If you have questions or concerns about student visa regulations for U.S. students studying abroad, or if you have information that you would like to share with your colleagues on the Consular Affairs Liaison Subcommittee, please use IssueNet: EA Visa Help. EA Visa Help is a NAFSA member benefit.

October 2020

The UKVI has recently implemented some key changes and requirements for the new student route to the UK. These are positive changes towards a more streamlined and open process for students coming from the US. While the links below do provide information for travel from EU countries into the UK, the information below focuses mainly on student travel from the USA to the UK.

The main changes are with the change in the Tier 4 Student Visa:

  • A new Student Visa route is replacing the Tier 4 Student Visa. For some background, in November 2008, the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA), [now called the United Kingdom Visas & Immigration office (UKVI)], began implementing a five-tier visa regulation system. This created the Tier 4 Student Visa.
    The new visa process has created the Student Visa to replace that Tier 4 Student Visa. More information can be found here on this new Student Visa route.
  • Applications can now be submitted up to 6-months prior to starting a course. (This was previously a 3-month window for application.)
  • Applicants will still need to obtain a CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies) from a licensed sponsor.
  • Applicants will still be required to show proof of funds (unless a Canadian or US citizen), as these two nationalities are still differentiated.
  • Applicants will still need to provide evidence of English language ability. US citizen applicants do not need to provide evidence of English language ability.
  • The entry clearance fee is currently £348 for the Student Visa applications, when submitted outside of the UK
    • IHS (Immigration Health Surcharge) fees still need to be paid in addition to the entry clearance fee for applications longer than 6 months

The UKVI also mentions that, “the application process remains the same (i.e. submitting application online, attending biometrics appointment, and mailing application package to UKVI Scanning Hub OR enrolling biometrics/submitting application at a VFS Premium Application Center), unless you are an EU citizen*

* EU citizens (EEA and Swiss nationals included) who plan on studying in the UK from the 1st of January will need to apply for a visa and can do so now. Holders of biometric passports will be able to use the new UK Immigration: ID Check App instead of attending a biometric enrolment location to enroll biometrics. EU citizens who choose to submit their application via this method will not need to mail their application package to the UKVI Scanning Hub as their visa will be accessible from their phone, if their application is successful. Complete details can be found here.

Again, more information on the Student Visa route can be found here.

Detailed guidance can also be found here

September 2020

The government of the United Kingdom published and shared updated guidance with key stakeholders in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. A link to the full policy guidance can be accessed here.

USCIS Application Support Centers

The UKVI is working with Application Support Center's (ASC) to increase appointment availability. Students should continue to check the appointment calendar in the online application portal. Priority Visa services have resumed and students are able to purchase these services when booking their ASC appointment.

VFS Premium Application Centers

VFS Premium Applications Centers serve as alternative option for biometric appointments for those who cannot find appointment availability at USCIS ASCs. For students who have an ASC appointment but meet an earlier date, VFS Global offers to assist with switching to a VFS Premium Application Center without beginning a new application here.

VFS Premium Applications Centers (PAC) are extending capacity by offering Saturday service for students at some locations.

It is important to note that VFS PACs are an alternative option for students but do have an additional fee associated with their services.

July 2020

The United Kingdom's Visa and Immigration agency announced that a phased resumption of visa services shall resume on July 13. Access UK will hold applications for an increased period of 240 days to ensure that applications remain live in the system with sufficient time to receive supporting biometric data.

USCIS Application Support Centers

Students who need to complete a biometrics appointment can now book an appointment at the following USCIS Application Support Centers: Alexandria, Atlanta, Boston, Brooklyn, Dallas-North, Elizabeth, Houston-SW, Miami, Oakland, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Jose, and Seattle.

Please note:

  • appointment availability will be limited
  • walk-in appointments will not be accepted
  • masks are required and other social distancing protocols will be in place
  • more ASC's will be reopening in the coming weeks, detailed here.

VFS Premium Application Centers

VFS Premium Applications Centers (PACs) will be open for service at the following locations: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Washington DC. The Seattle PAC is tentatively scheduled to reopen in August.

  • VFS will contact applicants to reschedule previously booked appointments that were cancelled as a result of the lockdown.
  • Priority and Super Priority services will not be offered until further notice.

Complete details can be found on the VFS Global website.

April 2020

The government of the United Kingdom published and shared updated guidance with key stakeholders in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 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."

November 2019

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.

September 2019

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.

July 2019

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.

April 2019

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.

September 2018

Differentiation update
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.