Tier 4 (General) Student Visa Explained

Tier 4 Visa Explained
Tier 4 Visa Explained

If you want to study in the UK, and you live outside the EU, you will need to apply for a visa. The Tier 4 (General) student visa allows international students to study, live, and sometimes work in the UK. 

Being an international student is an incredibly exciting adventure, but applying for a visa can be stressful and confusing. We’ve answered some common questions and concerns in this article.  

What is the Tier 4 (General) student visa? 

The Tier 4 (General) student visa allows you to live and study in the UK for the duration of your course. It also allows you to work, intern and volunteer for up to 20 hours a week, depending on your course level and what kind of sponsor you have. 

Do you need to be able to speak English well to apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa? 

Yes. To apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa, you must be able to prove that you can speak, read, write and understand English. This usually means passing a secure English language test (SELT). 

Not all international students must pass a SELT. Check this list to see if you are exempt

If you need to pass a SELT, the level will depend on what type of degree you plan to pursue in the UK. Check the full visa guidance for detailed information, and be sure that when you take the test it is administered by an approved provider

How much does a Tier 4 (General) student visa cost? 

Applying for a Tier 4 (General) student visa costs £348

You will also have to pay a healthcare surcharge as part of your application. Be sure to check how much you’ll have to pay before you apply. Read more about healthcare in the UK here.  

In addition to the cost of applying and paying the healthcare surcharge, you will need to prove that you have enough money to pay for your course and support yourself while you are living in the UK. You will need to prove that you have had the money in your bank account for at least 28 days prior to submitting your application, although in some cases you will need to have had it for longer

The specific amount of money required will depend on what you are studying and where you are living. However, you must show that you have at least £1,265 per month for living costs if you are studying within the Greater London area, and £1,015 per month for living costs if you are studying outside of the Greater London area. Check the full visa guidance for more information. 

What do you need to apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa? 

You can apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa from inside or outside of the UK. To apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa, you must be: 

  • At least 16 years old 
  • From a country that is not in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, and 
  • Able to prove that you can read, write, speak, and understand English.

You will also need: 

  • An unconditional offer on a course with a licensed Tier 4 sponsor. You can find a full list of licensed Tier 4 sponsors here and learn more about the kind of course you will need to be on here
  • Proof that you have enough money to support yourself and pay for your course. The exact amount of money you will need depends on where and what you are studying. The UK government’s website has a guide and appendix that explains what documents and how much money you’ll need. 
  • A current passport with at least one page that is blank on the front and back. 
  • Your tuberculosis test results, if you are from one of these countries.
  • Proof of parental or other legal guardian consent (if you are under 18 years old).
  • Proof of your relationship with your parent or guardian (if you are under 18 years old).

You may also need to provide additional documents depending on your circumstances. You can find out more in the full visa guidance

When should you apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa?

The earliest you can apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa is three months before you start your course. Once you have been offered a place on a course, your education provider will send you a reference number called a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS), which you need to complete your application. You must apply for your visa no more than six months after you receive your CAS.

How long will it take to process your application?  

Applications are usually processed within three weeks, but processing times can vary depending on what country you’re in. You can check visa processing times for your country here. 

What is a biometric residency permit (BRP)? 

A biometric residency permit is a card that contains information about its owner, including their:

  • Name 
  • Date and place of birth 
  • Fingerprints 
  • A photo of their face 
  • Immigration status
  • The conditions of their stay in the UK, and
  • Whether or not they can access public funds.

Your BRP is used to confirm your identity, your right to study or work in the UK, and your right to any public services or benefits that you’re entitled to. It’s important to have one and keep it in a safe place.

Do you need to apply for a BRP?

You do not need to apply for a BRP. Your fingerprints and a photograph of your face will be taken as part of the visa application process. If your application is approved, your BRP will be issued automatically. A vignette sticker will be placed in your passport or travel document to prove that you have been granted a BRP. 

The vignette sticker in your passport will contain an expiration date. It is very important that, after you arrive in the UK, you collect your BRP before the vignette sticker expires or within 10 days of your arrival. Failure to collect your BRP before your vignette sticker expires can result in a fine of up to £1,000. 

In order to collect your BRP, you will have to present your passport or travel document with your vignette sticker. If you have a serious illness or disability that prevents you from collecting your BRP, you can nominate someone to do it for you

If the information on your BRP is incorrect, or your BRP is lost, stolen, or broken, you must report it to the Home Office immediately. Should you choose to leave the UK for a short period of time during your studies – for example, to visit your family or go on a holiday – you must bring your BRP with you so that you can show it to an officer at the UK border when you return. 

