UK Visa FAQs

June 21, 2016

 

The following information is designed to assist education abroad advisers as they guide their students to obtain a student visa to study abroad. NAFSA’s EA Consular Affairs Liaison Subcommittee members review these pages regularly for accuracy, but the consulate to which the student applies for a visa may change its procedures. Students and advisers should confirm specific procedures with each relevant consulate.

Read the latest news on UK Visas

Where is my local consulate?

UK consulates in the United States (Only the NYC office accepts and processes visa applications.)

Applying for a Student Visa

Is a student visa required?

  • Yes, if the student is studying in the UK for more than 6 months and/or plans to undertake part-time employment (including internships). This is referred to as a “Tier 4 Student Visa”.
  • However, for most students (U.S. passport holders) studying for less than 6 months and not undertaking work of any kind (this includes paid or unpaid work, volunteering and interning), entering on the Short Term Student Route (previously known as a “Student Visitor”) is fine with the appropriate documentation
  • The appropriate documentation is typically the official letter from host institution and/or home institution confirming participation in an official education abroad program, and proof of funds in the form of a bank statement or sponsor letter. UKVI does not specify the amount of the required proof of funds, but for guidance, they should be sufficient to cover the student’s costs for the duration of their time in the UK.
  • Contrary to the guidance provided by some British universities, there is no need for students meeting the criteria described in the bullet points above to apply for a visa before traveling to the UK. The stamp they receive in their passport upon entry to the UK serves as their 'visa'.
  • IMPORTANT! Students entering the UK on the Short Term Student Route must carry ALL the appropriate documentation with them if they depart the UK for a short trip to another country. They will be required to show this documentation to UK immigration upon re-entry, and must therefore treat each re-entry to the UK as if they are entering for the first time. The stamp in their passport is not enough on its own to confirm re-entry to the UK.
  • Not sure if your student requires a visa? Plug their answers into this brief questionnaire on the British Government’s Visas and Immigration website and follow the directions – https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa.
  • You can also refer to these two guides provided by the UKVI at the British consulate in New York:  
  • Students who are visa nationals (defined as a person who would normally require a visa to enter the UK as a tourist) and intend to study abroad in the UK for less than 6 months and not participate in work of any kind (this includes paid or unpaid work, volunteering and interning) must apply for a SHORT TERM STUDY VISA. for more information go to https://www.gov.uk/study-visit-visa

  • Non-native English speaking, degree-seeking international students enrolled at a US university and applying for a short term study visa are not required to provide proof of English proficiency as part of their visa application.
  • Please note: U.S. passport holders are NOT considered visa nationals.

What is the process for applying for a Tier 4 student visa?

  • To apply for a Tier 4 visa, a student must: be sponsored by a Licensed Tier 4 Sponsor; complete an online application; be fingerprinted at a USCIS facility; and mail in a printed copy of the online application along with supporting documentation, including their passport.
  • Please note: The Tier 4 visa application no longer requires a passport-style photograph.
  • Students must apply for a Tier 4 visa at least 6 weeks prior to the course start date. However, a student may not apply for a visa more than 90 days prior to the course start date.
  • For a period of study less than 6 months, the Tier 4 visa allows the student to enter the UK up to 7 days before the start date of their course of study. For a period of study of longer than 6 months the Tier 4 visa allows the student to enter the UK up to 7 days prior to the intended date of entry provided on the Tier 4 application form.
  • As of April 6, 2016, non-native English speaking, degree-seeking international students enrolled at a US university are NO LONGER required to provide proof of English proficiency as part of their application for a Tier 4 visa for a period of study up to 6 months.
  • Proof of English proficiency is still required for a Tier-4 visa application for a period of study longer than 6 months.
  • Students applying for a Tier 4 visa to study for a period of more than six months ONLY are required to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge of £150. This fee is payable at the time that they submit their online Tier 4 Application, and is in addition to the Tier 4 Application Fee. Payment of the surcharge enables access to UK’s National Health Service (NHS) in the same way as a permanent UK resident. Additional payment may be required at point of service for some services such as dental treatment and eye tests.
  • A Tier 4 visa issued for a period of study longer than 6 months is only valid for 30 days so it is important to check the validity dates on the visa. The student is required to obtain a Biometric Residency Permit within 10 days of arrival in the UK. Instructions on this process are provided with the visa.
  • This regulation applies ONLY to students receiving a Tier 4 visa to study for a period of more than 6 months. A Tier 4 issued for a period of study of less than 6 months will be valid for 6 months and the student is NOT required to obtain a Biometric Residency Permit after arrival in the UK.
  • The Health Surcharge and the Biometric Residency Permit requirements DO NOT apply to students applying for a Tier 4 visa for a period of less than six months.
  • Information on the visa application process can be found online at: https://www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration/study-visas and www.nafsa.org/ukvisas

