Mahal Resources on Education in the UK

Immigration and Visa Requirements for the UK

Immigration Procedures Before You Leave

You may be thinking about coming to the UK to study, or you may already have a place on a course. Whichever stage you are at, it is extremely important that you find out about UK immigration procedures and how they will affect you. If you have all the information you need in good time, you are more likely to be prepared and less likely to experience problems.

The Immigration Rules for Students
Unless you are an European Economic Area (EEA)* national, you must meet the following conditions in order to enter the UK as a student:

Do I Need a Visa Before Traveling to the UK?
If you are a visa national, the answer is ‘yes’. The list of ‘visa national’ countries is determined by the British government. Your nearest British Council office, or British Mission (British Embassy, Consulate or High Commission) will be able to tell you whether you are a visa national. If you are a visa national you must satisfy the Entry Clearance Officer (ECO) at a British Mission that you fulfil the above conditions before you arrive in the UK. This is so you can obtain a visa, which allows you to travel to the UK and present yourself at a port of entry, e.g. Gatwick or Heathrow airports. Even if you are not required to obtain a visa because of your nationality, if you are not a national of the EEA you will need, on arrival in the UK, to satisfy the Immigration Officer that you qualify for entry as a student. If you are in any doubt about your eligibility, you should still apply for entry clearance before you travel. You are particularly advised to consider this if you are bringing your husband, wife or children with you. *The countries of the EEA are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

When do I have to Travel to the UK?
Once you have been granted a visa, you do not have to travel at once. A visa is usually valid for six months, which means that you must travel within this time.

How do I Apply for a Visa?
You should apply for a visa at a British Mission in the country of your nationality, or the country in which you are living. You should ask for form IM2A, which is free of charge, although you will have to pay a fee later. fee list).

Once you have the form, you should take time to fill it in carefully. It is a good idea to do this in pencil first in case you make a mistake. Once you have completed the form, make a copy of it for your own records. You must then send the completed form (by hand or post) to the British Mission, together with your passport, two recent passport-sized photographs, the fee in local currency (which is non-refundable), and the relevant documents showing that you meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules. Note: If you are a visa national and your course lasts for six months or less, the Immigration Officer will only allow you into the UK for this length of time. If you know you will want to travel out of the UK and return during the time you must apply for a multiple-entry visa before you leave for the UK. This will mean ticking the appropriate box in Question 1 on form IM2A and paying the correct fee in local currency. If you do not, you will need to apply for a fresh visa each time you return to the UK. Students given permission to enter by the Immigration Officer for more than six months can leave and return freely during that period.

The Documents You Need
As a student seeking a visa you will have to produce various documents to show that you fulfil the Immigration Rules for students, e.g. evidence of adequate funding, educational certificates and information from your place of study.

Your place of study should send you the correct documents for visa application purposes (see below). If you do not have these documents to give the ECO or the Immigration Officer at your port of entry, the immigration authorities may have to make a judgement with insufficient information, which could easily mean you are refused a visa or entry to the UK. Make sure that you have the following documents and information before you apply for a visa or travel to the UK:

  • A letter of acceptance on the course. This will be a letter from your institution confirming that a place has been offered to you and that the course is full-time as defined by the Immigration Rules. The letter should state how long the course will last. Where your course is more advanced or specialised, the letter should also state what level of English is needed for the course (giving minimum test marks, if appropriate) and confirm that you satisfy this requirement.
  • Evidence that you can pay the course fees and support yourself and your family, if applicable. Depending on your circumstances, this could include evidence of government sponsorship, a letter from a sponsor in the UK confirming they can support you, together with evidence that they can do this, and/or your own bank statements. You should also provide a letter from your place of study stating the full cost of the course, what arrangements are acceptable for payment and whether you have already paid fees or a deposit.
  • Accommodation. Although the Immigration Rules do not require unaccompanied students to show that accommodation has been arranged, your place of study may have given you information about its availability, and you should bring this to the attention of the ECO. If your family is coming with you to the UK, you will need to show that there will be adequate accommodation for them. If your place of study cannot confirm that family accommodation will be available, you may have to consider travelling to the UK alone and making arrangements for your family to join you when you have found somewhere to live.

Read the declaration and make sure you understand it. Then sign in the space provided and add the date. The declaration cannot be signed by anyone else, unless you are under 18, in which case your parents or legal guardian can sign it for you. Remember, it is an offence to give false information. Also, if any of the information you have given on the form changes, or any new information relevant to your application becomes available, you must inform the British Mission where you submitted your application.

Where do I Take the Form?
Take or post the form, and all accompanying fees and documents, in good time to avoid missing the beginning of your course, to your nearest British Mission that issues student visas. Do not send money through the post, but use a postal/money order or a bank draft, payable to the British High Commission.

You should not buy an air ticket or pay all or part of the cost of a course of studies if delay or refusal of the application will result in financial loss. The ECO may ask you for other documents: production of those listed in the section, The Documents You Need above, does not guarantee that a visa will be issued.

