How To Apply For A Student Visa

Once you’ve applied for your course, you'll need to start thinking about applying for your visa. If this sounds a little daunting, don’t worry, thousands of international students have successfully applied for visas to study abroad and we are here to show you how.

What is a visa?

A visa is a document that gives you permission to enter a foreign country. A student visa is only given out to people who have a confirmed place of study at a registered institution for a set period of time. Different countries have different visa requirements, so you must check the specific requirements on the website of the visa issuing department of the country you want to study in.

The country’s visa website should have all the information regarding visa applications, forms, documentation and interviews. If you’re struggling to find the guidelines, contact the embassy or consulate by phone, email or in person.

When should I apply?

Once you have received your Letter of Acceptance from your desired university it should be treated as a green light to start the application procedure for yourStudent Visa.

In some cases the process can take up to six months, or even longer for visa applications with missing information, so it’s advisable to start as soon as you gain acceptance onto a study abroad program.

What type of visa should I apply for?

The exact name and type of visa you require will vary from country to country but it is likely you will need a non-immigrant student/study visa. This basically means that you do not intend to take up permanent residence in that country and that your stay is for temporary study.

In the UK the majority of non-EEA nationals will require a Tier 4 (General Student) visa. In the US, the student visa is referred to as an F-1 visa.

How do I apply?

The first thing you should do is contact the university or college to clarify which visa you need to apply for and/or to ask them to send you the necessary documentation for your application.

Most universities will provide support for international students going through this process. In some countries you can even apply for your visa through the institution, meaning that much of the bureaucratic work is done by the university itself. To find out if this is the case, contact the international admissions department of the university, and ask whether they can help you at all with your application.

What documents do I need when I apply for my visa?

Every country, depending on their Immigration Laws, has a specific list of documents. However, the following documents are generally required.

Valid passport

A passport is always required but the period of validity varies by country of study. Some countries require the passport to be valid until the end of the course even at the time of visa application.

You also need to ensure that you have at least two blank pages in your passport for stamping for a visa.

You may also be required to submit a copy of any expired passports.

Proof of acceptance to study

No matter which country you are applying to, if you are applying for any category of Student Visa, you must be able to prove that you are a bonafide student. This is often done by producing confirmation of admission with an educational institute of that country.

In the UK this is referred to as a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) statement.

Proof of financial capability

Most countries require you to prove that you are capable of not only taking care of the tuition and college expenses but also have the requisite funds to afford your stay in that country for the intended period of study.

Proof of language proficiency

Most countries will require that you can communicate in the language which would be your medium of instruction.

For English speaking countries this is usually done by a minimum score requirement for various English Language Tests like TOEFL, IELTS and/or PTE.

Medical examination report

Various countries require that international students should undergo a medical test from a list of authorized doctors. It is advised to do it a few days before you start the visa application as the doctors need some time to prepare the medical reports.

How long will it take to get my visa?

Visa processing can take as little as a couple of days to several months depending on the country and your nationality. Make sure you leave enough time to get your visa sorted as trying to rush an application is not advised.

How good must my English be?

Each university has its own English language requirements. If your English satisfies your university’s requirements then it is good enough for a Visa.

Can I work while I'm studying?

Most student visas allow students to work for 20 hours/week once their semester begins.

In the UK voluntary work is allowed but only within the maximum hours. For example, if you are allowed to work 20 hours per week and have a paid job, this could be 15 hours per week paid and five hours unpaid (voluntary) work.

The following types of work aren’t allowed in the UK:

  • Any business activity or self-employment
  • Employment as a doctor in training (except on a recognised foundation programme)
  • Employment as a professional sportsperson (including a sports coach)
  • Employment as an entertainer
  • Filling a full-time, permanent vacancy (except on a recognised foundation programme or as a students’ union sabbatical officer)

In the UK work is not permitted on a short term study visa, including work placement or work experience or any business activity.

US students on an F1 study visa cannot work off-campus during the first year of their program. They are allowed to work for 20 hours per week. However, during holidays and breaks, they can work up to 40 hours per week. Students are allowed to work for a commercial firm that provides services to the university/college, like a cafeteria or bookstore. Those who want to work outside the campus have two options: Curriculum Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT).

Interview tips

Although interviews are not mandatory for every country they are part of the process for some. Rejections often occur at this stage so preparation is vital.

Focus

You must sound absolutely focussed to the officers regarding your decision to study abroad. You should be able to portray how studying in a particular country will help you realise your academic goals in a way that studying in your home country could not.