What are the requirements to obtain a student visa?

Information on the Tier 4 visa requirements can be found at:https://www.gov.uk/tier-4-general-visa and www.nafsa.org/ukvisas.

Is batch processing (a single institution submits visa applications on behalf of its students) possible?

The UK Consulate in New York welcomes batch processing.

UKVI has also launched an 'on-demand' service in conjunction with their commercial partner, VFS. This is available to schools or universities who request an on-site visit for enrollment of biometrics and collection of applications to be returned to the New York consulate for processing.

This will ensure every application has biometrics, a valid passport and a return shipping label which will result in fewer problems with processing.

Go to http://www.vfsglobal.co.uk/usa/user_pay_services.html#7 for more details, including costs.

Does a student have to appear in person at the consulate to obtain a student visa?

No, the Tier 4 application is submitted online and via mail to the British Consulate. However, student must be fingerprinted (thus appear in person) at a USCIS center.

Can a non-U.S. citizen apply for a student visa through a consulate in the U.S.?

Yes, but the student must submit proof of their legal presence in the US (I-20, etc.) with their mailed application materials. However, non-U.S. citizens (including green card holders) are treated as citizens of their home country (country of held passport) and additional processing time may be necessary.

Does the student have to complete any additional procedures once overseas?

No, unless they are applying for a Tier 4 visa for a period of study longer than 6 months. See the information above on the Biometric Residency Permit.

Processing Time

How long does a student visa take and when should my student apply?

  • The UKVI guidelines state that a student should apply for a Tier 4 visa at least 6 weeks prior to the course start date. However, a student may not apply for a visa more than 90 days prior to the course start date (not travel date).
  • The UKVI strives to process most student visa applications within 10 business days. For updated processing times visit the UKVI website –
    https://www.gov.uk/visa-processing-times#resultTableAnchor
  • However, during the busy times of the year (November - December, and June - August) it can take longer to process the high number of visa applications received, and there is no guarantee that applicants who submit their paperwork less than 6 weeks before their program start date will receive their visa in time. Applicants submitting less than 6 weeks before their program start date should use the Priority Service or the Premium Application Centre (see below).
  • Students must include return shipping with their application packet. The UK consulate accepts return shipping by UPS ONLY. A UPS return airway bill can be purchased online on the VFS.Global website
  • The UK Consulate will not ship packets by any other mail provider.

Will consulates make exceptions and allow for emergency applications if a student is leaving sooner that than the standard processing time?

  • Students who submit their application less than 6 weeks before their program start date, or otherwise require their visa sooner than the standard processing time allows for, have several options:

Priority Service.

  • This must be purchased on the day that the visa application is sent to the UKVI in New York. It cannot be applied to an application that has already been submitted. Full information is available at http://www.vfsglobal.co.uk/usa/

Priority Service Cost: US $218 + tax

  • Priority service applications will be placed at the front of the queue to be processed ahead of non-priority applications.
  • The average processing time for Priority Service applications is 5 business days although it can take longer during peak periods.
  • Applicants must ensure that they have submitted their biometrics at their chosen Application Support Center before sending their visa application for processing.
  • Applicants should only purchase the Priority Service on the day they intend to send their visa application to the UK Consulate in New York City. Full information is available at http://www.vfsglobal.co.uk/usa/user_pay_services.html#
  • Priority Service is available at the UKVI in New York only, and is only available to applicants based in the United States.
  • The UKVI will not prioritize applications that have been submitted late and are not accompanied by Priority Service. It is the applicant’s responsibility to adhere to the advertised application timelines.
  • PLEASE NOTE: students should always submit their visa application as soon as possible (ideally at least 6 weeks before their travel date). Students should not assume that the availability of Priority Service means they can leave it until a week before departure to apply. The advertised processing time is a best faith estimate, not a 100% guarantee.

