity includes covering the cost of your travel, tuition, living expenses, and any other expenses or fees. The money must be in your account for a minimum of 28 days, and the end date of that 28-day period must be within 31 days of your visa application date.
The amount you need to show depends on where you’ll be studying. For example, the cost of living is higher in London (both in the city itself and the 32 London boroughs). In April 2023, the UK government required proof of:
- £1,334 per month (for up to nine months) for courses in London
- £1,023 per month (for up to nine months) for courses outside London
You must have enough money for the first academic year of study (9 months), or for the entire course duration if it is less than one academic year.
If you’re bringing a partner or dependents, you must show you can cover their expenses as well:
- £845 per person per month in London
- £680 per person per month outside of London
Share copies of bank statements, details of any loans, and scholarship award information to strengthen your position.
As part of their visa application fees, international students are asked to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) for themselves, and anyone travelling with them. The IHS helps to fund the national healthcare system, and gives students access to free health care while living in the UK.
This means that international students will not have to pay to visit a doctor’s office, health care centre, or hospital while at school. You’ll still need to pay for dental and optical treatment, and any medicine prescribed by a doctor. Fortunately, health insurance can cover some of the cost of your optical, dental, or prescription drug needs. Health insurance is mandatory for all international students.
Length of Stay
A student visa is typically issued for the full length of your studies. For courses that last over six months, international students can arrive in the UK up to one month before classes begin.
In 2020, the UK launched their new post-study work visa (the Graduate visa). This visa allows international students to stay in-country for up to three years after completing a bachelor’s degree, postgraduate degree, or other eligible course. You must apply for it before your student visa expires.
The Graduate visa allows most eligible graduates to work in any role for up to two years after graduation. Doctoral (PhD) graduates may work in the UK for up to three years. The Graduate visa cannot be renewed. You may instead transfer to a different visa, like a Skilled Worker visa.
Travelling with Family
International students in a postgraduate-level course at RQF level 7 or above, that lasts nine months or more, can apply to bring their dependant family members with them to the UK. New government-sponsored students on courses longer than six months and Doctorate Extension Scheme students may also apply to bring family members.
A dependent could be your:
- Husband, wife, or civil partner
- Unmarried (common-law) partner
- Child under 18 years old (this includes if they were born in the UK during your stay)
When you apply, you’ll need to show proof of your relationship. A birth certificate or marriage certificate are the most common options.
Visa Processing Time
Usually, you’ll receive your UK visa decision within three weeks of your biometrics appointment. However, processing times can vary by country.
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