In the third and final blog in a series, Andrew Humphrey investigates the existence of secret immigration rules. Part 1 looks at rumours and gossip about Tier 4 money, and Part 2 is about misunderstandings of what the Rules and guidance say.
A PhD student comes to see me. He asks what he should do if his upcoming Tier 4 extension application is refused (“or when it is refused”, he jokes). I say yes, that’s good you have come to see me, if there is something potentially wrong with the application we should definitely look at it together before you apply. He seems confused, even a little offended: “There’s nothing wrong with my application.” He is right: it is perfect. So why plan for a possible refusal? “Just in case it is refused!” “And just so I understand, you are thinking it might be refused because....?” "I don't think it will be refused, but I want to be prepared."
As an extending PhD student, it seemed highly unlikely that his credibility would be questioned. He agreed. Was he concerned about his immigration history, or something in his personal life that might be an issue under the general grounds for refusing? No, not at all. Was this, I thought to myself, a roundabout way of telling me he had not been fully truthful about something either to the university or in his application? I gently asked that. No, all was fine.
We were at cross purposes. In the end we had an interesting conversation about all of this. In short, the student did not see any correlation between his perfect Tier 4 application and actually getting the visa, and felt he must prepare for a refusal. He assumed high levels of subjectivity and discretion, unexpected requirements that he may not meet (“How could I, if I don’t know about them?”), typos that could be fatal, and just plain bad luck if the caseworker has a painful hangnail or a bad hair day. Meanwhile I see a Tier 4 visa extension as mostly a box-ticking exercise for a student, although for sure a laborious and complicated one. There are some potential problems which are out of your control, like if your Tier 4 sponsor loses their license or if the person assessing your application misreads your form or your evidence, but on the whole you know when you apply that you meet all the criteria and will get the visa.
If UKVI staff do use secret rules and policies to assess evidence of your money, I don’t know about them. They are secret.
The Tier 4 modernised guidance for entry clearance officers and caseworkers has a few pages marked “Official – sensitive” with the content redacted. For Tier 4 money the only relevant section is “Risk Profiles” on page 151, which helps caseworkers profile applicants who may be using fraudulent documents. You can speculate what the triggers may be, but that’s all it is: speculation.
So despite the click-bait title of this blog post, what follows are not secret Tier 4 Rules or policies. This post mostly corrects common myths about the existence of such unwritten rules. To be fair, experience does sometimes suggests that the Home Office may have an unpublished concession when assessing Tier 4 money, and I will look at a couple of examples. Needless to say, you should never rely on any concession that does not appear to exist!
You can use bank statements from your parents’ joint account.
Your first reaction is probably “Of course you can. Students can use evidence of their parents’ money. Everyone knows that.” But not so fast…
Appendix C paragraph 1A(k) of the Immigration Rules brings bad news. Money in a joint account is only acceptable if you (the applicant) are named on the account as one of the account holders. The only time someone can use a joint account where they are not one of the account holders is if they are under 18, their parent is one of the account holders, and that parent is in the UK. Very few Tier 4 applicants would meet this.
Paragraph 1B does go on to say that you can use a bank statement (or a bank letter or a building society passbook) showing money in your “parent(s) or legal guardian’s name”, that includes parents plural, and paragraphs 13 and 13B also refer to you money held by your "parent(s)". But the Tier 4 policy guidance for applicants, where the Home Office can clarify and be more generous than the rules if they wish to, at paragraph 219i just parrots the first rule:
If you want to use a joint account as proof of your money, you must be
named on the account along with one or more other person
In April 2017 UKCISA's Advice and Training team had a rare chance to comment on the draft of new policy guidance. They suggested that this paragraph was amended to confirm that a parents' joint account is acceptable, but it was not amended. This suggests it reflects the policy, and you should take it seriously.
So where does this all leave someone who wants to use evidence of money held in a parent’s or both parents' joint account where they are not an account holder themselves? Where indeed...
