Guidance for student visa
applicants in the USA

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, many international students taking up a course of study at a UK university are beginning their studies online, remaining in their home country until they are able to travel to the UK.

In order to improve the visa experience for international students, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has introduced flexibility in the visa rules to allow students to commence their study remotely and then apply for a visa when they are ready to travel, rather than at the start of their course.

Although many students in the USA have been able to apply for a student visa already, many are set to delay their travel to the UK until coronavirus restrictions are further lifted.

A significant number of US students come to the UK to study each year. According to UKVI data, almost 13,500 student visas in the UK were granted to US nationals, with 99% of all applicants being successful.

Commenting on the new allowances, a UKVI spokesperson said: Over the last few years we have continued to see thousands of students from the United States choose the UK’s world-class higher-education system as the destination for their studies.

Despite the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important we provide international students with the support and flexibility they need to pursue their studies in the UK, in a safe manner. For those travellers, our message is clear: your safety is our highest priority.”

Latest guidance for US student visa applicants

VFS Global, the Home Office’s commercial partner which runs UK Visa Appliation Centres (VACs) overseas, released a new statement this week outlining the service availability and health precautions in place for visa applicants in the United States.

Now academic semesters are beginning in the UK, student visa customers in the USA can schedule appointments at all Premium Application Centres operated by VFS Global. The ten premium centres which are operational and receiving student visa applications are located in:

  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • Miama
  • New York
  • Seattle
  • Washington DC
  • San Francisco

This premium service ensures a convenient visa application process for whenever students are ready to travel. It should be noted that an additional fee is charged for submitting applications at a premium centre.

Students who wish to access the UK visa standard service at no extra charge can book an appointment at a USCIS Application Support Centre. These centres are not operated by VFS Global and appointments must be scheduled through the online appointment system. More information on the process can be found here.

Both VFS Global Premium Application Centres and USCIS Application Support Centres have established standardised health and safety measures to protect customeers and employees.

The new and improved student route

On 5 October 2020, the Tier 4 (General) and Tier 4 (Child) routes for international students coming to the UK to study were closed and replaced by the new student route and child student route.

The new and improved route offers a simplified and more streamlined experience for international students, with applicants now able to apply for their visa six months in advance, compared to three months under the former Tier 4 system. Other improvements introduced by the new student route include:

  • More flexible switching permissions to enable students to switch between routes within the UK’s points-based immigration system. Students will also be able to apply for further permission from within the UK, providing they meet the requirements.
  • Removal of the eight-year time limit on studying courses at postgraduate level. This means there will be no limit on the time an individual can spend studying postgraduate courses in the UK.
  • Greater flexibility around maintenance requirements. Applicants will no longer be required to provide evidence of maintenance funds when they have spent over one year in the UK on their current visa.
  • Students will only be required to prove the required level of English language to the Home Office once.

More generous allowances for graduates

Launching in summer 2021 as part of the UK’s new points-based immigration system, the new graduate route will allow international students to stay in the UK and work, or look for work, at any skill level after completing their studies.

Under the new rules, undergraduates and master’s degree students will be granted two years’ leave, whilst PhD students will be allowed to stay for three years. This is a significant improvement on the now redundant Doctorate Extension Scheme (DES), which previously only allowed PhD gradutes to remain in the UK for 12 months after completing their studies.

To qualify for the new graduate route, students must have successfully completed an undergraduate or postgraduate degree at an approved UK university, and hold valid leave as a student when the route opens next summer.

Students who start their courses online from their home country will be eligible to apply for a graduate visa if they are in the UK before 6 April 2021 and complete their course in the UK.

Support for US students

Smith Stone Walters is proud to offer a global network of support for our clients, with offices in key locations around the world including London, New York, Hong Kong and Mumbai.

This means that, no matter where you are located, our immigration advisors are on hand to offer help and practical support.

To speak to a member of the SSW team in the USA, please call +1 646 790 5913 or email

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