International students in the UK: immigration and visa Q&A

From visa expiration to Distance Learning and Tier 4 study visas, this Q&A by immigration specialist law firm, Reiss Edwards, can help.

Every year, almost half a million international students come to the UK to study, of which over one-third are from outside of the European Union. COVID-19 has, however, put a ‘spanner in the works’ meaning that educational establishments across the UK are closed except for distance learning. If you are an international student who is planning to come to the UK to commence your studies, you are currently in the UK, or you have returned home to be with your family during the lockdown, you may be unsure about your position regarding immigration, and what will happen next.

What if my Study Visa Expires Soon?

If your study visa has expired or is due to expire imminently, and you cannot leave the UK as a result of COVID-19, the Home Office have stated they will extend it to 31st May 2020 without requiring you to submit an immigration application or pay a fee. You will, however, need to complete and send a form to the Home Office’s Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre.

I Applied for a Study Visa While in the UK before the UKVI Offices Closed, what will Happen Now?

Currently, all UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) service points are closed in the UK. According to UKVI, as long as you applied before your current visa status expired, you will not be classified as an overstayer while waiting for a decision. This means that you will not need to apply for the free extension outlined above.

If I am Absent from my Studies will I Lose my Tier 4 Study Visa?

Ordinarily, educational sponsors have a duty to monitor attendance of Tier 4 study visa holders and report international students who are not attending their course. In the current situation, the Home Office has confirmed that no enforcement action will be taken against students who are no longer attending classroom-based learning or absent as a result of COVID-19 due to related illness or travel.

What if I have been given Immigration Approval, but I cannot travel to the UK?

If you have a place on a course in the UK, you have been issued a CAS, and your Tier 4 study visa has been approved, and you wish to commence study but you are unable to travel to the UK, then your only option will be to ask if you can undertake online remote distance learning with your educational provider. Once the travel restrictions are lifted and your course has restarted, you will need to check if your entry clearance is still valid. If it has, you will be able to request a replacement entry clearance vignette sticker with the new date, free of charge (until the end of 2020).

Can I Keep my Tier 4 study visa even if I am using Distance Learning?

The advice of the UK government is that Tier 4 sponsors can continue to sponsor their existing Tier 4 visa students who are studying via distance learning, whether they are in the UK, or in another country. Furthermore, academic sponsors (i.e. the British school or University) are not required to withdraw sponsorship for any new Tier 4 visa students who have been unable to travel to the UK to commence their studies, and are utilising distance learning.If you are an international student who wishes to study at a UK educational establishment but can only do so via distance learning, you will not need to apply for a Tier 4 visa to do so, as you will not need to enter the UK currently (however this is being reviewed on 31st May ’20).GIESF-in-text-banner

Can I Start my Studies before my Application to Switch to Tier 4 is decided?

Under specific conditions, the Home Office is allowing those who are switching into the Tier 4 study route to commence their studies prior to their application being decided if it can be shown:
  • The individual is studying with a Tier 4 sponsor (not a ‘Legacy Sponsor’)
  • The Tier 4 sponsor has assigned a Certificate of Acceptance for Studies (CAS)
  • The individual has submitted an in-time application and has provided the sponsor with confirmation of that fact
  • The individual has a valid ATAS certificate (where necessary) required for their course

What if I had to leave the UK before I received my Biometric Residence Permit (BRP)?

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) recommends that those students who left the UK but were still to receive their biometric residence permit (BRP) should ask their education provider or a trusted individual still in the UK to forward the document by post. Unfortunately, there is a risk that if it is not collected, it may be canceled, meaning that the individual will need to reapply before entering the UK.

Can I enter the UK to Commence my Studies once Travel Restrictions in my Home Country are Lifted?

You will not be able to apply for permission to enter the UK for the purposes of study until face-to-face study resume, and application centers re-open around the world. Unfortunately, potential delays in processing applications (i.e. due to backlogs) may mean you cannot continue your course on time; in such circumstances, you may need to undertake your course using distance learning until you can enter the UK.

Final words

Coronavirus pandemic has caused many problems for international students already studying or planning to study in the UK. If you are in the UK or your home country and still unsure of your position, contact your educational provider to ask for their advice. They are dealing with inquiries from students across the globe currently and will be able to explain your options from the standpoint of studying and UK immigration. You can be assured that UK educational establishments will be as flexible as possible given the very difficult circumstances, and will do all they can to resume courses for their valued international students as soon as possible.This advice was provided by Reiss Edwards, immigration lawyers and solicitors based in London.

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