Student visas category

How to … win at Immigration Control

November 10, 2015 | Posted by ECA UK | No Comments »

When you arrive in the UK, you’ll probably arrive at one of the international airports close to London, especially if you’re coming from outside the European Union (EU). Your most likely arrival destination is Heathrow Airport, though you might also land at Gatwick. As Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world, it is more likely that you’ll land there. It is now quite convenient to get to the centre of London from Heathrow, so definitely aim for that airport if you have a choice.

After you land, you’ll pass through Immigration Control, which is also called Passport Control. If you’re an international student, you will need to prepare a few things for this before your flight to the UK, as the border force officer who will check your passport and visa or entry clearance, will also ask you a few questions about your study and how long you plan on staying in the UK.

So, you should keep these things in your hand luggage:

  • Your passport, obviously
  • Your offer letters and confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS letter)
  • Copies of your financial documents
  • Address of the place you’re going to stay

Many students will only buy a one way ticket, so the border force officer will ask you how long you’re going to stay in the UK. You can show him your CAS and offer letters, and tell him that you’ll be returning home after your course finishes.

This is especially important if you’re going to enrol at university in the UK, but you’re first studying a pre-sessional course or English course that requires a separate visa. You will need to show your offer letters for your university course, which will explain your situation clearly.

There are usually two lines at immigration control: one is for European Economic Area and Swiss nationals, and the other line is for everyone else. Make sure you join the correct queue! The border force officer will then stamp your passport, usually on the visa page, and this will be the date that you arrived in the UK. This date is important for future visa applications.

However, if you’re coming to the UK for a course that is less than 6 months, then the officer will stamp ‘short-term student’ in your passport. The guys at Immigration Control don’t usually make mistakes, but check your passport to make sure everything is in order.

After you’ve got through immigration control, you can go and collect your luggage. The immigration lines at Heathrow can get pretty busy, but hopefully you won’t have to wait too long. After picking up your luggage, your final destination is Customs Control, which is where the officers ask if you have anything to declare. Well, they used to ask this, but now there are colour-coded lines and signs for you to look out for.

These are the colours you need to look out for, and what the mean:

  • Green: you have nothing to declare
  • Blue: you have arrived from an airport in the EU and have already cleared all your baggage through Customs Control there
  • Red: you have goods to declare

Having goods to declare means that you have certain items in your luggage that are controlled in the UK; also, if you are carrying the equivalent of 10,000 euros or more in any currency (and that can be in cash, banker’s draft, or any cheque), then you will need to declare it too.

Other items that you need to declare at customs are illegal drugs; weapons; self-defence sprays such as pepper spray; rough, uncut diamonds; and personal imports of meat and dairy products. Obviously you’re not going to be carrying any of these – hopefully – but it’s good to know, just in case.

One final issue that you will need to declare is if you have gone over your duty free allowance. All passengers coming from outside the EU are allowed to bring a certain amount of duty free alcohol and tobacco products into the UK, and you can see the limit here.

It is possible that your luggage will be searched at Customs Control, so make sure that you declare any items that you need to. If you have items that need to be declared, then depending on what they are you may be asked to pay tax or duty, give up the banned goods, or show documents such as permits of licenses that allow you to have possession of certain restricted goods or items.

The UK Border Force has a list of Customs Control and Immigration Control tips for students, and you can see them here.

Are you ready for Freshers’ Week?

October 9, 2015 | Posted by ECA UK | No Comments »

Sometimes Freshers’ Week doesn’t last a week – it lasts a fortnight. That’s 14 nights – and days? – of hard partying, socialising, and not much else. It all sounds pretty good, really, and many people will tell you it’ll be some of the best weeks of your life. Don’t worry if it’s not, of course, and don’t worry if you don’t seem to make loads of new friends, either, as you’ll have 3 or more years to do that. If there is one thing guaranteed, though, it’s that you’ll get Freshers’ Flu, which is basically just a cold you’ll get from meeting people from all over the country, made worse by all the excitement and not resting properly. You can blame it on all those boozy club and pub nights you’ll be going to, but everyone gets it and it’s nothing to worry about. Just make sure that you get some rest, and try not to spend all your budget in those first few weeks.

