The recent Tier 4 Student Visa immigration policies instituted by the British government were primarily designed to streamline the entry clearance process for foreign nationals wishing to study in the United Kingdom.
In March 2009 the UK Border Agency implemented the Tier 4 points based system for student visa applicants. In the year that followed record numbers of international students obtained visas to study in the UK.
One of the main reasons that around 300,000 students were granted visas was that for the first time entry clearance was granted purely on the basis of a qualifying points score rather than at the discretion of an entry clearance officer (ECO). The more relaxed regime resulted in far less refusals and visas being granted in a matter of days and weeks instead of months.
How do I qualify for a Tier 4 student visa?
To qualify for entry clearance to the UK under a student visa, you need to obtain a minimum score of 40 points for your application to be considered:
- 30 points – awarded for taking a course with an approved educational provider
- 10 points – award for proving maintenance
The UK Border Agency awards 30 points if you are accepted to a suitable course in an ‘A’ or ‘B’ rated, or highly trusted educational institution listed on the Tier 4 Sponsors Register. Publicly funded educational institutions, universities and private colleges and schools are among those institutions allowed to sponsor non-EU students. If the institution is not on the Tier 4 sponsors register you will not get a visa.
What is an acceptable level of course?
The UK Border Agency specifies that a course which leads to an approved qualification is:
- approved at level 3 or above on the National Qualifications framework (NQF), or at the same level in the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF), by the Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales (ACCAC) or by the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) in Northern Ireland; or
- a short-term study abroad programme in the UK as part of your qualification at an overseas higher education institution, as long as UK NARIC confirms that the qualification is at or above the level of a UK degree – you can find UK NARIC’s contact details on the right side of this page; or
- an English language course at or above level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
For lower level courses you will need to show a minimum proficiency in English by taking a secure English Test.
The documentary evidence you need to submit to claim the 30 points is the Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) reference number (this replace the paper based Visa Letter), which will be given to you by your education provider.
In as much as students under the Tier 4 visa can expect limited access to public funds, applicants are required to be able to present proof that they are financially able to support their studies and living costs while in the UK. Either a bank statement or a certification of financial capacity is the documentary proof a prospective student has a present to claim the 10 points for the maintenance requirement.
English Language Requirement
Last year new immigration rules were introduced which now require prospective Tier 4 Student Visa applicants to present proof of English ability if they are enrolling on courses below NQF level 6 and its equivalents, but excluding those students who are enrolling on Foundation degrees and HND’s in Scotland. Proof of English should be at a minimum of CEFR level B1.
How do I apply for a student visa?
You may lodge your application for a Tier 4 Student Visa using an online application, which you can find by going to your local British Embassy or UK Visas website. You need to complete the points scoring as one of the appendices. The other appendices are the Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies reference number to be given by the educational institution, and the certification that you have the required amount of maintenance based on the length of your course and the location of the educational institution.
How much money do I need to satisfy the maintenance requirement?
If you will be studying on a course longer than 9 months in inner London, your monthly maintenance would be amount to the first year’s course fees plus £7200 to cover living costs for nine months. For outside the inner London area it will be the first year’s course fees plus £5400 to cover living costs for nine months.
The maintenance requirements differ for those extending student visas whilst in the UK. For Inner London you need to show that you have a minimum of the first year of course fees and £1,600 to cover living costs for two months, and £1200 for outside the inner London area.
However, the above figures only apply to those students who can demonstrate an ‘Established Presence’ in the UK – have you completed your previous course?
Effective October 1, 2010, the UK Border Agency has set the new fees for visa applications. For those outside of the UK, the mail applicant needs to pay a fee of £220. A £220 application fee will also be assessed for each family member (partner or children) applying at the same time or at a later time with that of the main applicant. Student visa processing is free of charge for Chevening, British Marshall, Fulbright and Commonwealth Scholarship or Fellowship Plan holders.
If you are in the UK and submit the application by post, the fee is £357 for the main applicant. Additionally, partner or child under 18 will be assessed £100 each if they apply together with the main applicant; £500 each if they apply later and £500 each for children over 18 years old.
Submissions made personally will cost £650 for the main applicant; £150 for each family member included in the main applicant’s application form as long as the child is under 18, £800 if submitted later; and, £800 for each child over 18.
Can I work whilst I am studying in the UK?
Yes, you can work part time during your stay and, subject to the rules, you are allowed to:
- work part-time (up to 20 hours per week) during term-time;
- work full-time during vacations;
- do a work placement as part of your course;
- work as a postgraduate doctor or dentist (if your course of study is a recognised Foundation Programme); and
- be a student union sabbatical officer for up to two years.
The immigration rules concerning work and vocational and lower level courses were changed by the UK Border Agency last April. In brief, the Immigration Rules now contain changes from last year’s Tier 4 review, including the rules governing the new Highly Trusted sponsor licence. Only sponsors who hold a Highly Trusted sponsor licence (mostly government and larger institutions) can now offer the following courses, known as ‘restricted courses’, to Tier 4 (General) students:
- courses at National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level 3 or equivalent; and
- courses below degree level that include a work placement (other than foundation degrees, which can still be offered with a work placement by any Tier 4 (General) sponsor).
Following the changes, education providers who hold a standard Tier 4 sponsor licence are only able offer courses at or above NQF level 4 or equivalent, and cannot offer courses that include work placements unless those courses are degree-level courses or foundation degrees.
If you are studying a restricted course at an institution that does not hold a Highly Trusted sponsor licence, or is temporarily suspended from bringing in new students, you can continue to study at that institution until you complete their course of study or your visa/permission to stay under Tier 4 expires, whichever is sooner.
In practice, most students coming to the UK choose to study higher level courses at level 5 and above.
I am in the UK and want to renew my student visa but confused about how all the recent rule changes will affect my application as I am changing college?
Probably the most common questions in our mailbox relate to student visas, visa extension refusals and working hours. Students, employers and even the occasional UK Border Agency officer are confused by the raft of immigration rule changes over the last few years.
A major concern is what students should do to stay on the right side of the law when moving college or changing course. The answer to these questions largely depends on when you arrived in the UK and what type of visa you hold. See Yes, there are many types of student visa so beware when changing college.
Do I need an Immigration Adviser?
You do not have to use an adviser or lawyer to make a UK immigration or visa application, however, mistakes can be very costly so it can pay to take professional advice from a qualified registered Immigration Adviser before you apply.
For instance, one mistake on a Student Tier 4 General form (or FLR form), or forgetting to submit the correct supporting documentation, could result in a refusal which may then involve a full appeal at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT) or curtailment of your visa. You will also lose the fees paid to the UK Border Agency.
To provide immigration and visa assistance to students, Bison Management UK Immigration Law Practitioners are running a special ‘promo’ for international Students who are due for visa extension. The special visa handling fee is now just £595 including VAT (was £650), which includes legal advice, assessment of supporting documents and completion of the 43 page Tier 4 Student form.
Bison UK also offers a free initial immigration consultation – no appointment required.
Immigration rules are changing all the time and whilst the above information will be correct at the time of going to press you should always check the UK Visas and UK Border Agency websites for updates.
There are less that two weeks left to take part in the Student Immigration System public consultation which will help shape the future of international student visa rules in the UK for the next few years.
You can respond online to the consultation at: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/student-consult-online