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:
- You must intend to study at a publicly funded university or college, a
bona-fide private institution (see below), or a fee-paying independent
- You must be able to and intend to follow a full-time degree course, or a
weekday, full-time course at a single institution involving at least 15
hours of organised, daytime study per week
- You must be able to pay for your course and the living expenses of your
husband or wife and children (if they are with you) without working in the
UK or claiming public funds
- You must not intend to work in the UK unless you are accepted for a course
lasting longer than six months, when you may work part-time or during
- You must intend to leave the UK at the end of your studies.
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
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.
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
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
- 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.
You may be asked to attend an interview as part of your visa application
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:
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
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?
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.
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
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
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
The British Council
58 Whitworth Street
Manchester M1 6BB
Telephone +44 (O) 161 957 7755
Fax +44 (O) 161 957 7762
Web site http://www.britishcouncil.org
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 http://www.ukcosa.org.uk
Immigration and Advisory Service (IAS)
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
London SE1 9PY