Believe it or not, there are things to think about during your first few weeks at university other than going out and having fun. The whole going out and having fun thing is of course the main point of Freshers’ Week, and it would be remiss of us to encourage you to do anything other than have fun and meet people. But there are certain essential chores that you need to do when you move in to your accommodation for the first time, such as checking the inventory that your university provides you. You’ll need to have a look at this and make sure that everything listed is indeed in your room. You can also check your room for any damage – if there is any, take a photo of it, and let the university housing department know about it. You don’t want to be charged for damage that you didn’t cause, which is what might happen if you’re not careful in those first few days. It’s important to take care of those first few housekeeping chores, and then start thinking about meeting people and heading out into university life.

Not everyone is bouncing-off-the-walls sociable, and some are just plain scared of this big new university world they’ve stumbled into. If your neighbours or roommates are not keen on going out, or doing the same things as you, then don’t think anything bad of them – everyone goes at their own pace, and being able to develop and live at your own speed is one of the great things about university life. If you’re one of those who doesn’t like going out, and doesn’t want to get involved in all those crazy events with music you don’t care for, then don’t worry – there will be many, many more opportunities to make friends throughout the year. The hard truth is that the people you meet in your halls of residence probably won’t be your best friends throughout university, and a year – or 3 years – is a whole lot longer than Freshers’ Week.

One of the great things at Freshers’ Week is having the opportunity to join all manner of societies, like those that match your interests and those that you just like the sound of. After you’ve joined up, you’ll be able to meet new people, learn new things, and get involved in different activities. It is probably tempting to join as many as possible – as you’ll be able to meet lots more people and do things that might be outside your comfort zone. All of which is good and healthy, of course, but you don’t need to go crazy and join every society and club that you see. You could join a sports society to get some exercise, or a music society, and meet people who have the same interests. You don’t need to spend all your time at Freshers’ Week going to the drinking events, as there are many more ways of meeting people, making new friends, and getting involved in university life than just going to the Guild of Students or various student nights in the town centre.

It’s not just other people that you’ll need to get to know, as you should spend some time getting to know your surroundings and the campus. How to get into town and back, for example. What are the best bus routes? Where is the train station? And try to learn your address and postcode – that always helps.

And lastly, you’re at university to do some work, most likely on a computer. Don’t forget to back it up.

A few things about council tax

October 7, 2015 | Posted by ECA UK | No Comments »

People in the UK are famous for their dark humour, and we often say that there are only 2 certain things in life: death, and taxes. Now, we’re not going to talk about death, but we are going to talk about tax. In fact, there’s one tax in the UK that you should be aware of, and that is council tax.

Firstly, don’t panic: not all students will have to pay council tax, and if you’re an international student it is likely that you will be exempt. However, it is better to be safe than sorry, and to know just what it is that you may or may not have to pay. Council tax is something that most people living in the UK have to pay based on the value of their property (called a ‘dwelling’), and that money goes towards paying for services provided by the council, such as the fire brigade and rubbish collection. The bigger and more valuable your dwelling is, the more council tax you have to pay. Similarly, if you live with one or more working adults (people over 18 with full time jobs), you will also have to pay council tax.

However, the good news is that not everyone has to pay council tax, as some people – and some properties – are actually exempt. This means that if you meet certain requirements, you don’t have to pay any at all. Yes, that’s nothing at all. Zero. Zip. Nada. Having those extra pounds in your pocket can make all the difference to students trying to survive on a budget, and it is definitely worth knowing who is exempt, and who is not.

The people who have to pay council tax are those who are ‘solely and mainly’ resident in the UK. This means that any of you who are international students studying English for a short period of time, or if you’re a student studying another kind of short course, then you won’t have to pay council tax, as you are not regarded as long-term residents in the country. In the case of university students, you also don’t have to pay council tax. Even if you’re writing your dissertation or thesis, so long as you are still enrolled at your university you will be considered a student – which means no council tax.

Some courses have work placements as part of them, and this can affect your status as a student. Basically, the length of your work placement can’t be longer than the period you spend studying; if it is, then you are no longer regarded as a student. This is going to be a rare occurrence, but it shows that you need to remain enrolled as a ‘student’ for the majority of your stay in the UK in order to be exempt from council tax.