Clarity of goals

It is essential to be clear how you plan to make use of your study experience in actualising your short-term and long-term career goals. Showing the connection between your degree and professional goals can help with visa acceptance.

Non-immigrant intent

A student visa is granted for the duration of the course for which you have been accepted to study. Under no circumstances express a desire to stay in your study country for longer than the period of study. This includes not expressing a desire to work in that country upon completion of your studies.

Family & friends

Having family and friends in a country is generally not considered a good reason to issue a study visa by immegration officers. In fact it can sometimes contribute towards a rejection if offered as a primary reason. Demonstrating your extensive ties to your home country, on the other hand, can be an important aspect of a visa acceptance.

Language

The interview will be in the language that will be the medium of your instruction during your course. Try and ensure you are fluent enough to impress the officials, and make sure you can easily recall the words that are likely to come up during the interview process.

Enthusiasm

You should be able to express that you are dedicated to learning as well as capable of living abroad. This includes your passion to overcome the challenges of studying the demanding course you have chosen and to absorb yourself in the culture of your chosen country.

Documentation

Things you may get asked for during the interview include your passport, photographs, standardised test scores, academic transcripts, educational certificates, proof of funds, bank statements, birth certificate, etc.

What happens if I’m rejected?

If you are unfortunate enough to receive a rejection say thank you, walk away, and get working on what to do next! You are allowed to apply again during that same year. More often than not though, if you’ve done the paperwork and can speak confidently about why you plan to study abroad and what you’ll do with your degree, you’ll be fine.

Country specific regulations

What are the UK visa regulations?

The United Kingdom Visa and Immigration (UKVI) update their guidance and their website frequently and without notice. You should always check with UK Visas and Immigration for the latest information (see https://www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration).

Types of UK study visas

The main type of visa our international students apply for is a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa. However, if you’re studying in the UK for six months or less, you may be eligible to apply for a Short-term Study Visa instead.

The types of visa that are available are as follows.

  • Tier 4 General Student Visa (T4Gen)
  • Short term Study Visa (STSV) – 6 month or 11 month
  • Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW) – 6 months study or less, and conditions apply

Healthcare surcharge

You may need to pay a healthcare surcharge (the 'Immigration Health Surcharge' or IHS) as part of your immigration application. The cost varies depending on your circumstances so we recommend you check how much you’ll need to pay using the UKVI calculator tool: https://www.immigration-health-surcharge.service.gov.uk/checker/type.

Required documents for UK

You’ll need to have your Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) with you before you apply for a visa. You’ll be sent your CAS once you have an unconditional offer to study and have met any other conditions.

You’ll also need:

  • A current passport or other valid travel documentation with at least one page in your passport that is blank on both sides for your visa
  • One passport-sized colour photograph with your name written on the reverse side
  • Proof you can support yourself financially and pay for your course
  • Proof of parental or other legal guardian consent if you’re under 18
  • Your tuberculosis test results, if you’re from a country where you have to take the test
  • You may be asked to provide additional documents depending on your individual circumstances

What is the US visa application process?

1. Receive your I-20 from your chosen university

An I-20 is a paper record of your information in the government database called SEVIS (Student and Visitor Exchange Visitor Program). When applying to your chosen university, you’ll submit evidence of your financial situation. You must provide a bank statement with the required amount to apply for your I-20. If the bank statement is not in your name, the university will provide an affidavit of support for your sponsor to complete. Once your application is accepted, your chosen university will create an I-20 form for you. You’ll need this to apply for a visa.

2. Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee online

Paying this fee activates your I-20 in the SEVIS database. Remember to print your receipt and take it with you to the US Embassy/Consulate. There is a SEVIS ID number on your I-20 form, above the barcode on the top right-hand side. You’ll need this to complete the SEVIS Form I-901.

3. Make an appointment for your visa interview

Make an appointment with your local US Embassy/Consulate for a visa interview as soon as you’ve completed steps 1 and 2. It may take a few weeks to get an appointment. Wait to make travel arrangements until after you’ve received your visa.

4. Take documents with you to your visa interview

Make sure you have these documents and take them with you to your visa interview:

  • Passport valid for travel to the United States - Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person who needs a visa must submit a separate application
  • Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page
  • Application fee payment receipt, if you are required to pay before your interview
  • Photo – You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, you must bring one printed photo in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students, Form I-20 or Certificate of -b Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students, Form I-20
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