Student visa information and guidelines on travel
Here is a brief guideline to help with understanding student visa regulations as well as the guidelines for student travel and visits from your student's parents throughout the exchange.
The UK Visa Process
Students who will study on an EF High School Exchange Year in the UK for more than 6 months will need to apply for a “Student visa” or “Child student visa” through the UK Government’s Home Office. The UK visa process can take some time and requires various important steps over the time before you travel to the UK, so it is important to make sure that you have a comfortable understanding of the whole process before you begin. You can find the UK Government’s general overview of the student visa application process here: https://www.gov.uk/student-visa/apply While your UK school will be your official “Visa Sponsor”, your EF team in your home country and the UK will help guide you through every step of the UK visa process.
Who must apply for a visa
Any person who does not have a UK passport and will study in the UK for more than six months must apply for a visa. If you qualify for a UK passport but are unsure if you should apply for a UK passport or apply for a student visa, you can discuss this with your EF team in your home country and they will offer you guidance about the best path for you.
Documents you’ll need
There are some documents you can prepare in advance while you are working on your EF application. These documents are your recent academic grade reports, your legal birth certificate, certified translations of these documents if they are not in English, and legal identification of your parents or legal guardians. You will be requested to provide additional documents depending on the school in the UK in which you are placed. Your EF team will keep you informed of any additional documents or requirements as you are preparing for your exchange year.
Secured English Language Test
One of the most important requirements of the UK visa process is the Secured English Language Test (SELT). The SELT is an English language exam taken in a specific testing centre as approved by the UK Government’s Home Office. Any person interested in studying in the UK on a visa must pass a SELT with a minimum score in four areas; Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. There are three different types of the SELT that you can take which vary in their format, scoring, and availability. Your EF team will help you find and book the correct SELT, as well as help provide resources and guidance on preparing for the exam. You should plan to take the SELT within the year prior to beginning your exchange, ideally no later than March before your departure to the UK. It is important to inform your EF team of the date you have booked your SELT and the result after you have taken the exam as soon as possible, as it is a vital part of the UK visa process.
Certificate of Acceptance of Study
The Certificate of Acceptance of Study (CAS) is an official document issued by your UK visa sponsor, in this case your UK school. The CAS contains all the details of your study, including the type of visa you will apply for (student or child student), your official dates of study, the cost of your study, and more. Every school requires different documents and steps from students before they will issue the CAS, but most schools will ask the student for one or more of the following:
- a school application
- an interview
- a passing SELT result
- a signed acceptance letter
- one or more parent consent forms
- a copy of your recent grades
- a copy of your birth certificate
- proof of financial requirement
You cannot apply for your visa without this document, so receiving your CAS is typically the last step that you will have before you begin the visa application. Your UK school will communicate any requirements before issuing the CAS to you EF team, as the EF team is your UK school’s direct contact. Your EF team will keep you and your parents updated of requirements so that you can provide them in a timely manner. When your school has prepared and issued your CAS, they will send it to the EF team and the EF team will make sure you receive it and understand how to begin the visa application. The CAS must be issued within 6 months of beginning your exchange, but most UK schools will issue the CAS by the June or July before your departure to the UK.
The visa application
Once you have received your CAS, you can begin your visa application. The UK Government Home Office has recently developed an online application which allows the majority of students to complete the entire visa process virtually. It is recommended that you take your time going through the visa application and ensuring that your answers are correct.
While the majority of the application is about you and your family’s personal details, there are questions about your UK living arrangements and study details that can sometimes be confusing. Your EF team is available to guide you through the visa application and help answer questions as they are able, so always be sure to check in with them if you are unsure of how to answer any question. Additionally, all students have the option to contract with an official Immigration Adviser to assist with their application, though this up to each individual student and their parents.
Cost of the visa application
While completing the visa application, you will be asked to complete a section regarding the NHS surcharge – a fee paid by any UK visa applicant in order to have access to health services while in the UK. The NHS surcharge is required. The NHS surcharge is £470 per calendar year and £235 for less than 6 months. The total you must pay is calculated based on the official study dates listed in your CAS. This means that most students should expect to pay between £470 - £940 for their NHS surcharge, as the course start and end dates always fall within two different calendar years. Once you have finished the visa application, you will be asked to pay the application fee before you are able to finally submit it. The application fee is £348.
After submitting your visa application
Once you have submitted your visa application, you will be asked for certain pieces of evidence based on your application. Most of the evidence required will be documents you have already provided to EF and your UK school, such as your recent academic grades, your birth certificate, and parent consent forms. If you are unsure of what evidence to provide, your EF team will try to help answer any questions.
The UK Government’s Home Office reviews all applications in about 2 to 6 weeks. They may contact you for further evidence or to invite you to an in-person interview. They will let you know if there are any additional steps you must take, if there are any concerns about your visa application, as well as let you know once it is accepted or rejected. You can also contact them directly for updates at the following link: https://www.gov.uk/contact-ukvi-inside-outside-uk
It is important to keep your EF team updated of any contact regarding your visa application so that we can keep your school informed, as well as help guide you through any additional requirements that may be requested. Your EF team is here to help you throughout the entire visa process and help make it easier for you, so always reach out if you have any questions, comments or concerns.
Proving your immigration status
If you have used the UK Government’s Home Office immigration app to complete your visa application, you should be able to complete the entire visa process digitally and will be able to prove your immigration status using a virtual code without any paper document. You can go to this website for more details: https://www.gov.uk/view-prove-immigration-status
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