Some universities will give you a certificate stating that you’re a student, and you can show it to the local authority if they ask to see one. Other local authorities have online forms that you need to complete, and then they check your student status directly with the university. Each local authority is different, so it is worth checking when you arrive in the UK.

When you’re choosing who to live with, as a full time student who will need to be a little careful: this is because, if you’re living with a person or people who are not full time students, then you might have to pay council tax. As a student, you will be able to apply for a student disregard discount, but this will still mean that you have to pay some council tax. You can apply for a discount with your local council.

If you are an international student in the UK with a spouse or dependent who is not a British citizen, and they have leave to enter or leave to remain in the UK, but are not able to get employment here and ‘no recourse to public funds’ on their visa or Biometric Residence Permit, then you will be exempt from council tax. You will have to show a copy of the passport or BRP to prove it, of course.


A few things about IELTS

October 2, 2015 | Posted by ECA UK | No Comments »

From 6th April 2015, the UK government changed the regulations for English tests acceptable for visa applications, meaning that only Secure English Language Tests (SELTs) can be used in visa applications. One of these is IELTS Academic for UKVI, which is the test most international students will take, and is the main English test that UK universities recognise. There other tests that universities recognise, but IELTS Academic for UKVI is the standard.

If you took your last test before 6th April 2015, you will still be able to use it to apply for a visa – but only until 5th November 2015, when the new regulations come into force. So if the last IELTS test you took was before April 6th, then you will need to take another IELTS test as soon as possible! The IELTS Academic for UKVI test is the same as the previous one, so you should prepare for the same type of questions as before. The only difference is that you will receive a secure number that will be used for your visa application, so make sure that you choose the right test when you’re completing your online booking.

You can see more information here, but let us know if you have any questions about the new IELTS test!

Help, my visa’s expired!

June 3, 2015 | Posted by ECA UK | No Comments »

It’s every international student’s nightmare – your Tier 4 student visa is expiring, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that you can do about it. The clock is ticking, and it looks like the final countdown has begun…but all is not lost. ECA UK looks at some things that you can do.

If you want to stay in the UK for longer than your current visa allows, or you want to change your visa status, then you will have to make a new application to the Home Office. Applying for a new visa is all about timing: if your current visa is expiring in a few months, then you’ve got some options about what to do. If your visa is expiring in a few days, however, then your options are really limited. If you’ve left it too late, then you might have to bite the bullet, go back home, and re-apply for your UK visa from there. This isn’t an ideal situation, but it might be the only option that you have – so be careful about those expiry dates!

So, one option is to apply for another visa as soon as possible. When you submit an application to the Home Office before your UK visa expires, your permission to remain in the UK is automatically extended. You can then stay in the UK until the Home Office makes a decision on your application. You can do this to give yourself a little more time to find a new course, or to find a new sponsor; however, doing so isn’t really advisable, as you will be overstaying your original visa. You need to plan for this in advance, and to have your application prepared and submitted long before your expiry date arrives. If you sit on your hands and do nothing until the last minute, then you will at best have to take a course you’re not so interested in, or at worst have to leave the country.

If you have planned in advance, then you will be able to submit an application to the Home Office in time. It depends on each case, but it can take from a couple of weeks to a month to hear back about your application, so you shouldn’t have too long to wait.

If you do stay in the UK after your visa has expired, however, and you haven’t submitted an application to the Home Office to extend your visa or change to another immigration category, then you will become an “overstayer”. This could result in you receiving a re-entry ban – so you need to be careful.

The other issue is that, even if you submit an application for another Tier 4 visa, your sponsor might not issue a CAS. This is a genuine worry now that the UK government is changing immigration and visa regulations, and if you overstay then it is almost definite that they will not issue a CAS, and will withdraw the one they did issue.

The best option, of course, is to talk to an expert, someone who knows what they’re talking about. There are visa agencies in the UK who can help you, but they need to be certified by the UK government. This certification is called an OISC certification, and they will be able to give you advice, as well as help you with your UK visa application. ECA Legal, our sister company, is certified and able to offer advice to you, so instead of worrying, pay them a visit and get some advice from the specialists.

