If you’re an international student who has a spot in a UK LL.M. program, you will probably need to apply for a student visa.
Visa applications can be daunting, but with a little advanced planning, they don’t have to be.
Here we speak to three student visa advisors at UK universities to find out what the Home Office (or immigration authorities) expect in an application, the financial requirements and what changes Brexit is expected to bring.
“Currently, all European nationals have the right to study in the UK and thus they do not need to apply for a visa,” explains Ali McDonald, Assistant Head of International Student Support at the University of Edinburgh. “All other international students must apply for a Tier 4 (or general) student visa.”
“To apply for a Tier 4 student visa, students are required to have an unconditional offer to study at a UK institution.”
On top of that, they need to meet the financial requirements.
“They need to be able to prove that they have the tuition fees, and that they have nine months’ living costs,” says Bethan Ovens, International Student Visa Advice Manager at the London School of Economics (LSE).
The living costs amount varies from place to place: for example in inner London, where LSE is based, students need to show they have 1,265 GBP per month, in addition to the LL.M. tuition fees.
“It can only be in a personal bank account, or the bank account of a parent or legal guardian – they’re the only ones that the Home Office will recognize,” says Ovens. Furthermore, applicants need to use bank statements to prove that the full amount (LL.M. tuition fees plus living costs) has been in their bank account for 28 consecutive days, in order to convince the authorities they have sufficient funds.
According to Amy Hewitt, an Immigration Adviser at the University of Nottingham, the Home Office uses oanda.com for currency conversion – a good tip for those who are unsure whether they’ve got enough funds.
However, not everyone needs to worry about covering the financial requirements themselves.
Hewitt says, “if your university has offered you a scholarship for tuition fees, or for your living expenses, then that means you don’t need to show this amount of money because you’re not funding yourself.”
“The other type of sponsorship that a student might have is from official financial sponsors such as the government, or an employer,” says Hewitt.
“At the University of Nottingham quite a few students that come to us are funded by the government in their home country. So instead of having a bank statement to submit for their visa they would submit a sponsor letter, issued by their financial sponsor.”
Both Hewitt and Ali McDonald at the University of Edinburgh agree the most common reason they see for students’ visas being refused is for failing to meet the financial requirements. It’s worth starting early and putting in the hours to ensure you meet all the requirements on your first submission, to avoid any delays.
How long does the visa application process take?
Ali McDonald at the University of Edinburgh says, “generally speaking, the application process should take approximately three weeks to complete. However, this varies widely throughout the world. The Home Office have experienced delays in processing times this summer during the surge and thus applications were taking longer than expected.”
McDonald says applicants are able to submit their visa applications up to three months before their program start date, and it pays to get in early to account for any delays and minimize stress.
Will Brexit have an impact on LL.M. student visas?
Although some Europe-based LL.M. applicants might be worrying about the effects of Brexit on the visa process, there’s nothing to fret about (yet.)
“For the time being, the UK Immigration Rules in relation to international students have not changed due to Brexit,” says McDonald. “We are currently unsure what changes will be made that would impact the application process, if at all. It seems likely that European nationals may need to apply for a visa to study in the UK, however nothing is known for sure.”
McDonald says what they can say for now is that any new students from within the EU starting their studies in 2017 or 2018 will be able to retain EU tuition fees for the duration of their studies.
Post-LL.M. work opportunities and related visa issues
[Read more: Working in the UK after an LL.M.]
Many international students wish to stick around in the UK following their studies, in order to gain some international work experience, or land a dream job and take the next step in their careers.
For these students, the Tier 4 visa offers a bit of extra time after the LL.M. program has finished, so that they can look for work.
According to Nottingham’s Amy Hewitt, “When a Tier 4 visa is issued for a course that’s 12 months or longer—as most LL.M. programs are—“UK Visas and Immigration allow some extra time at the end of the visa – in this case it’s four months extra.”
“So, for example, somebody starting an LL.M. in September 2018 would have a visa until the end of January 2020.”
“Throughout the duration of your studies it’s possible to work part time only, up to a max of 20 hours per week,” says Hewitt. “But once you have finished your course, you’ve got this four-month period – it’s classed as vacation time – and it’s possible to work full time in the UK on that visa during that four-month period.”
Fresh LL.M. graduates can use this time to look for work, take on some temp work while they continue their search, or intern somewhere to gain work experience.
Ali McDonald at the University of Edinburgh says that for Tier 4 students who wish to remain in the UK after their studies to work, “there are concessions in place to help make it easier to get a Tier 2 work visa” (The Tier 2 visa is the UK’s general employment visa for non-EU residents.)
“The application itself is straightforward, however the job market is very competitive and the position available must meet the requirements for a Tier 2 visa. For example, the salary must be at least 20,800 GBP, or the industry minimum, and the employer itself must be a Tier 2 sponsor,” explains McDonald.
But her university is keen to see more international students sticking around post-study.
“The University of Edinburgh frequently collaborates with the Scottish Government to lobby for more opportunities for international students to remain in the UK and work after completing their studies.”
UK Tier 4 visa application for LL.M. students: basic requirements
To apply for a UK Tier 4 visa, you'll need to provide the following:
- Your passport
- Proof that you've been accepted into an LL.M. program
- Proof that you can support yourself during the duration of the LL.M. (bank statements, letters of support, etc.)
- The current fees plus a healthcare surcharge
Please check with the UK Home Office for up-to-date information on the Tier 4 visa application!
- Old College, University of Edinburgh by the University of Edinburgh CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
- The new Humanities Building on University Park, Nottingham by Matt Buck CC BY 2.0