Applying for a Tier 4 (General) visa to study

International students (from outside the European Economic Area or Switzerland) need a visa (entry clearance) to study in the UK. Even students classed as ‘non-visa nationals’ will need to apply for the correct permission to study in the UK. Students requiring a Tier 4 (General) visa will need to apply before coming to the UK: it is not possible to switch to this visa category on arrival. 

Is a Tier 4 (General) visa right for me?

The University of Birmingham has a Tier 4 (General) Highly Trusted Sponsor Licence which permits us to enrol international students on a range of courses. Tier 4 visas are appropriate for students that can prove their ability in English language, that have enough funds to support themselves and are able to meet the other entry requirements, under the points-based system.

Unlike a short term study visa, if you enter the UK on a Tier 4 (General) visa you may be permitted to work in the UK, subject to restrictions, and certain students may be able to bring family members (dependants). In addition it is possible, subject to restrictions, to extend a Tier 4 (General) visa if you need more time to study.

The UK has a points-based immigration system. Tier 4 visa applications require 40 points:

Your visa application will be refused if you do not meet the points requirements.

When to apply

Once you have firmly accepted your unconditional offer and received your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) you can start to prepare your visa application.
The earliest you can submit your application is 3 months before your course starts, but you can start planning straightaway: ensuring you have the correct documents and enough funding in your bank account. 

How to apply

Before starting your application you should read the latest policy guidance published by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI, formerly UKBA) you must also read the instructions on how to have your BRP card sent to the University of Birmingham.

To apply for a Tier 4 (General) visa from outside of the UK you need to complete an online application form, with the exception of students residing in North Korea who must apply in person. In most cases you will also be required to pay the visa fee online. The current fee for applications made outside of the UK is £322 (in local currency equivalent). 

You should then book an appointment at a Visa Application Centre (VAC), which may be in a different country. Some VACs charge an additional 'User fee' of £59 to allow smaller VACs to remain open. If you do not wish to pay this additional fee then you should attend a different VAC.

When you attend your appointment you need to take your printed application along with all the required supporting documents for your visa. You may need to take a tuberculosis (TB) test

At the visa application centre you will have your biometric information (fingerprints and photograph) taken. In addition you may be interviewed via a video link by staff in the UK. The purpose is to discuss why you want a visa and you should be prepared to explain why you decided to study in the UK, why you decided to study at the University of Birmingham, and why you chose this particular course.

Due to changes to 'entry clearance' (visas made outside of the UK) if you are applying to come to the UK for 6 months or more you will be given an entry clearance visa for 30 days, and you will be required to collect a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) card within 10 days of arrival into the UK.

Before making your visa application you must read the instructions on how to have your BRP card sent to the University of Birmingham.

Immigration Health Surcharge

From 6 April 2015 applications for visas that are more than six months long will also include a 'immigration health surcharge'.

This charge must be paid even if you have your own private medical insurance, and your visa application will not be granted unless you have paid the surcharge.

Australian and New Zealand nationals as well as British Overseas Territory Citizens who live in the Falkland Islands are exempt from payment, however these people must still obtain an IHS reference number.

How much is the Immigration Health Surcharge?

The surcharge is calculated at £150 per year for each year of leave that you are applying for. If the leave includes a period of less than 6 months, the part year is charged at £75. Please note that the charge is calculated on the basis of the total length of leave granted, so any additional time before or after your course will be taken into account.

You can check the amount you need to pay before you apply.

How to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge

You must make the payment before you submit your visa application. The Tier 4 online application will direct you to create an account on the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) portal, where you will need to pay online if you are not exempt.
You will then be given an IHS reference number which you should write on the cover of your visa application. You will need an IHS reference number even if you are exempt from paying the healthcare surcharge.

Documents you need for your visa application


Documents list

Your application will be rejected if your documents do not exactly meet the requirements set by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI, formerly UKBA). All documents must be original copies (not scanned or photocopied) and if documents are not in English then an official certified translation must be provided. The following documents must be included with your application:

  • Your current passport as well as any previous passports you have used to travel to the UK
  • 2 passport sized colour photographs with your name written on the reverse (see requirements)
  • Proof that you have the amount of money required by UKVI for immigration (see money requirements)
  • ATAS, if you need it (find out if you need ATAS)
  • CAS number from the University of Birmingham (get a CAS number)
  • Academic qualifications that are listed in the CAS
  • Translations of any documents that are not in English (see translation requirements)
  • Proof of parental or legal guardian consent if you are under the age of 18.

