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UK: Recent-month study visa grants surpassing pre-pandemic levels

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Year-over-year student visa volumes are down in the UK this year but most of that decline happened in the early months of the pandemic in 2020
  • From September 2020 on, the monthly count of visas granted for study in the UK has reached or exceeded pre-COVID totals

New data released by the British Home Office show that the number of visas issued to foreign students has surged over the past seven months. In fact, the total visas granted during that period from September 2020 through March 2021 has consistently exceeded the monthly totals for the same period before COVID struck.

The Home Office reports a total of 250,683 study visas granted for the year ending March 2021. This represents a 16% year-over-year decline overall, but, as the following chart reflects, most of that decrease was factored in the first wave of the pandemic from April through August 2020. From that point on, visa issuances recovered strongly and have remained at higher volumes since when compared to the same period a year prior.

An accompanying Home Office statement adds, “From September [2020], [study visa] grants were consistently higher for each month in the year ending March 2021 compared to the previous year. This is likely a result of applications and grants being displaced from April to August into later months.”

Number of Tier 4 study visas granted, by month, 2019, 2020, and 2021. Source: Home Office

Top sending markets

The vast majority of visa grants (93%) were for students pursuing higher education in the UK. Another 3% were for students enrolled at independent schools, 2% for further education, and 2% for enrolments at English language centres.

And, as we see in the following table, China remains the leading sender by far for the period ending March 2021. Even with a -26% year-over-year decline in visa grants to Chinese students, this key group accounted for 35% of all visas issued through March this year.

Other key senders, meanwhile, registered significant year-over-year growth with the numbers of Indian students up 13%, Nigerian students increasing by 83%, and 52% growth in visa grants to Pakistani students.

Top five nationalities for UK study visa grants for the years ending March 2020 and March 2021. Source: Home Office

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