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UK Visa Guide for PhD Students

by the FindAPhD Team

The United Kingdom is once of the best places in the world for people to pursue their postgraduate studies. However, for international students the mechanics of getting permission to study in this country can seem daunting, especially in light of recent alterations to the rules. This article will give you an overview of these changes and answer some of the questions you may have.

In March 2011 the UK Government announced a series of changes to the rules under which people from outside the EU are able to study in this country. These new regulations are intended to allow the best and brightest to come and study in the UK whilst preventing any abuses of the system. They have been phased in over the past year, with the final changes coming into effect in April 2012.

The decision as to whether a foreign national can study in the UK is governed by what’s called a Tier 4 Visa. This is a points based system which takes into account, amongst other things, a person having a sponsoring university and a minimum level of funding in order to qualify. The most fundamental change to the rules has been to make the requirements for Sponsors more rigorous. From April 2012 onwards all higher education institutions wishing to act as a sponsor for international students must be have Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status. This is designed to drive up the standards of educational quality and ensure that immigration rules are adhered to.

None of this should deter you from undertaking a Masters degree course here in the UK and the following questions should make it simpler for you to understand and navigate your way through the rules.

Who needs a Visa to study in the United Kingdom?

Students from the European Economic Area are able to study in Britain without a Visa. Switzerland is not part of the EEA but typically adheres to the same immigration rules as those countries that are. Those from outside this area must apply for a Visa with Sponsorship from the institution they are intending to study at. Your Visa will typically allow for multiple entries into the country.

How do I know if the University I want to study at has Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status?

All Universities without HTS status will be assessed by an independent body during 2012. This document outlines the status of all educational organizations in the UK, correct as of March 16th 2012.

What does it mean for me if my University doesn’t have HTS status?

They will almost certainly be in the process of applying for it. Any institutions applying for HTS status who have yet to be assessed have been given an interim limit on sponsorships so may still be able to accept you. All assessments will be complete by the end of 2012.

PhD Student with a Visa

What if English isn’t my first language?

For postgraduate students their sponsoring university is able to vouch for their English language skills. However, be aware that the UK Border Agency can refuse a migrant who is unable to speak without the assistance of an interpreter.

What kind of funding will I need?

You will need to prove that you will be able to study in the UK without needing access to public funds. If you will be studying in Inner London you will need to demonstrate that you have £1,000 per month available for the first nine months of your studies. For areas outside London the amount is £800 per month.

Can I work whilst in the UK?

Students on Tier 4 Visas have a right to work up to 20 hours per week, part-time. If you are married your spouse also has the right to work in this country. See our Working as a student in the UK article for more information.

Can I bring dependents with me?

In many cases you will be allowed to bring children with you when you come to the UK to study. However, you must be able to prove that you can provide for them and demonstrate that you have funds additional to those you need to secure your own Visa. (£5,400 in London and £4,050 elsewhere)

How long will I be allowed to stay in the UK?

For students undertaking a Masters course the time limit of your Visa will be six to seven years. Upon completion of your studies you may apply to stay in the country under a different Visa tier.

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