The Student Visa is the primary immigration route for non-UK residents looking to undertake a course of studies at either a British college or university. It has replaced the Tier 4 visa under the UK’s new immigration system.
As with the previous Tier 4 visa, the new Student Visa route is for international students aged 16 or over who wish to study full-time, or part-time in some limited circumstances, in the UK, and are sponsored by an education provider that holds a valid student sponsor licence.
The education provider is known as a sponsor. UK academies and local authority-funded schools, including those with sixth forms, cannot hold a student sponsor licence or sponsor students under the new Student Visa UK route. For migrants aged 16 or 17 wanting to study at an independent school in the UK, they may be eligible for a Child Student Visa instead.
Student visa eligibility requirements
Both EEA and non-EEA nationals, where an EEA national is not otherwise eligible for either EU settled or pre-settled status, should apply for the student visa if they plan to stay in the UK to undertake a course with a licensed education institution.
‘EEA’ refers to any member of the European Union (other than the UK) and Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, but does not include nationals of Ireland, since Irish nationals are able to come to the UK to live, work and study without requiring Home Office permission.
The rules and requirements for the Student Visa UK route are set out in a new Appendix ‘ST: Student’ to the Immigration Rules. To apply under this route, an applicant must be aged 16 or over, be a genuine student, and meet a specific set of requirements to accrue a total of 70 points. The requisite number of points can be accrued if:
- They have been offered a place to study on a course by a licensed student sponsor (50 points)
- They have enough money to pay for their course and to support themselves (10 points)
- They speak English to the required standard (10 points)
The offer of a place on a course
The visa applicant must have an unconditional offer of a place on a suitable course with a licensed student sponsor leading to an approved qualification. To prove this, the education provider will need to issue the applicant with a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) once they have offered a place on the relevant course.
The CAS is a virtual database record containing the official offer of a place on a course of study, as well as the mandatory information to determine whether or not an applicant meets the requirements of the route they are applying under. It also contains a unique reference number that the applicant will need to insert on their visa application form.
Under the Student Visa UK route, an applicant can undertake a number of different courses, including any of the following:
- A full-time course leading to a qualification that is 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 is degree level or above (RQF level 6, 7 or 8)
- A full-time course at degree level or above that is 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 is above degree level (RQF level 7 or above)
- An English language course at level B2 or above in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)
- A recognised foundation programme for postgraduate doctors or dentists
Essentially, this route is for those who want to study on a course of further or higher education, a pre-sessional English course or a recognised foundation programme. This route can also be used where the applicant is taking up a full-time elected position as a Student Union Sabbatical Officer or applying to extend their stay on the Doctorate Extension Scheme.
Student visa maintenance requirement
The level of funds needed under the maintenance requirement will vary depending on the applicant’s circumstances and what course they are applying for. This requirement is made up of two parts: the course fees and monthly living costs.
Applicants applying for a new course from overseas and those who have been in the UK for less than a year must demonstrate that they have enough money to pay the course fees for either one academic year, or for the entire course if it is less than a year long. The amount that an applicant will need to pay will be stated on their CAS.
The applicant must also show a set amount of money for each month of their course, for up to 9 months, to prove they are able to support themselves. The level of money needed here will depend on where they will be studying. For courses in London, the sum required for living costs is £1,265 per month, and for courses outside London, the sum will be £1,015 per month.
If the applicant is applying for the Doctorate Extension Scheme, they will need to show they have a total of £2,530 for courses in London, or £2,030 for courses outside London. If the applicant is boarding at a residential independent school, they will need to show sufficient funds to pay both their course fees and boarding fees.
In each case, the applicant must show they have held the required level of funds for at least 28 consecutive days. The 28 day period must end no more than 31 days before the application date. If the applicant has a student loan or financial sponsorship, they will need to provide evidence of this from their loan or sponsorship company.
In some circumstances, however, the applicant will not be required to show they have the necessary funds to cover their monthly living costs. This is where:
- They have been in the UK with a valid visa for at least 12 months
- They are applying as a Student Union Sabbatical Officer
- They are applying as a postgraduate doctor or dentist on a recognised foundation programme
Further, an applicant might not need to provide financial evidence if they hold a British National (Overseas) passport, or a passport issued by Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR or Taiwan, or they are a national from an exempt country – although they should still make sure they have enough funds.