How to apply for a student visa

May 26, 2015 | Posted by ECA UK | No Comments »

 Applying for a UK student visa can be a tricky process, but here at ECA UK we want to help you make that process as easy as possible. So easy, in fact, that we’ve made a guide for you to follow – and we even have a sister company, ECA Legal, who are visa specialists. There is quite a lot to prepare for your application, so let’s get started, shall we?

Confirmation from your university or school

A student visa in the UK is called a Tier 4 Student Visa, and the most important thing you’ll need for your application is confirmation that you have been accepted to study on your course. This means that you’ll need to have received an ‘unconditional offer’. Once you’ve got this and accepted it, your university or school will send you a reference number called a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). This is often a letter with your reference number, course details, and personal information, and you’ll need to keep it safe. Take a scanned copy when you receive it, just in case. You’ll need to enter the CAS reference number on your visa application, so make sure that you don’t lose it!

After you receive the CAS reference number, you will have 6 months to apply for your Tier 4 student visa – even though this seems like a long time, don’t sit on your hands and do nothing, as there are other documents you’ll require, and things you’ll need to do that could take a long time to prepare!

IELTS – special update

Before your university gives you a CAS, you will have to do an IELTS test to check your English. There is a new test especially for applying for a UK visa, so when you are looking for a test centre, make sure you choose one where you will do “IELTS for UKVI”, as this is the new name for the IELTS test for visa applications!

What is ‘maintenance’?

So you’ve done your IELTS and got your CAS – what’s next? The next step is all about money: tuition fees, and living costs – or ‘maintenance’. This can seem quite complicated, but as long as you work out everything you need, then you will be OK.

How much will you need? The answer to that question has two parts: you will need to have enough money to pay your course fees for the first year (minus any that you have already paid), and this amount will be stated on your CAS letter. You will also need to show that you have enough for living costs, or maintenance. This is more complicated to work out, as it depends where you are living. It’s best to ask for advice about this point, but in general if you are living inside London you need to show that you have £1,020 per month for up to 9 months (£9,180 in total). If you are living in Greater London or the rest of the UK, you need to show that you have £820 for up to 9 months (£7,390 in total). Again, as there are different factors and variables to consider, it is better if you check with a visa advisor to make sure.

So, how can you show it? In order to show that you have enough money for the course fees and maintenance, you will have to provide a bank statement that shows you have the required money in your account for at least 28 days before your application. For example, if you apply for your Tier 4 student visa on June 28th, you will need a bank statement that shows you have the correct amount of money in your account during the period of June 1st to June 28th. Ideally, you will show a bank statement from May to June 28th, as this will give you a stronger case, and the stronger your case is the better.

Where should I apply – and what else do I need?

You can apply for your Tier 4 student visa online, through the UK government website. If you prefer, you can ask a visa agent to do it for you; in the UK, visa agents need to be regulated by the government, so always check that they have an OISC license. Using a reputable agent will make things less complicated for you, as they will tell you which documents to prepare and how to prepare them. After you’ve applied, you will need to go to a British embassy, high commission, or consulate, which might be in your home country, or might be somewhere in the region, such as Abu Dhabi in the Middle East. When you go to the embassy, make sure you bring all the documents they request. You will also need to do a fingerprint scan, and have your photograph taken there, so you might have to wait for some time. However, once you have submitted all your documents, and you are confident that everything is ready, you shouldn’t have to wait too long.

How long does it take, and how much does it cost?

Different countries have different processing times, but it could take from a couple of weeks to a month to process your visa. Fees are always the same, as a Tier 4 student visa application costs £323.

What else is there?

There is also an interview stage that you will need to prepare for, called a ‘credibility interview’, which tests if you are a genuine student. Now, I’m sure that you are a genuine student, but the UK Home Office will still want to check themselves. The interview will usually be at the place you applied for your visa, so the UK embassy or consulate you went to originally. If that’s not possible, then you might be interviewed by phone, which isn’t always easy but you’ll need to be prepared.

There are a lot of different questions that you could be asked. In general, they will ask you about your study history, what you want to study in the UK, for how long, and also your finances – who will pay for your course, how much it is, and so on. They could even ask you for extra documents that aren’t mentioned in the visa application, so it would be a good idea if you speak to your agent first, so that you can get a better idea of what the interview will be about. You’ll also have the chance to practice with someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Not sure if you need a UK student visa? Click here to check on the UK government’s website!