Premium Service Centres

  • The Premium Service Centres, operated by VFS and located in midtown Manhattan, Washington DC, and Los Angeles, offer three premium package services promising same day appointments and faster processing of applications. Full details of these packages and their costs are available on the VFS website at: http://www.vfsglobal.co.uk/usa/applicationcentre.html
  • The UKVI will not prioritize applications that have been submitted late and are not accompanied by Priority Service or one of the Premium Service packages. It is the applicant's responsibility to adhere to the advertised application timelines.

Entering the UK via Ireland

Students traveling from the USA to the UK to study abroad should enter the UK on a direct flight from the USA.

Students should not attempt to make their first entry to the UK via Ireland.

Passengers on flights from Ireland to the UK do not clear immigration on arrival at the UK airport and the student will not therefore be able to be admitted in the correct status.

Many British universities now require international students to fly directly from their home country to the UK to ensure they are admitted in the correct status.

In many cases, these universities instruct any international students arriving via Ireland to leave the UK and re-enter from another country (such as France or Belgium) to ensure they clear immigration on arrival in the UK.

Changing Visas While Abroad

Can a student obtain a student visa once overseas?

No.

Can a student extend his/her visa in country (for a second semester, for example)?

Yes, but only if the student originally entered the UK on a Tier 4 student visa. Short Term Student Route students cannot extend their stay and must return home to obtain a visa for re-entry.

Can a student travel after the program even if their student visa has expired?

A student entering the UK on the Short Term Visitor Route is granted leave to remain in the UK for the duration of the course, but are also usually permitted to enter a week prior to the course start date and remain for a week after the course end date. The same one week before and after rule applies for Tier 4 visas issued for less than 6 months (in the case of an internship component). For courses that are longer than 6 months (but less than 12 months), students are permitted to enter up to 7 days before the course start date and to remain for up to 60 days after the course end date.

Note: U.S. citizens may depart the UK (travel to the continent, etc.) at the end of their program and return as tourists for up to 6 months with no additional visa required.

Problems with Visa Applications

If a student is having a problem obtaining his/her visa, what should s/he do?

Contacting the British Consulate directly can be difficult. Therefore, the student should first alert their study abroad adviser. If the student applied for their Tier 4 Student Visa within the 6-week minimum time frame, the adviser should them contact the NAFSA UK Consular Affairs Liaison team through NAFSA's EA Visa help.
Please note that the NAFSA UK Consular Affairs Liaison team cannot expedite a visa application that has been submitted too late. All visa applications should be submitted to the UK Consulate in New York at least 6 weeks before the program start date.

How do I ask for assistance from NAFSA’s EA Consular Affairs Liaison Subcommittee?

Education abroad advisers may submit a request online in order to request assistance from NAFSA's Consular Affairs Liaison Subcommittee. Submit your request to www.nafsa.org/eavisahelp, and your message will be automatically routed to the appropriate NAFSA Subcommittee member. NAFSA Consular Affairs Liaison Subcommittee members have contacts at the majority of consulates in the United States and will respond promptly to your request for assistance. The link for EA Visa Help is also at the top of this web page's sidebar.

UKVI also offers an international enquiry service providing information about the visa application service. It’s available at https://ukvi-international.faq-help.com/. This service is provided by Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS) working in partnership with UKVI. Contact by e-mail is free. To speak directly to an advisor costs approx. $2.30 per minute in addition to the cost of the call. The phone number in the USA is 1-888-6839699 and the service is open 9am – 5pm EDT. HGS staff do not play any part in, or influence the outcome of visa applications.

What should a student do if their Tier 4 visa is denied?

Unless the UKVI provided additional instructions with the denial, a student must start the whole process over again (from the beginning), including the online application and biometrics. No refunds will be issued for a denial.

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