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Home International Students Preparing & planning Visas and immigration Applying for a Tier 4 (General) visa

Applying for a Tier 4 (General) visa

This information is based on the Immigration Rules, and on the policy guidance and application forms issued by the Home Office for Tier 4 (General) applications. We update it as soon as possible after any changes. However, if you have printed this webpage, we advise that you check on our website that it is still the most recent version.
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Do I need a visa to come to the UK and study?

If you are an EEA or Swiss national then you do not need permission to enter the UK or to study here.

If you already have immigration permission to come to (or remain in) the UK in a non-study related category this might allow you to study. However, some immigration categories prohibit study, you should therefore seek advice from an adviser at the institution where you intend to study.

If you have not yet finalised your study plans you can come to the UK as a Prospective Student (see below).

If you have already been accepted onto a course of study there are two types of visa for studying in the UK: Student Visitor visas and Tier 4 student visas.

If you are coming to the UK to study for a maximum of six months (or 11 months if you will be studying English language), you may be able to enter as a 'Student Visitor'. For some nationalities ("non-visa nationals") who come to the UK as a Student Visitor, it is not compulsory to obtain entry clearance before travelling to the UK as long as your course is less than six months long.

However, if you choose to come as a Student Visitor you will be much more restricted than if you come as a Tier 4 student. You will not be allowed to do any work or work placement (even if it is part of a course or unpaid work). You will also not be allowed to apply to extend your stay in the UK.

See our information about Student Visitor Visas for further details.

If the Student Visitor route is not appropriate for you then you must obtain entry clearance as a Tier 4 student before travelling to the UK, regardless of your nationality.

Where can I study as a Tier 4 (General) student?

As a Tier 4 (General) student, you can study at any school, college or university which has been granted a Tier 4 (General) sponsor licence by the Home Office. Only institutions with a Tier 4 sponsor licence can issue you with a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS), which you must obtain in order to apply for immigration permission as a Tier 4 (General) student.

Each institution granted a Tier 4 sponsor licence will be given a sponsor rating, either: Highly Trusted; or A-rated. The courses that an institution can offer to international students will depend upon their Tier 4 sponsor rating. Highly Trusted sponsors (HTS) can offer the widest range of courses.

You can check which institutions have a Tier 4 (General) or (Child) sponsor licence, and how they are rated, on the Register of Tier 4 Sponsors (approved education providers).

NOTE: From April 2012, all existing Tier 4 sponsors must have applied for HTS status. All new Tier 4 sponsors are granted an A-rated licence and they must apply for HTS status after they have held their licence for 12 months.  

Can I come to the UK before I get a place on a course?

The 'Prospective student' immigration category closed to new applicants on 1 October 2013, it is therefore no longer possible to apply for entry clearance under this route.  Only those who are in already in the UK with prospective student leave are able to apply for leave to remain.  This affects applications made on or after 1 October, so leave as a prospective student can be granted if the application was made before 1 October but is decided after this date. 

If you already have entry clearance as a 'Prospective student' then you can come to the UK for up to six months to make arrangements for your studies. When you have enrolled at a college or university, you will need to extend your stay in the UK as a Tier 4 student. If you have not come to the UK with entry clearance in the immigration category of Prospective student, you will not be able to do this in the UK and will have to return to your country to make this application.

I already have student immigration permission for the UK that is still valid. Do I really need to apply again?

In most cases, yes.

If you applied for your current immigration permission before Tier 4 was introduced on 31 March 2009, and it is still valid, you can use it to continue your full-time studies in the UK. If your permission will expire before the end of your new course, check with your institution that you will be able to apply to extend your stay under Tier 4 to complete the course. You will need to check that (a) they have a Tier 4 licence, and (b) the course is one for which they can sponsor you under Tier 4.