Ask an international student adviser if they have ever seen a Tier 4 application refused under Appendix C paragraph 1A(k) because the student has used statements from a joint account in their parent’s or parents’ name(s), not including their own name as an account holder. The answer will be No. This seems to suggest that entry clearance officers and caseworkers must be currently allowing Tier 4 applicants to use evidence from parents’ joint accounts. But with no provision for it in the Rules or in any guidance, it appears to be either an unpublished (“secret”) concession, or a common error by ECOs and caseworkers, or something else.
However UKCISA and most international student advisers would say do not rely on it being okay. Take all steps to show evidence of money held in your own name (including a joint account where you are an account holder), or in a parent’s account that is not a joint account (except a joint account with you, which is obviously fine). If this means the money must be transferred to your own account, allow enough time to show that it has been there for 28 days. Or, if feasible, you could be added as an account holder on the joint account.
“Low risk” applicants do not need to meet the maintenance requirement
You know if you are a “low risk” applicant. It usually means someone with one of the passports listed in Appendix H of the Immigration Rules who is applying in the country associated with that passport or in the UK, but it now also includes Masters students at Bath, Cambridge, Imperial and Oxford who apply under the Tier 4 pilot scheme explained in Annex 6 of the Tier 4 policy guidance.
There are specific questions on the Tier 4 application form asking whether you have the right amount of money and evidence of it in an acceptable format. To answer Yes without having both the money in place and the evidence of it would be deception, which is a general ground for refusal. This is so for every Tier 4 applicant.
What is more, even before you apply for the visa, your Tier 4 sponsor may need to see evidence that you meet all aspects of the Tier 4 eligibility, including money and qualifications, before they agree to issue a CAS.
The only difference for those who come under the “low risk” provision is that you do not send (or take) the evidence with your Tier 4 application. It can be requested later, and for certain people applying in the UK, including anyone with a record on the Police National Computer, it will be requested.
This website has full details about meeting the maintenance requirement, and the specific arrangements for “low-risk” applicants.
You are punished for the tiniest error on your application. If you make a mistake, your application will be refused.
False! Or at least very highly exaggerated and widely misunderstood.
The issue here is that some apparently “tiny” errors are no such thing. For example, if your bank statement covers 27 days instead of 28 that is not a tiny error. It is a very major error because you do not meet the maintenance requirement. In the same way, if your bank balance dips below the required amount for one day or even part of one day, that is not a small error.
An error that suggests you may be trying to lie about something could also be a big problem for your application. For example if you say “No” you have no criminal convictions when you do have some, it will be reasonably assumed that you are trying to conceal the convictions.
However an obvious spelling or keystroke error is unlikely to cause any serious issues with your application. Even answering a question wrongly or failing to answer a question may not necessarily be a deal-breaker, especially if the correct answer is clear from other parts of your application, including your CAS and the other evidence you are including.
If you have made an error on your application, speak to your international student adviser. They can help you ascertain whether it is an irrelevant error that needs no action or correction, a major error that could be fatal to your application, or something in between. If necessary (which it often is not), they can usually liaise with the Home Office on your behalf.
Keep it in proportion. True story: I once fielded a query from a student in a state of high anxiety because she did not know if the one of the characters in her bank’s name was a capital O or a zero, so she did not know what to type. I advised that it really does not matter and whatever she typed, the bank statements she was sending show her bank’s name. I fear my advice fell on deaf ears: she had been whipped into a frenzy of fear by my rival, the UK’s most prolific unpaid and untrained immigration adviser: My Friend.
You can use money held in any step-parent’s name
This is a complicated one. As we saw in the section about parents’ joint accounts, evidence of money held in a parent’s name is fine. The introduction to the Immigration Rules defines "a parent" and it helpfully includes an adoptive parent and some types of step-parent, but not all.
To put it bluntly, in this context your stepfather is your “parent” only if he has adopted you and/or if your father is dead. And your stepmother is only your “parent” if she has adopted you and/or if your mother is dead. This definition includes a parent's same-sex spouse or civil partner, but the Rules are drafted in a clumsy way making your mother's wife your "stepfather" and your father's husband your "stepmother".
It gets complicated, so if any step-parent is funding your studies, rather than trying to ascertain whether they are the "right" kind of step-parent, and then providing copious evidence involving birth, marriage and death, it may be easier to ask them transfer the money to your own account or to your other parent’s (non-joint) account, where it must remain for 28 days.
