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UK Customs/Immigration/Visa questions

I posted this in the "England" forum, but thought I'd try here too ...

Some background ... My son is leaving to do a study abroad in Edinburgh next week, and he has a bit of a problem. ... After booking his ticket a couple of months ago, he learned that if he arrives more than 7 days before the start of the spring term, he can't get a student visa. He is scheduled to arrive 10 days before the term begins. (Yes, this is something the U. of California Study Abroad Program needs to more clearly emphasize, but that's a different post ... )

So, being a resourceful but sometimes impulsive 20-year-old, he booked a cheap round-trip to Rome for three days from Edinburgh -- his plan was to arrive in Scotland, go through customs on a tourist visa, then store his biggest bag, turn around and fly to Rome. Then, after enjoying a couple of whirlwind days in Rome, he would take a return flight back to Edinburgh on the "correct" date for arrival, get a student visa, collect his bag, and start the spring term. Perfect!

But he realized yesterday that he got confused by European dates and messed up his RyanAir return flight (by a ton -- several months). ... We're trying to book a different one-way return flight to Edinburgh from Rome, and there are some (expensive) options, but if he can just get the UK student visa when he arrives in Scotland, despite being a few days early, then the whole problem is moot and he can skip the Rome venture for now.

So, here are the questions (finally!) ... does anyone have any experience with UK customs and student visas? How tightly will they hew to this requirement? (Which, BTW, we can't find described or stated anywhere on the British customs/immigration website -- only in material from the UC Berkeley study-abroad program, and other university study-abroad documents we turned up online.) His UC orientation starts just three days after his arrival, and his U. of Edinburgh orientation starts six days after arrival, and he can bring documentation showing those dates -- is that likely to make a difference?

Appreciate any input you're able to offer ...

Karl
Cameron Park, Calif.

Posted by
4062 posts

I think that the study abroad office at UC or the British High Commission would be best placed to answer this question.

I am confused on one point, though. Is your son under the impression that he will be given the student visa at the airport upon arrival? Is there any reason why he can't enter as a tourist and then get the student visa a few days later? I know that when I studied abroad in France, my student visa wasn't ready for a few weeks.

Posted by
8293 posts

I had the same query as Emily (above) and I do think the British Consulate is the best place to go for a reliable answer.

Posted by
8293 posts

I had the same query as Emily (above) and I do think the British Consulate is the best place to go for a reliable answer.

Posted by
12 posts

What he's been told is that you can enter on a tourist visa, but to then get a student visa, you have to re-enter the country from outside the UK (and Ireland doesn't count) to get it. You can't just go to an immigration office locally. And according to the powers that be at the U of California, he's in violation of the program if he starts the term while still on a tourist visa ... hence the conundrum.

And we're calling the British consulate Monday ... he departs Thursday.

Posted by
12 posts

Oh, and he can get the student visa upon arrival with no prior application, as long as he has all the appropriate documentation (admission letter from Edinburgh, evidence of financial support, etc.)

Posted by
4465 posts

You may be confusing matters a bit by referring to 'visas'.

For example a USA citizen as a non-visa national doesn't need a visa either to be a tourist or to study for less than 6 months in the UK, but the status needs to be established on entry and can't be changed thereafter. A USA citizen can only enter as a student visitor if his or her course starts within 7 days, as you indicate.

The start date is that indicated on his Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies - hopefully for him this includes induction.

How long is his course? If it, plus any 'extra' days as a tourist exceed 6 months in total this is also a potential issue.

Posted by
2347 posts

How much is the fee to change flights to one leaving the US three days later?

Posted by
12 posts

Marco ... thanks for clarifying.

His induction letter is for the first day of classes, Jan. 12. The U. of Edinburgh orientation is Jan. 8-11, and the U. of California orientation is Jan. 5-6.

So because he is arriving more than 7 days before the first day of classes as described on his induction letter, it sounds like he will in fact have to leave the country and then return to get a new status as a student visitor. That being the case, any suggestions other than flights to the Continent that might make sense?

We're going to check out the train to London, then Dover, then the ferry to Calais and see what the cost would be compared to buying the second half of a round-trip flight to Rome ...

Karl

Posted by
12 posts

Karen ... unfortunately, the fee and added cost of a change this late is fairly astronomical -- $1700 in added costs, which is $500 more than the entire round-trip ticket cost in the first place ... :(

Karl

Posted by
6686 posts

Don't put him on the ferry in winter without a full pack of Dramamine. How about the Eurostar train instead-London to Paris in a couple of hours.

Posted by
70 posts

Karl,

Your son will then be applying for a Student Visitor visa instead of the Tier 4 (General) Student Visa, correct? And if I understand Marco correctly, the Student Visitor visa is really a passport stamp, not a proper visa.

Here is the page from the University of Edinburgh which outlines and discusses both visa types with direct links to both.

http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/international-office/immigration/new-students/visa-requirements

And this handy-dandy pdf guide...

http://www.ed.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.137765!/fileManager/Entry%20clearance%20as%20a%20Student%20Visitor.pdf

I've read the language on both the Student Visitor visa/stamp and the Tier 4 Visa. I can not find any reference to the SEVEN day start limit under the Student Visitor stamp/visa. I do not believe that this applies to your son's intended course of study.

Looking at the UC Berkeley website, my question for you is: What course of study is your son taking? If he is doing the Parliamentary Internship, he is not qualified to use the easier Student Visitor visa/stamp. That's back to square one then and phoning on Monday.

Ann

Posted by
4465 posts

"Students who enter as Student Visitors may only arrive in the U.K. a maximum of 7 days before the Study Program begins, may not extend their stay in Britain and will have to leave at the end of the Study Program they are participating in." This quote from a university does not indicate the length of time after a course - that is also 7 days.