How long does a Tier 4 (General) student visa allow you to stay in the UK? 

The length of your visa depends on what kind of course you are completing in the UK and what type of study you have already completed.  

If your course lasts up to six months, you can arrive in the UK up to one week before it starts. If it lasts more than six months, you can arrive up to one month in advance.  

It is important that you do not remain in the UK after your visa or BRP has expired. Staying in the UK without a valid visa is a criminal offence with very serious consequences. There is no “grace period” in which you can lawfully overstay your visa. 

Can you extend a Tier 4 (General) student visa? 

It’s possible to extend a Tier 4 (General) student visa in order to continue your studies. To be eligible, you must meet the eligibility requirements of this visa, be in the UK, and have a sponsor. You can find out more here

If you want to remain in the UK but are not eligible to extend your Tier 4 (general) student visa, you may be able to switch to another type of UK visa, such as a Tier 2 (General) visa or a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa

Does a Tier 4 (General) student visa allow you to work in the UK? 

If you are permitted to work, your work hours will be restricted to no more than twenty hours per week. Your exact number of hours depends on a number of factors, including:

  • When you applied for permission to stay in the UK
  • The type of course you are studying, and
  • What type of sponsor you are studying with.

Be sure to check the full visa guidance so that you are absolutely certain how many hours you are permitted to work and which jobs you can have.

Does a Tier 4 (General) student visa allow you to bring your family to the UK? 

Your family members (dependants) may be able to apply to join or remain with you in the UK if they’re from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland. 

Not every family member qualifies as a dependant. The only ones who do are your:

  • Husband, wife, or civil partner 
  • Unmarried or same-sex partner, or 
  • Child under 18 years old – including if they were born in the UK during your stay.

What do you need in order to bring dependants to the UK under your Tier 4 (General) student visa?

To apply to bring a dependant to the UK, you must be one of the following: 

  • Sponsored by a higher education institution on a course at level 7 on the Ofqual register or above that lasts 9 months or more 
  • A new government-sponsored student on a course that lasts longer than 6 months, or 
  • A Doctorate Extension Scheme student

To bring dependants into the UK, you must be able to prove that you have enough money to support each person, including yourself. The amount of money you will need depends on where and for how long you are studying. You will also have to prove that the money has been in your, or one of your dependant’s, bank account for at least 28 days before you or they apply. Be sure to read the detailed guidance for dependants for how much money you’ll need and the full list of documents you need to provide. 

Your dependants must apply online. The application costs £348 per person. Your dependants will need to have their fingerprints and photograph taken as part of their application. They will be responsible for collecting their BRP within 10 days of when they said they would arrive in the UK. 

If you decide to extend or switch your visa, you should apply for your dependants’ visas at the same time that you apply for your own. 

Can a Tier 4 (General) student visa be revoked? 

Yes. There are a number of reasons for which your Tier 4 (General) student visa can be revoked, including: 

  • Lying, providing incorrect information, or omitting required information on your visa application 
  • Late enrolment at your university, or failure to enrol 
  • Failure attend your lessons, lectures, tutorials, seminars, and meetings; failure to submit your coursework; and failure to attend your tests or examinations. If you are unable to attend any of these due to illness or personal emergency you must notify your university immediately
  • Failure to continue your studies – even if it is not your fault. If you are too ill to attend lectures long-term and have to defer your studies, your visa will be curtailed
  • Switching to a new university without obtaining permission from the Home Office first 
  • Your university losing their right to sponsor Tier 4 visas
  • Failure to register with the police upon your arrival, if you are required to do so
  • Failure to notify the police of changes to your address, immigration status, marital status, or any other details on your Police Registrations Certificate charge 
  • Working too many hours, or working jobs which you are not allowed to do 
  • Fraudulently claiming public funds
  • Making fraudulent claims about how much money you have 
  • Being convicted of a criminal offence in the UK – even non-custodial punishments such as fines, police cautions, and being disqualified from driving can have serious consequences

As your Tier 4 sponsor, your university has a duty to report you to the Home Office if they suspect that you are doing something which your visa does not allow. 

If you do not follow the rules carefully, there can be serious consequences for both your current Tier 4 visa and any future immigration applications you may make. The Home Office can revoke your visa, force you to leave the country, and ban you from re-entering the UK. Be sure to study the Home Office Tier 4 policy guidance carefully so that you understand the conditions of your visa. 

Not the visa you’re looking for information on? Check out our video for guidance on obtaining a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneurship visa, or check out our blog post about securing a Tier 2 visa.