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UK continues to reopen visa processing and ease travel restrictions

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Through June and July, the UK has continued to reopen and expand visa processing services at both domestic and overseas service points
  • Travel restrictions have been eased as well with travellers from more than 60 countries no longer required to self-isolate on arrival in the UK
  • The Home Office has also introduced a number of measures in recent weeks in a bid to boost student mobility and to assist current students in maintaining their visa status
  • Most recently, the British government has also published further details for its forthcoming points-based immigration system which will come into effect in January 2021

As of this writing, the UK is at a “Level Three” COVID-19 alert level, meaning that the UK government has deemed the virus to be “in general circulation” but less so than in previous months. As a result of COVID cases no longer rising exponentially, UK borders are opening and visa centres (VACs) are beginning to reopen more extensively in the UK as well as overseas in order to restore the flow of international students and skilled workers into the country. In addition, the UK government has introduced new policies aimed at making it easier for international students to come to the UK.

Ramping up visa processing

Throughout June and July, more visa centres have been reopening in the UK and around the world, which has allowed more students whose visa applications have been in limbo to book appointments; this in turn will clear the way for new applicants to apply for visas to study in the UK. As of 13 July, eight new VACs have been added in the UK.

Both in the UK and at overseas VACs, priority will be given to clearing backlog of applicants who had been stuck in the unfortunate position of having applied for a visa then having had UK visa centres close down because of COVID-19. For that reason, those applicants will be the first to receive appointments to have their visas processed. In addition, some applicants who have already registered fingerprints with UK visa centres will not have to book appointments; instead they will be informed what next steps to take.  

For detailed information about which VACs in the UK as well as overseas are currently open please see this directory and, for more information, this excellent summary from the law firm Withers Worldwide is a good source of clear guidance. 

As for international students who currently hold a UK visa:

  • Students on short-term study visas who are in the UK and unable to travel home can make a visa application from within the UK until 31 July 2020. To determine if they are eligible, students should contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre.
  • International students whose visa is due to expire by 31 July and who cannot leave the UK due to COVID-19 restrictions can apply for an extension to their visa. They must complete an online form to begin the process of receiving that extension.
  • In addition, Universities UK has created an excellent web resource with detailed answers for a host of specific questions that international students may have regarding their visa applications and status.

Travel restrictions into the UK are easing

UK borders are opening to dozens of countries whose coronavirus risk profile is no worse than that of the UK itself, including almost all European markets. As of 10 July, travellers from roughly 60 countries – under what’s known as the “travel corridor” – no longer need to quarantine on arrival.

These countries include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the special administrative area of Hong Kong – which are of course major sending markets for UK universities. While they won’t have to quarantine, students from travel corridor countries will need to provide their contact details to immigration authorities so they can be traced and located if necessary.

Travellers arriving from countries not on this list will need to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival in the UK.

New policies to strengthen mobility

On top of the restored two-year post-study work rights (three years for PhD students) announced near the end of 2019, the UK government has also announced other measures to encourage international students to come to study in the country.

As we reported previously:

  • The Home Office has confirmed that students may count online studies undertaken outside the UK towards their post-study work eligibility: “Students will normally be expected to undertake their studies in the UK to be eligible for the Graduate route. However, if students are required to either continue their current studies or commence a new course by distance or blended learning due to COVID-19, they will still be eligible to switch into the Graduate route on a concessionary basis if they spent some time studying outside the UK.”
  • The normal limit of 20 working hours per week during course sessions has been relaxed for students in a number of specified health care fields while “Tier 4 students with work rights whose sponsor suspends all study on their course as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak will be considered to be in vacation time and so will be permitted to work full-time during this period.”

New points-based visa system coming January 2021

International students, including those from EU countries, will see their visa applications assessed according to a new points-based immigration system due to take effect in January 2021. EU students, however, will require fewer documentary requirements than other international students as they will be classed as “low-risk.”

Additional details released by the Home Office this month indicate that Tier 4 visa applicants will need 70 points under the new system, distributed like so:

  • 50 for study elements (including an offer from an approved education institution, evidence that they have met course requirements, and proof of approved qualifications);
  • 10 points for English-language proficiency;
  • 10 points for demonstration of adequate funds, with the exception of international students on a recognised foundation programme as a doctor or dentist in training.

Also notable under the new visa system:

  • Students can apply for a visa to enter the UK six months ahead of their course start date, up from three months previously.
  • Postgraduate students will now have no limit on the length of time they can remain in the UK to study, though they will have to provide evidence that they are progressing in their courses.

For additional background, please see:


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