The main difference between entering as a visitor rather than getting a student visa is you have no right to work during the stay.

Posted by
70 posts

This is the Tier 4 visa https://www.gov.uk/tier-4-general-visa

This is the Student visitor visa https://www.gov.uk/study-visit-visa

This is from here ... http://www.ed.ac.uk/studying/visiting-exchange/visas

"You are a non-visa national:
If you intend to travel to the UK to enrol on a course which lasts 6 months or more, you must get a Tier 4 (General) student visa before you leave your home country.
If your course is less than 6 months, you can apply on entry to the UK as a student visitor.
If your course contains a work based learning (paid or unpaid), regardless of the length of the course, you must get a Tier 4 General student visa."

And further in http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/international-office/immigration/new-students/student-visitor-visa

"If you are a non-visa national: you can apply for entry as a student visitor on arrival at UK Immigration as long as you arrive directly into the UK from outside of the UK/Republic of Ireland common travel area.
Bring your offer letter, financial evidence such as bank statements which demonstrate how you will pay for your studies/living costs and evidence that you intend to return to your home country - such as a return air ticket or a letter from your home University or employer stating that you are required to return. The Immigration Officer will stamp your passport and write the letters “S.V” (or similar) next to the entry stamp."

Specifically using the University of Edinburgh website as OP indicated it. Still don't see seven days mentioned in connection with the student visitor stamp. Not in the University information and not on the official government website.

Posted by
4465 posts

Having time to look into this a little more the specific current guidance uk.gov guidance document is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/special-visitor-student-visitor-vat09/special-visitor-student-visitor-vat09

This indeed does not refer to a seven day period, and indicates an entrant will be treated as a visitor and given 6 months leave with out reference to the course dates.

However, official confirmation that this is in force in these circumstances is probably wise for peace of mind, especially since immigration rules change regularly, and GOV.UK is not always up to date.

Posted by
12 posts

This is so helpful, thanks all ... Marco and Ann in particular, but I appreciate all the helpful feedback.

He's not on the Parliamentry plan, and he's going to be there for one term (taking two history courses and a philosophy course), so he qualifies for the student visitor permit ... he'll be there not quite five months, although his return flight is eight days after the official end of the term, which is also concern.

We're going to call the British consulate tomorrow, but our plan right now is to have him travel on Thursday as scheduled and wait to see what happens when he arrives at customs. Our hope is that the 7-day problem isn't a problem and he'll get the student visitor permit he needs. If he gets the permit, he'll just skip the trip to Rome, and the $120 RyanAir fare becomes a sunk cost -- call it "traveler tuition." If he doesn't get the permit, he'll try to find out if he needs the student visitor permit before he starts classes to be in compliance with UK, U. of Edinburgh and/or U. of California policy, or if a trip out of the UK can wait a few weeks.

If he has to get out of the country and then back before classes start on Jan. 12, a cheaper option appears to be an inexpensive flight to London, then the EuroStar train to Paris ... there are some timing challenges, but that approach is cheaper than having to buy the one-way flight back to Edinburgh from Rome. Plus his mother and I are just a little more comfortable with that option than with the whirlwind tour of Rome, where our older daughter was the victim of a pick-pocket a couple of years ago on a side trip during her study abroad year in Spain.

Thanks again ... I'll offer an update and let you know how it winds up ...

Karl

Posted by
3304 posts

- does anyone have any experience with UK customs and student visas?
A few years ago my husband got an academic grant, sponsored by a private university in the United States, to research at Oxford for 2 months. He didn't get any kind of special visa before he left or upon arrival in England. If your son isn't going to work, is going to be in the country for less than 6 months, and doesn't plan to stay longer, I don't see the need for a student visa. I may be completely off on this but I think you're making it more complicated than is really is?

Posted by
4501 posts

Karl,

I followed this thread & I'm very interested to know what happened with the student visa dilemma-- since my daughter will be in the same situation next year when she studies abroad at this same university.

Hopefully your son is getting situated in his 'new home' at the University of Edinburgh without any major issues.

Best of luck!

Posted by
12 posts

An update ... before my son Connor left for Scotland last week, I was able to get a Scottish customs officer at the Edinburgh airport on the phone (got the number from the British consulate). When I described the whole 7-day conundrum, he said each case coming through customs is dealt with on an individual basis, but an American with a U.S. passport, staying for less than six months and with a letter of acceptance from a UK university, should have no problem. Connor was ready with a huge pile of documents -- his financial bank statements, the University of Edinburgh letter, his financial aid award letter from UC Berkeley, a bunch of MY bank statements, etc., etc. When he arrived at the customs window, all the officer asked for was his passport and the University of Edinburgh letter acknowleding his acceptance as a study-abroad student. He said it took about a minute to get his student stamp in his passport and he was on his way. ... So those with students attending a University of California campus who are doing study abroad in a UK university via the UCEAP program, know that the guidelines they're throwing at students when they attend the required UCEAP meetings are NOT completely accurate. (If a student is staying for MORE than six months, which my daughter did a few years back in Spain while she was an undergrad at UCLA, the customs/immigration requirements are definitely more rigorous.) ... Again, thanks to all for your input ...

Posted by
4501 posts

Karl,

I'm sure it was a huge relief for you & your son!

Thanks for the update!

Posted by
4465 posts

The confusion may arise because if a student with USA citizenship wants to work as well then a visa is required (some may need the extra money this will bring). Some courses have an element of work placement where even if there is no intent to work outside of this course a visa is required.

Posted by
4501 posts

Hi Karl,

I sent you a private message.

My daughter will be studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh at this time next year and I'd appreciate your help with some questions I have.

I hope your son is doing well.

Thank you in advance!