London #1 for foreign students! Student visas ….hmm

5 mins

Posted on 21 Jun 2018

Is London still the best place to study for international students despite the UK’s tough student immigration system?

‘Great education’, ‘amazing job opportunities’ and ‘fantastic place to live’ are the words often used by international students to describe the UK and London in particular. The nation’s capital with four of Europe’s top 10 universities, a healthy job market and the potential for a 24/7 social life was once again ranked as the best city in the world for university students and ahead of Tokyo, Melbourne, Montreal and Paris – by QS Higher Education Group’s recent report.

In return, it’s estimated that the additional economic value international students bring to the capital in terms of fees, living expenses and spending etc. is creeping up to the £5bn a year mark and overall foreign students are worth an estimated £20bn annually to the wider UK economy.

Despite their financial importance to the exchequer, the immigration system that foreign students need to battle through in the UK remains one of the toughest in the world. 

How do international students get a visa?

Caught up in the ongoing political drive to reduce net migration (which currently includes international students), Tier 4 student visa applicants are faced with a process stacked with hurdles – and not all of them are the same height!

Under Tier 4 of the UK’s Points Based visa system – all non-EEA students wanting to study in the UK whether at a UK university, further education college or independent school need to score 40 points for a successful student visa application. 30 points are awarded if they have a valid Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) issued by a Tier 4 sponsor and a further 10 points if they can show sufficient funds for their upkeep during their UK studies. Satisfying the ‘maintenance’ requirement is where many international student visa applicants come unstuck, suddenly finding a UK visa refusal instead of a Welcome Pack arriving in their inbox. With set living costs needing to be met (currently £11,385 for students wanting to study in London), combined with strict rules covering the content and format of supporting bank statements, (including the need to hold the necessary funds for a minimum 28 consecutive days), there is a high rate of visa refusals on maintenance grounds.

Can students still be refused even if they meet the points target?

Even where the 40 points target is met, Tier 4 applicants may still be refused by the UK Home Office on the basis that an Immigration Officer is not satisfied that they are a ‘genuine student’. Tier 4 applicants can face such a ‘credibility’ refusal, when an applicant does not demonstrate at interview a good enough understanding of their course content or of their UK sponsoring school or college or University, or in the (subjective) opinion of the interviewing officer, their reason for studying is not credible in the light of the applicant’s personal or financial circumstances - for example where the applicant is returning to studies after a significant gap or embarking on a career change.

What else can lead to visa refusals for international students?

Tier 4 sponsors also often report ‘credibility’ refusals based on a range of other grounds. Some of these are a little odder than others and can occasionally verge on the bizarre, including an applicant rejected for not knowing the bus route to his university and another student turned down on the basis that their many siblings mean it was not credible that their parents could really afford to fund their overseas education. These are of course at the extreme but it is important to know that such visa refusals can be challenged via the administrative review process and for genuine students with adequate finances, this will be a worthwhile exercise.

Tier 4 applicants also need to be extremely careful when applying from overseas to disclose any previous UK visa refusal or breach of previous UK visa conditions (work restrictions). If they don’t they will be banned from entering the UK for a 10 year period due to ‘deception’.

What has changed for international students under Home Secretary Sajid Javid?

Parachuted in by Theresa May to replace the outgoing Amber Rudd in the wake of the Windrush generation deportation scandal, new Home Secretary Sajid Javid has recently pledged a fresh look at student migration, including the thorny question of whether international students should remain in net migration figures. With the announcement last Friday that doctors and nurses will be removed from the ‘annual quota’ under Tier 2 (General) work visas, the easing of restrictions for non EEA workers may mean that we have moved a step closer to international students being removed from net migration figures. Javid has also promised to review the ‘hostile environment approach’ to illegal immigration and it is hoped that any new student immigration policy will recognise the significant cultural and economic importance of attracting international students to a post Brexit UK, rather than getting them to jump through yet more red tape.

If you are a prospective Tier 4 student and would like to study in the UK, a current Tier 4 student needing to extend their visa or study at a different Tier 4 Sponsor, or you have been refused a Tier 4 student visa and want to challenge the decision, please get in touch with Anna Blackden on +44 (0)118 959 6839 or

To contact our specialist Education Immigration team please call +44 (0)20 7329 9090 or email

To contact our specialist Education team please call +44(0)20 7329 9090 or email


The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.

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