The English language requirement
An applicant must prove their knowledge of English when they apply. This means that they must be able to speak, read, write and understand English to a certain level on the CEFR scale. This usually means passing a Secure English Language Test (SELT) from an approved provider.
If applying to study a course below degree level, the applicant must have the equivalent of level B1 of the CEFR for English language. For those studying at degree level or above, the applicant must have the equivalent of level B2, although their Higher Education Provider (HEP) can assess their level of English. This means that the applicant may be asked to undertake a different test, although that must still be equivalent to a CEFR level B2.
An applicant will not be required to prove their knowledge of English if they are from, or have completed a qualification equivalent to a UK degree in, a majority English-speaking country.
The English language requirement is also not applicable if any one of the following applies:
- The applicant is a national of Canada
- The applicant is applying to come to the UK for a study abroad programme as part of a university degree course in the USA
- The applicant has proved their level of English in a previous visa application
How to apply for a UK Student Visa
To apply for a Student Visa UK, the applicant will need to submit an online application using their unique CAS reference number, and pay the relevant fee. An applicant must apply for their visa within 6 months of receiving their CAS. The cost of applying for a visa from outside the UK is £348. It will cost £475 to extend or switch to a Student Visa from inside the UK. An applicant will also have to pay the healthcare surcharge as part of their application.
When an applicant can apply depends on whether they are applying from inside or outside the UK. From outside the UK, the earliest a person can apply for a visa is 6 months before they start their course. The earliest someone can apply from inside the UK is 3 months before their course starts. They must apply before their current visa or permission to be in the UK expires, and their new course must begin within 28 days of their current visa expiring.
When applying from outside the UK, the applicant will need to prove their identity. How they do this will depend on where they are from and what type of passport they hold. They will either need to provide a photograph and their fingerprints at an overseas visa application centre, or use the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app to scan their identity document. The applicant will be instructed on what to do when they apply.
If the application for a Student Visa UK is successful, the applicant will either get a biometric residence permit or digital immigration status which they can view and prove online.
Student visa application supporting documents
When applying for a Student Visa UK, in addition to the CAS number from their course provider, the applicant must provide a current passport or other valid travel documentation. They will also need to provide, where relevant, documentary evidence of the following:
- Proof they have enough money to pay for their course and support themselves
- Proof of parental or other legal guardian consent if they are under 18, together with proof of their relationship to their parents or guardians, eg, their birth certificate
- Written consent for the application from their financial sponsor if they have received sponsorship for a completed course of studies in the last 12 months
- An ATAS (Academic Technology Approval Scheme) clearance certificate, if their course of study requires it under Appendix ATAS of the Immigration Rules
- A valid tuberculosis test certificate, if they have been residing within a country listed in Appendix T of the Immigration Rules for the 6 months preceding the application.
The applicant may also need to provide additional documents depending on their circumstances.
Is it possible to extend or switch to a Student Visa UK?
How long a person can stay in the UK under a Student Visa will depend on the length of their course and what study they have already completed. If they are 18 or over and their course is at degree level, a visa holder will be able to stay in the UK for up to 5 years. If it is below degree level, they can usually stay in the UK for up to 2 years.
A person may also be able to extend their visa if they are eligible, for example, to continue their studies in the UK or switch to a Student Visa from another visa if they are already in the UK.
If an applicant already has permission to be in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme, they will not need to apply for a new visa to undertake a course of studies, or to work in the UK after their course of studies has come to an end.
Is there a new visa route for graduates students?
For overseas students looking to work in the UK after they graduate, they may be able to take advantage of the new Graduation Immigration route announced by the UK government and due to be launched in the summer of 2021. This means that anyone who has a valid Tier 4 visa when the new category opens for applications will be eligible to apply.
This new route is aimed at international students with a completed degree from a UK Higher Education provider and who can show evidence of immigration compliance. The new visa will allow them to stay in the UK for 2 years, or 3 years for PhD graduates, and work at any skill level. It will also allow visa holders to look for work or switch into the Skilled Worker route if they find a suitable job from a UK licensed sponsor.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.