In November 2008, the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) began implementing a five-tier visa regulation system that affects both education abroad programs within the United Kingdom and any foreign students or participants.
NAFSA created this update page to provide information to international educators from a variety of sources on these changes.
If you have questions or concerns about the new visa regulations, or if you have information that you would like to share with your colleagues through this update page, please submit to NAFSA leaders through IssueNet: EA Visa Help.
The government of the United Kingdom has just published and shared updated guidance with key stakeholders in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The text below is quoted from that guidance and a link to the full policy guidance can be accessed here.
“Ministers have made it clear that no one will have a negative outcome through the immigration system due to circumstances that were beyond their control. The guidance set forth has outlined certain scenarios that sponsors and students are encountering and how they can be addressed in light of the exceptional circumstances that have unfolded.
Select key points from the guidance:
- 2.7 Sponsors do not need to withdraw their sponsorship if a student is unable to attend for more than 60 days due to Covid-19 but intends to resume their studies.
- 2.9 Tier 4 sponsors can continue to sponsor existing Tier 4 students who are continuing their studies through distance learning, whether they are in the UK or another country.
- 2.11 Where a student is continuing to study via distance learning, whether within the UK or abroad, sponsors do not need to report this as a change of student circumstances.
- 3.2 New international students who have been issued a Tier 4 visa but have been have been unable to travel to the UK are permitted to undertake distance learning and sponsorship does not need to be withdrawn.
- 4.1 Switching into Tier 4 from short-term routes visit and short-term study while in the UK will be allowed on an exceptional basis, until 31 May, at which point the concession will then be reviewed.
Applicants must still meet the other requirements of the route such as maintenance."
Access UK - The UKVI Home Office's new online application service, AccessUK, has been rolled out worldwide and is available in over 200 countries. The visa application form can now be completed on a mobile device, tablet, or desktop computer. This replaces the Visa4UK system used previously.
Access UK means visa customers can:
- make quicker visa applications using an intuitive online form
- use easy-to-follow checklists and steps which list the documents required to make an application
- conveniently select a standard, priority, or super-priority service (where available); and
- apply flexibly using any mobile device.
- facilitated by the above improvements, the application and decision-making process is now fully digital across the USA. The UKVI can now make decisions on visa applications on the basis of digitally scanned copies of required documentation (where this is necessary), rather than waiting for physical versions to arrive in the decision-making hub.
A Q&A sheet provided by the UKVI about AccessUK can be found here and on our UK Visa FAQ's page.
The UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) is piloting a new program in regards to the processing of Tier 4 visa applications: A passport upload process. Information is below.
UK visa Tier 4 application process – Passport Upload pilot.
Customers in the USA, who are US nationals applying under the Tier 4 (General) visa route will have the option of uploading a digital image of their passport biographic (picture) page at time of completing the online application (at the stage where they are invited to upload supporting documents). This feature allows for UK visa teams to start working on cases ahead of the physical application package arriving at the VFS processing hub in New York. Please note that all Tier 4 customers will still need to send in their passport with application package within 5 days of submitting biometrics, so that a visa may be placed into it and returned to them for onward travel to the UK to start studies.
To note – where a Tier 4 applicant has scanned their passport, it is important that they print off the scanning receipt provided by VFS at the end of the online process and include this in the application package they send to New York. This allows for such cases to be quickly identified upon arrival.
The passport upload process is of course optional – US Tier 4 applicants may submit their passport without scanning the biographic page, along with sending their application form, pre-paid return mail envelope and any supporting documents as normal.
New Electronic Gates for UK entrance
New E-gates at UK Borders have been implemented but should not be chosen as initial entry points for students entering the UK for study. Students must make sure, at their initial UK entry point to begin their studies, that they seek a UK Border Agent to receive the correct student visa entry stamp. This goes for Short-Term Student Visas, as well as Tier 4 visa holders.
Application Service Centers
As of April 1, 2019, the Application Support Center (ASC) locations (for biometric data/fingerprinting to be completed) are unable to process any appointments. Students who have missed their appointments due to the outage, are now being accepted at VFS Premium Application Centers based on a rolling calendar system. Please see the full details of this exception on the VFS website.
The CAL subcommittee will be watching the current situation and posting updates as received.
Processing Timeline Reminder
As the busy time of visa applications for summer and fall study abroad is near, NAFSA’s Consular Affairs Liaison UK team offers the following reminders:
- Students who do not ensure sufficient time for their Tier IV visa application, or for those who simply want a faster service, the VFS Premium Service Centers are an option for visa processing. There are additional costs associated, though the timing may best suit students’ travel arrangements.
- VFS also offers on-demand services where VFS staff can come to local universities for an additional fee.
New changes have gone into effect bringing more countries into the differentiation arrangement; especially for those countries with students here on F-1, J-1, and green-card holders in the USA (applying for their Tier 4 visa while in the US). To see this new and expanded country list, visit the UKVI, Appendix H: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/immigration-rules/immigration-rules-appendix-h-tier-4-documentary-requirements. Students with USA citizenship and those listed countries will no longer need to provide additional documentation requirements. Thus, original passport, the first page of the visa application form, and the UPS waybill are all that is needed. To note: Students must still supply their ATAS Certificate (if their CAS indicates one is required).
If you have questions or concerns about the new visa regulations, or if you have information that you would like to share with your colleagues through this update page, please submit to NAFSA member-leaders through IssueNet: EA Visa Help.