As an international student from the USA I know how difficult and worrisome it can be applying to an education program abroad. I want to start out by congratulating those reading this who are thinking of taking the next steps towards studying in an international setting. This blog/guide will go through the step by step process of applying for a UK Tier 4 (General) Student Visa, also known as a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP), with an emphasis on the process for Americans.
Please note that some processes will be different depending on which country you are applying from.
Step 1: Believing in Yourself
The hardest step in deciding to study in a foreign country is believing that you are capable. As Audrey Hepburn once said, "Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm Possible'!"
Step 2: Researching and Applying
Find the school and course that fits you and your interests. For me, I knew immediately that I wanted to go to the University of Westminster studying Marketing Communications, MA. It wasn’t just the course that I liked, but also how many resources the school provides to students. For example, they have various schemes from Mentoring to Job Placement to Volunteering. Moreover, they are perfectly located in London with many campuses all across the city.
The application process for the University of Westminster was completed through a third-party website. It was straight forward, and they had a lovely checklist of all of the things they required; i.e. sending in a transcript, uploading two references, and answering questions about my background and experience. I applied in January for the September 2018 start date and heard back from the school a week later with an unconditional offer.
Step 3: Applying for a CAS
After accepting the university’s offer, I needed to apply for my CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies). This number tells the UK government that you are truly a student and the school is willing to be your sponsor. Without a CAS number, you are unable to apply for the UK Tier 4 (General) Student Visa.
The application for the CAS number happens 4-5 months before from your projected program start date. Once the applications are open, the school will send out a link to apply. The application asks questions about passport, program, and personal information. Within a week and a half of submitting my CAS application, I received my number and more visa application guidance.
Step 4: Applying for the Visa
For me, the visa application was very time consuming, so be patient. You may be surprised at the different detailed questions they will ask you, such as information about parents, all expired and current passport information and information provided by previous university, and so on.
After submitting the application, I then had to pay for the healthcare surcharge, which is required for all international students. I also had to schedule a biometrics appointment and to pay for a courier service for all of my documents to be sent to New York City for approval.
Step 5: Biometrics Appointment
This was the quickest appointment I have had with a government official. My appointment was located in Nashville, Tennessee, which was the closest biometric center to my hometown. I simply had my fingerprints and photo taken and my current passport reviewed. Then, I was given a piece of paper that needed to be sent to New York City. It was super simple.
Step 6: Sending My Life to New York City
After the biometric appointment, I was given 5 days to send all my required documents to the “decision making center” aka New York City, which was the quickest option but also a bit pricey, however they did offer a two day turn around. You have to purchase a courier service for your documents through VFS Global. Again, have patience with their website, as it is not the most user-friendly.
I attempted to order the shipping labels and visa service for 3 days! The first 2 days, the website was down and there was no way to contact VFS Global. After the second day I was so frustrated that I spent $10 (£7) to email the UK government and inform them that their third-party service was down. Finally, on the fourth day I was able to purchase the labels.
You are given a checklist of all the required documents you must send to your decision making center which include things like your: passport, CAS information, birth certificate, financial documentations, biometric appointment confirmation, etc. I recommend putting everything into a manila folder, listing all the contents on the outside packet, and even writing name, address, phone number, and the visa being applied for on all possible surfaces of that folder.
It is a weird feeling sealing every piece of paper that confirms you are a person/ U.S. citizen into a package heading to New York City.
Step 7: Receiving My Visa
I received an email from New York City saying they were placing a 30-day entry card into my passport. This email also confirms that you have been awarded a visa (also known as BRP). Two days later all my documents were returned to me and I had a sticker in my passport with my picture from the biometric appointment and other personal information. Once that was complete, I received word from the university that I was able to pre-enroll in my program, meaning that the school was aware of my visa confirmation and that I had paid all fees up to that point.
A great feeling of relief!
Step 8: Arriving at the UK Border
The package from the New York City decision making center contained a letter informing me that I would need to bring with me, my passport with the inserted entry card, the confirmation of my unconditional offer to the University, and CAS number when entering the country.
Once I arrived to the Border Patrol Officer, he simply asked me where and what I was studying and where I was planning on living. It was a quick and simple process, and I was finally in the UK!
Step 9: Picking Up My BRP
The last step in the process is picking up the BRP. The two options are to pick it up at the school or a post office. I picked mine up from the school since that was the easiest option for me. I only had to sign off saying that I picked it up and that I would present the card when need be.
I am now an official resident in the UK… until January 2020, but it is still exciting!
I really hope this guide helps those looking into obtaining a UK visa better understand the process. It is long and detailed, but there are tons of resources out there that can help, specifically gov.uk.
Good Luck and Cheers!