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UK Student Visas Explained

The UK regularly tops the list of the best places to study abroad, but securing a place at a university and a visa to go with it can sometimes be a confusing process. In this article, we take a look at the process of applying for a UK visa for international students. There are three visa categories you can apply for as an international student; as a student visitor, as a prospective student or as a Tier 4 (General) applicant.

UK Student Visitor Visa

You can apply as a student visitor, provided you are at least 18 years old and you want to study in the UK for up to 6 months. As a student visitor, you are not allowed to work and you cannot switch your visa to extend your stay as a Tier 4 student. To do this, you would need to leave the UK and apply from the country where you live.

Prospective Student Visa for the UK

Applying as a prospective student is a great move to make if you need to come to the UK to finalise your study arrangements, for example, if you need to to attend an interview for your course if they have given you a conditional offer. If you hold a prospective student visa, you are able to switch into the Tier 4 category whilst you are in the UK. This means you don’t need to return to your home country to apply for another visa, therefore saving you money on airfare as well as time.

Applying for a Tier 4 (General) UK Student Visa

If you have gained an unconditional offer at a university, there is no need to apply first for a prospective student visa. You can just apply for a Tier 4 category visa, which is built on a points-based system. The majority of international students from outside the EU will need a permit to study in the UK. You need 40 points to be granted the visa. You can achieve these points by meeting the following criteria:

  • By holding a valid confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS)
  • For having acceptable English language skills
  • For having enough money to cover your fees and living costs

Your confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS) confirms that you have been given an unconditional offer of a place on a course of study with a licensed Tier 4 sponsor. It’s provided by the university and allows you to score 30 points in the points assessment. If your CAS was assigned to you on or after 21 April 2011, the university must ensure that you have acceptable English language skills. This assessment varies between institutions but will often involve a formal test such as the IELTS exam. If you have enough money available (or already paid to your education provider), you will also score 10 points for your UK student visa. It’s worth remembering that you won’t be eligible for most state benefits, so you will need to have enough money to support yourself while you’re here. Of course, you can apply for scholarships and other funding to help you but these should not be depended on.

Depending on where you are applying from, you may be able to apply online. If not, you’ll have to apply using the VAF9 application form which can be accessed from the UK Border Agency’s website.

Arriving in the UK with a Student Visa

When you arrive in the UK, you’ll be met by somebody from the UK Border Agency (UKBA). They will scan your passport and cross-check your details. They’ll need to see your documents, so make sure they are not packed deep inside your suitcase. You’ll also need to remove your passport from its holder so you can show it to the officer. Providing there are no problems, the UKBA officer will let you enter the country to begin your study abroad adventure.

Find out more about arriving in the UK and out UK border force top tips.

Learn more about getting a student visa on our dedicated advice pages and subscribe to our blog to keep up to date with the latest news.

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