Otherwise, if you have a Tier 4 (General) visa that is still valid, you can use it to continue your full-time studies with the same Tier 4 sponsor if:

  • they still have a Tier 4 sponsor licence; and
  • the new course is one for which they are happy to continue sponsoring you under Tier 4; and
  • they have not reported you to the Home Office as having finished your course, interrupted your studies, or having not enrolled. If they have reported you, it is likely that your visa has been "curtailed" and is no longer valid.

If you are in your home country, we strongly advise that you check these three issues specifically with your Tier 4 sponsor before you attempt to enter the UK using Tier 4 immigration permission issued for previous study. Furthermore, even if your existing immigration permission does allow you to enter the UK to continue your studies, it is often more straightforward to apply for a new Tier 4 visa for your new course before you travel to the UK. Your situation and intentions will be clearer to UK Border Force officials, and you will not need to make a leave to remain application to continue your course once you are back in the UK, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

If you are progressing to a new course with a new Tier 4 sponsor, and you are travelling outside the UK before you start the new course, it is safest to apply for and obtain your new Tier 4 leave before you leave the UK, or if you are visiting your home country, to apply for a new Tier 4 visa while you are there. You can use the Home Office's visa processing times tool to check current processing times in your home country.

If you cannot do either of the above, the Home Office has told us that you will be allowed to re-enter the UK using your current visa as long as you have a CAS from your new sponsor institution, and they are a Highly Trusted Sponsor on the Home Office's Register of Tier 4 Sponsors. If you rely on this provision, it is important that you carry a print-out of your CAS statement in your hand luggage, so you can show it to the Border Force Officer if they ask for evidence of your studies. You might also want to carry with you the relevant page of the Home Office's Register of Sponsors showing that your new institution is a Highly Trusted Sponsor.

If you are 16 or 17 years old

If you are less than 16 years old, you can apply for permission to study at an independent fee-paying school, but you must apply as a Tier 4 (Child) student, not under Tier 4 (General). Ask your school for information about how to apply.

If you are 16 or 17 years old, you can sometimes choose to apply either as a Tier 4 (Child) student or as a Tier 4 (General) student. This will depend on:

  • the type of institution (school, college or university) where you intend to study
  • the type of Tier 4 sponsor licence the institution holds: a Tier 4 (Child) licence or a Tier 4 (General) licence, (or both)
  • the level of the course.

Again, if you are applying as a Tier 4 (Child), speak to your institution directly. If you want to study a short course in the UK, you may be eligible to apply to enter the UK as a 'student visitor' (or as a 'child visitor' if you are under 18 years old). For immigration purposes, a short course is any course which lasts no more than six months or an English language course which lasts no more than 11 months. See Student Visitors.

Before you start

If you want to come to the UK to study, you need to apply to the UK immigration authorities under Tier 4 of the Points Based System (PBS). Usually, you must meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules which are in force on the date that you submit your immigration application. The information in this section is based on the most recent changes to the Immigration Rules which came into force on 1 July 2014.

If you want to make a successful Tier 4 (General) application, it is extremely important that:

  • before you apply, you read and understand the Home Office's Tier 4 Policy Guidance - this information sheet is based on version 04/14 of the policy guidance, to be used for all Tier 4 applications on or after 6 April 2014.
  • you check that you meet all the requirements before you apply
  • you provide evidence in the exact format required by the Home Office, as explained in the policy guidance and on the application form
  • you complete all sections of the form, fully and accurately
  • you allow plenty of time to collate the documents required to make your application
  • your application does not come under the general grounds for refusal
  • you check with an adviser at the institution (school, college or university) where you intend to study, for any further changes that might affect your application.

You should wait until you have obtained your Tier 4 visa before you book any non-refundable tickets for travel.

You can download this summary of the application process. It does not include any detail about the Tier 4 visa requirements, just the application process.

Tier 4 Entry Clearance flowchart

Please note: the flowchart is designed to act as a summary of the steps involved in applying for a Tier 4 visa, it does not contain detailed information about the Tier 4 requirements. It is therefore important to also read this online information about making a Tier 4 (General) application. The flowchart by itself does not contain enough information to make a successful Tier 4 application.

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