When applying for university study in the UK, you need to be careful to get it right, but if you get a professional to help you, it could make quite a difference to your success, and your schedule. James Galloway explains.

With the application deadlines for many university courses fast approaching, it is time to act quickly to get your university applications out in time. For many courses you can apply online, but you can also find an agent or education consultant to help you by applying directly. Most universities will look at applications as they receive them, and not wait until after their deadlines, so applying soon will allow you to get a head-start in the application process.

There are many benefits to applying to universities soon, especially if you use an advisor or agent who can get the results and feedback for you quicker than using other methods by yourself. If you get accepted at your first choice universities, then you won’t have to spend the summer worrying about making other applications, and can think about other things such as accommodation, budgeting and, of course, applying for a visa. If you get a rejection, then you will be able to assess your application and perhaps reconsider a few things: are you aiming too high, for example, or do you need to change anything? Applying to your favoured universities soon will give you the chance to re-think, and perhaps tailor your personal statement again if you need to.

Of course, for international students coming to study in the UK, it is not just your university course that you need to think about, but also your visa. Applying for your university course soon will give you enough time to go through the visa application process, which can sometimes take a long time – especially if you’re not sure how to apply. You will need to supply original documents – such as bank statements – that have to be in the correct format. This can take longer than you expect to gather together, and even though your university will give you some help here, it will be much easier for you to get help from a visa and immigration adviser, who will tell you which documents to prepare and how to prepare them. Your visa advisor will manage the application process from the start to the finish, and all you will have to do is supply the documents – you won’t even have to fill in an application form. If you are applying in the UK, make sure that you choose a suitably qualified adviser who is regulated either by the OISC or as a solicitor. Using unregulated and unqualified people for legal advice can put you at risk, and without anyone to help you if it all goes wrong.

We all know that applications can be a confusing and troublesome business, but getting an early start before those deadlines get closer will help manage your stress levels over the summer, and give you time to relax and do far more exciting things. Asking an agent to help and advise you with your university applications is very convenient, and will turn what is sometimes a difficult process into a smooth and easy one. They will allow you to speed up these processes, and get the results you are looking for.



From 6th April, 2015 UKVI now only accepts two test providers as evidence for UK visa applications – IELTS and Trinity College London.




UKVI has this week removed all but two English language test providers from its list of approved tests for UK visa applications. Only IELTS and Trinity College London are now accepted by the UK immigration authorities in support of applications, and these must be taken at one of the approved test centres either in the UK or worldwide. The new rules apply to anyone taking their test after 6th April 2015 – Any test taken before this date, as long as it is still valid and met the UKVI requirements at the time, can be used for UK visa applications.

Anyone taking the test outside the UK after the 6th of April, and applying for a Tier 4 student visa, can only choose IELTS. If a student plans to study at or above degree level, this must be IELTS academic module, although people planning to study below degree level may take the General Training module. Potential students should be careful only to book IELTS for UKVI tests, and to check that the test centre is on the list of approved centres, which can be found here.

For students taking their test inside the UK, there is also the option to take Trinity College London exams. Either the Graded Examination in Spoken English or their Integrated Skills in English tests can be used, but students should make sure that the exam they intend to take is also accepted by the school or universities they are applying to.

Certain other categories of visa (mainly settlement type visas) can be covered by the new IELTS test, IELTS Life Skills, but as this only tests speaking and listening, is not suitable for any visa application which requires testing in all four skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing) such as student visas or Tier 1 Entrepreneur applications, for example.

Ben Elton, immigration adviser with ECA Legal Ltd, said “in some ways this has made matters more simple for students coming to the UK, but until more testing centres are added to the approved list, it may be difficult to secure a test date within the timeframe students have for making their visa applications. There are also students who had planned to take other English tests, and will now need to prepare for IELTS tests instead. Anyone in this situation, or simply unsure of which test they need, should seek independent advice immediately to allow themselves time to change their plans.”

More information on the tests accepted, and lists of approved testing centres can be found on the UKVI website here. ECA (UK) and ECA Legal Ltd are available to offer expert, independent advice on this and all other issues for those planning to study or work in the UK.