The United Kingdom and its most famous colleges have been attracting the best and brightest from all over the world for centuries but in the 21st century a new breed of students – interested more in English itself than finance, business, or economics – have been drawn to its shores. In fact, the number of international students learning English in the UK has reached all-time highs over the last decade, as more and more students take advantage of its schools’ strong reputations, reasonable costs, and standards of excellence.

While the decision to study in the UK may appear simple, however, the UK student visa process is less so. Although the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) visa application system is objective and transparent, the path taken will depend both on the applicant’s age as well as on the length and level of the courses that they intend to study.

All prospective students can apply with the UKBA if they want to come to the UK to help them make a final decision about their course of study. Under these circumstances, a visa is require even if you do not normally need a visa to visit the UK. This is to show that:

  • they intend to enroll on a course of study within 6 months of arriving in the UK;
  • they have sufficient funds to pay for the course(s) and support themselves and their dependents during their stay; and
  • they intend to leave the UK when their visa expires if they do not later obtain a student visitor or Tier 4 visa.

Such student visitor visas are an option for students of any age that plan to pursue a course of study, such as an English immersion course, lasting six months or less. Subdivided into child (under 16) and adult categories, in either case student visitors need to obtain proof of scholarship, usually by way of a "confirmation of acceptance for studies" letter from the institution where they plan to study. (Only language schools that are recognized on the official "register of sponsors " used by the UKBA are eligible). As compared to the more formal Tier 4 visa, the student visitor application process is somewhat simpler but student visitors are not entitled to stay for more than 6 months without an extension and cannot later enroll into a new course while in the UK. Also, while student visitors are held to the same financial (or maintenance) standards as prospective students and Tier 4 students, they are not eligible to work at all and cannot switch to Tier 4 visa while they are in the UK as a student visitor.

By contrast, according to the UK student visa process, a Tier 4 visa holder may work part-time while furthering their education in the UK. To obtain a Tier 4 visa, both children (under 16) and adults need to provide proof of scholarship and maintenance. Uniquely for Tier 4 visa holders, students can pursue further educational opportunities in the same college without another visa. However, if they change the college or apply for another visa tier (to, say, engage in fulltime work), they have to apply for an entirely new visa.

At the end of the UK student visa process, following submission of applications, visa officials may consider that an interview is necessary. If applicants cannot show at that interview that their English language ability is at the required standard, their application may be rejected. Thus, in addition the important considerations outlined above, the UKBA requires that all Tier 4 students should be proficient in English language at least at the level B1 of the Common European Framework. There are multiple ways to certify this competency, but the easiest is through the use of the wide variety of English-assessment exams recognized by the UKBA including the TOEFL, BULATS, and PTE. Once submitted, you’ll be well on your way to success in the UK!

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