The Interview
You may be asked to attend an interview as part of your visa application process.

The interview is to give you the opportunity to clarify for the ECO certain parts of your application. The ECO will be aiming to satisfy him or herself that your study plans are genuine and workable. The interview is a normal part of the process, but you may feel quite nervous before it and find it an uncomfortable experience. ECOs are trained professionals who will try to make the process as painless as possible, but the questions are necessarily very direct and personal.

You should prepare for such an interview carefully. In particular:

  • be familiar with all your study plans; why you chose the particular institution and course; how the course will help your future career;
  • be clear about the cost of living and the course and your finances: do you have enough money to complete the course? Can you prove it?
  • be as clear as you can about your likely future career in your country: what are you going to do on your return?
You should answer all questions carefully and honestly. If you are not sure of an answer, say so. Do not invent a reply which may prove to be incorrect. Make sure you have understood the question before replying: ask for it to be repeated if you are not sure. When nervous, we can appear confused or reply in a misleading way, so try hard to remain calm and think carefully about your reply before giving it. Remember: over ninety per cent of student visa applications are successful.

Prospective Students
If you want to go to the UK before enrolling at a place of study, perhaps to compare institutions before deciding, explain your intentions clearly to the ECO. If he or she is satisfied that you genuinely intend to study in the UK once you have found a suitable place of study, and you fulfil UK immigration requirements, then you will be given entry clearance as a prospective student for up to six months. Once you have enrolled at an institution, you will need to apply to extend your stay as a student.

Changing Status
If you are a visa national student you must never seek entry as a visitor if you intend to study. As a visa national, you cannot switch from visitor to student status once you are in the UK.

Bringing a Spouse and Children to the UK
You will usually be able to obtain a visa to bring your spouse and any children under 18 years of age into the UK, as long as you can show that you can financially support and accommodate them. They will normally be given permission to stay in the UK until the date that your leave to remain expires. If your spouse or children are given leave to enter or remain in the UK for 12 months or more, they can work without applying for permission; otherwise, they are not allowed to work.

Working While Studying
Some students will not be allowed to work at all in the UK, as they will have a ‘prohibition on working’ stamp in their passports and will usually be on courses of six months or less. All other students are free to work part-time (up to 20 hours a week) or full-time during vacations without having to obtain permission. However, remember that to meet UK immigration requirements, you must show that you can pay your course fees and living expenses without working in the UK. The only exception to this is where you have been accepted for a course at an institution of higher or further education which itself offers you employment. It must guarantee this employment and provide details of how much you will earn. This will mainly apply to research students.

Working When Your Studies Have Ended
It is extremely difficult to get permission to work in the UK after you have completed your studies, although you may be allowed to do practical training for professional examinations, such as accountancy. If you are interested in gaining work experience in the UK, the best way to do this is through studying on a ‘sandwich course’, which involves spending time on a placement with a company as part of the course.

If the ECO has not refused your application but says that he or she is not satisfied with the evidence you have provided, or if a visa has actually been refused, contact your place of study for assistance as soon as possible. If you cannot do this, for instance if the institution is closed for the holidays, contact UKCOSA or your nearest British Council office.

Once you have been issued a visa you should only be refused entry into the UK if the Immigration Officer decides there has been a change in your circumstances or that you gave false information or did not disclose important facts when you applied for the visa. You should therefore carry all relevant documents in your hand luggage, whether you require a visa or not.

Checklist for Obtaining Entry Clearance

  • Find out if you are a visa national. If so, obtain form IM2A from your British Mission. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office guidance leaflet INF1 on UK Entry Clearance will explain if you are a visa national. INF1 is available from your British Mission.
  • If you are not a visa national, decide if you wish to apply for an entry certificate. If you do, obtain form IM2A from your British Mission.
  • Complete form IM2A, make a copy of it and collect all the required documents to show that you meet the Immigration Rules.
  • Post or take to your British Mission:
    • the completed IM2A form
    • your passport
    • two recent passport-sized photographs
    • the correct entry clearance fee in your local currency
    • the required documents to show that you meet the Immigration Rules for students.
Useful Organisations:
The British Council
Information Centre
Bridgewater House
58 Whitworth Street
Manchester M1 6BB
Telephone +44 (O) 161 957 7755
Fax +44 (O) 161 957 7762
Web site

UKCOSA: The Council for International Education
9-17 St Albans Place
London N1 ONX
Telephone +44 (O) 171 354 5210
(advice line open to students Monday – Friday, 3:00-16:00)
Fax +44 (O) 171 226 3373
Web site

Immigration and Advisory Service (IAS)
County House
190 Great Dover Street
London SEl 4YB
Telephone +44 (O) 171 357 6917
Duty Officer (24 hours) +44 (O) 171 378 9191
Fax +44 (O) 171 0665

Customs and Excise
Advice on importing personal effects and goods may be obtained from HM Customs and Excise
Dorset House
Stamford Street
London SE1 9PY



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