UK visas - what you need to know

There are two different types of visa for which students may be eligible.

Points-based visas, including the General Student Visa, are necessary for longer courses but students have to fulfil more requirements to be eligible. These visas can only be offered by education institutions on the Register of Sponsors.

Extended Student Visitor Visas of 6-11 months are available for English language students only, with no requirements about language level.

Students who want to study in the UK must apply for one of these specialist visas: it is no longer possible to do so on any other type of visa, such as a family or general visitor visa.

Points-based visas

The UK has had a points-based visa system since 2009, and the student part of it is called Tier 4.  There are two types of Tier 4 visas: the General Student Visa (GSV) and the Child Student Visa. Students have to prove they have enough money to live in the UK and pay tuition fees, that they have reached level B1 on the CEFR, and have a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS), which is a valid offer of a place at a UK educational institution on the Register of Sponsors.

Non points-based visas

The Student Visitor Visa, Extended Student Visitor Visa, Child Visitor Visa and Prospective Student Visa are not part of Tier 4 and have a different set of rules. They are very useful for students on shorter courses or with low starting levels of English.

Studying on a General Visitor, Business or Family Visa

From October 1 2013, the rules allow people on these visas, who are primarily visiting the UK for other reasons, to study for up to 30 days. Time in the classroom can be taken as one consecutive six week course, or spread out in different ways.

This is intended for people who want to be in the UK to travel, for family reasons, or for business, but would like to spend a short period of time studying while they are here. People who want to come here to study should still apply for one of the specialist visas listed on this page: there is no advantage for them in a visitor visa.

Study is not allowed on any UK visa. It is still banned for people in the country on the following visas:  Approved Destination Status (ADS) with China; parent of a child at school; sports; entertainer; private medical treatment; prospective entrepreneur or for the purposes of marriage/civil partnership.

Which visa?


General Student Visa
(GSV – Tier 4 PBS)

Student Visitor Visa

Any course duration For a maximum of 6 months (or 11 months if applying for an Extended Student Visitor Visa)

Can extend visa in UK as long as the new course starts no later than a month after the previous one ended. Cannot extend visa in UK

Can work (10-20 hours in term-time depending on course level, full-time in holidays) but only if studying at a publicly funded institution

Cannot work

Costs £310 Costs £80, £150 for ESVV

Applicant must be CEFR level B1 or above No minimum English requirement

Ties the student to the sponsor institution (students cannot change schools without making a new visa application) Students are free to change institution or course

Sponsor institution must be accredited AND on the Register of Sponsors Sponsor institution must be accredited

Making an application

To make an application students should refer to the Home Office website. By following the links and/or prompts you will be able to download the latest application forms and find out where the nearest application centre is located.

More guidance is available here.

A list of approved SELT tests is available here.

Non-visa nationals can get an SVV at the border, but have to apply for an ESVV or Tier 4 visa in their home country. Exceptions are certain students who can apply for a Tier 4 visa from within the UK if they are currently on these visas:

  • Tier 4 (GSV and CSV)
  • Tier 2
  • Tier 1 (Post-study Work)
  • Anyone who still has a student visa that was granted under the pre-Tier 4 rules

Students cannot apply for a Tier 4 visa:

  • more than 3 months before the start of their course
  • if their CAS was assigned (created) by their educational institution (sponsor) more than 6 months ago – it expire
  • if their CAS has already been used once in a visa application
  • if their sponsor decides to withdraw sponsorship and cancels the CAS

Students will need to know what qualifications and test results their sponsor used to assess their suitability for a course, because these documents must be included with their visa application. English UK member centres will provide this information to students.