Alternatively – and only if they are the “right” kind of step-parent – you can use evidence of money held in their name (although not in a joint account – see above), plus
- your birth certificate naming your birth parent(s); and
- the wedding or civil partnership certificate naming your birth parent and step-parent; and
- your adoption certificate showing that your step-parent adopted you; or
- evidence that your original parent has died. Note that the wedding or civil partnership certificate may already confirm that your parent is a widow(er) or surviving civil partner.
The Home Office appears to have possibly acknowledged that this chain of evidence is verging on being unreasonable, not to mention intrusive. At least, I have been unable to find evidence of Tier 4 applications being refused because there was no evidence that the parent holding the money was the “right” kind of step-parent. But it would be a very reckless adviser who told applicants to disregard the rules so I advise you always take the above steps (steps -- see what I did there?) to show that you meet them.
Statements from foreign banks must show what currency the money is held in, or must be accompanied by a letter from the bank confirming the currency.
Bank statements certainly must show “the amount of money available” (Tier 4 policy guidance, paragraph 219i) . The entry clearance officer or caseworker will reasonably assume that money in a non-UK bank account is held in the currency of that country, which is almost always correct. They will convert the amounts to sterling as advised in paragraph 193 of the policy guidance:
the amount we consider will be based on the exchange rate for the relevant currency on the date of your application, taken from the rates published on www.oanda.com
If money in a non-UK bank account happens to be held in something other than the national currency, this would normally be indicated on the bank statement. But it is possible that an entry clearance officer might assume it is held in your national currency, so by all means highlight the information about the currency.
The Tier 4 policy guidance confirms at paragraphs 192 that if you are using a currency other than pounds sterling
we will expect you to show (in writing on your application form) the closing balance in pounds sterling
The only way to “write” on the online application form is to add a note at the end. You can also write the converted balance on the statement if you wish. But there is no requirement to include a print-out from oanda.com: the entry clearance officer or caseworker will check it for themselves.
If you are using a non-UK currency, the entry clearance officer or caseworker will check the value of your closing balance on the date you apply. This can cause a problem if the sterling value of your currency has decreased since you checked the value of the closing balance. The Times Higher Education Supplement reported on this happening to an Indian student in 2013.
Here are some tips to prevent this happening:
- Consider including a "buffer" of some extra money, just in case the sterling value of the closing balance drops between the date of your closing balance and date of your application. The more volatile your currency, the bigger the buffer.
- If your currency is very volatile, apply soon after the date of your closing balance. While it is fine to apply up to 31 days after that date, with a volatile currency it is wise to minimise the gap.
- Check the sterling value of your balance on each of the 28 days, using the exchange rate on the date of application. This is for your own information and peace of mind, to be sure that your balance has never dipped below the equivalent sterling amount you heed to hold. There is no requirement to add this daily conversion to the application or to note it on the statement.
Edited on 11 August 2017 to make clear that if you do wish to check the sterling equivalent of your balance on any or all of the 28 days, you use the oanda.com exchange rate on the date of application.
It is better to pay all your fees in advance. If this is shown on the CAS it makes your application stronger and more credible.
It makes no difference to your application. People who say this are conflating the maintenance requirement with the test of “credibility” or “genuineness”. While a credibility interview may include questions about some general financial aspects, whether you have paid your fees in advance is neither here nor there.
If you have much more money than is needed, the UKVI will be flexible on the 28-day requirement.
They will not. End of.
Part 2 of this series includes our answers to questions about:
Part 1 covers:
Andrew Humphrey is an Advice and Training Officer at UKCISA. References to and quotes from the Immigration Rules and related guidance were correct at the time of publication, but they may change.
Did you previously believe any of these myths? Have other wrong impressions or misunderstandings about Tier 4 money and evidence caused any problems for you? Leave us your Comments below.
Please do not post questions asking for information or advice. For information please see our detailed guidance on Tier 4 eligibility and guidance, and for one-to-one advice please contact your international student adviser or our student advice line.