All the documents must be originals.  You do not need to provide a paper copy of your CAS document, you simply write the CAS number on your application form.

Low-risk countries and documents to submit

Nationals of some countries do not need to submit evidence of their qualifications or finances when applying as they are deemed ‘low risk’. However you should still collect all the evidence as you may be requested to show it at a later stage, and your application will be refused if you are unable to provide it within the required timeframe.

For a full list of low risk countries see Appendix H of the Immigration rules

How long am I permitted to stay?

Under Tier 4 immigration rules there are limits on the length of time students can spend in the UK. Your visa application cannot lead to you spending more than 5 years at undergraduate and masters level. Some exemptions apply including for students who studied an undergraduate course for longer than 3 years, or those studying a post-graduate research qualification.

The University will consider if you have enough time to study before deciding if a CAS can be issued. Some students will also need to plan their studies to make sure they have enough time to complete their studies.

If your visa is successful you can expect to be granted the length of your course (according to the CAS) plus:

  • 4 months, if your course is 12 months duration or more
  •  2 months, if your course is 6-12 months duration
  •  1 month, if your course is a pre-sessional course of less than 6 months duration
  • 7 days , for other courses of less than 6 months duration

You must not remain in the UK after this date unless you have already submitted an application for further leave to remain in the UK i.e. extend your visa. Overstaying is a criminal offence and will have serious consequences for any future immigration applications that you make, including applications for countries other than the UK. Please also be aware that your visa may be curtailed (shortened) if you defer, postpone, take a break from studies or complete your course early.

What happens after I have submitted my application?

Information on visa processing times in your country is available on the UK Visas and Immigration website.  

If successful, your visa will be issued as a vignette (sticker) in your passport.

A new system for issuing entry clearance to people coming to the UK from abroad for more than six months (and their family members) is going to operate from March 2015 onwards. Students applying for an entry clearance visa from outside of the UK will be granted a 30 day short-term entry clearance vignette (sticker) in their passport. They will also be given a written decision which will advise them where to collect their biometric immigration document known as a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). Students coming to study for less than 6 months should not require a BRP card.

If you believe the visa you have been issued contains any incorrect information you should ask for it to be changed immediately – before you travel – ask the entry clearance post for advice.

It is possible for some errors such as start and end dates, work conditions and police registration requirements to be corrected after you arrive in the UK, contact the ISAS for advice.

What happens if my visa is refused?

Please take care when completing your application to avoid your visa being refused as you may not have time to make another application. If you are in doubt about whether any of the documents meet the requirements, do not risk the possibility of a refusal, and check with the ISAS before submitting your visa application.

If your visa is refused you should send a scanned copy of your refusal notice to the International Students Advisory Service immediately. 

The University of Birmingham cannot issue you with a second CAS until we are certain that the reason for the refusal has been corrected, and that you are able to make a successful application that will allow you to arrive at the University by the latest permitted start date for your studies.  If you believe a mistake was made assessing your visa application, the ISAS will advise you if an Administrative Review is appropriate. This must be done within 28 days from the date you received the notice, and you will not be able to submit fresh evidence as part of this process.

Further information

We hope this page has provided you with all the information you need to understand how to make a successful application for a Tier 4 (General) visa. You may also find the following helpful:

If you are not able to find the answers to your queries above then you can also contact the International Students’ Advisory Service by logging an online enquiry. You can log in as a guest on the right hand side of the page.

Please note that due to the volume of international students applying for visas to come to Birmingham, we aim to respond to your query within 10 working days. To enable our advisors to provide you with a prompt and detailed response, we would appreciate it if you make your question as clear as possible, providing as much relevant detail as you can about your circumstances e.g. course details, nationality and visa applications/current permissions.

Different names for the student visa

A student visa can also be called "entry clearance"or "Tier 4 student visa".