Processing of UK student visa applications extended to 5 weeks

Expat news
  • young students
Published on 2022-06-29 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
The latest update for international students in the United Kingdom is raising concerns. The British High Commission is extending the processing time for international student visas to 5 weeks. At the same time, the government is introducing a new global talent visa. So what does this mean for international students?

Why do international students have to wait?

On its website, the British Council tries to reassure international students. Michelle Donelan, UK Minister for Universities, insists that the UK is always open to all international students, including those from the EU, and that their contribution is much appreciated. Still, they will have to wait five weeks on average. This is stressing out many international students who believed they had successfully embarked on a new adventure in the UK.

Meanwhile, the government is considering new paths to attract international talent. The latest policy was the creation of a new graduate visa for talents from the world's best universities. The UK is thus looking to become a hub for European talent it has been deprived of since Brexit. The new visa also aims at boosting employment in sectors facing skilled labor shortages, especially logistics, agri-food and industry. However, only graduates (undergraduate/bachelor or postgraduate/doctorate) from the world's top 50 foreign universities can apply for this short-term visa: 2 years for bachelor holders and 3 years for doctorate holders. It is therefore clear that priority is being given to those graduates who can contribute actively to the British economy.

How studying in the UK has changed since Brexit

There is clearly a before and an after Brexit, January 1, 2021, more precisely. According to these new rules, anyone who wants to study in the UK, whether or not they are European Union (EU) citizens, must obtain a visa. The only exception is students enrolling for university courses of less than 6 months. So the new procedure applies to all other programs, including undergraduate, postgraduate university exchange, Erasmus, etc. Unfortunately, until now, the UK hasn't been able to remedy the university exchange issue.

Wales and Ireland stick to Erasmus

The British government created "Turing" to replace Erasmus. Launched on March 12, 2021, the Turing program (a tribute to the famous British mathematician) failed to attract students as expected. One of the reasons is that it does not provide tuition fees and barely covers part of travel expenses for the most precarious students. This means that students and teachers have to take care of all the related expenses. Regarding the budget, just over 120 million euros were granted compared to nearly 3.40 billion euros for Erasmus. Linguists believe that Turing does not replace Erasmus but looks more like a commercial partnership. According to them, it has nothing to do with Erasmus' exchange and sharing philosophy and is rather in line with the interests of "Global Britain", a pro-Brexit philosophy.

Ireland, however, chose to remain with Erasmus. The government announced a budget of 2.1 million euros per year to ensure the continuity of university exchanges. Wales will also provide a budget of more than 75 million euros a year (in addition to funding from London) to launch its own Erasmus program. This program will be managed by Cardiff University and will begin next September. Welsh higher education institutions will therefore be able to resume student and teacher exchanges with their European partners.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for Scotland and Great Britain. The European Commission has not given in to Scotland's request to stay on the EU scheme.

Rising tuition fees

Since Brexit, everything has been more complicated and more expensive for foreign residents in the UK. The rise in tuition fees is particularly worrying. Although tuition fees were already on the rise before Brexit, they broke a new record in the past year. Indeed, they rose by 50% for undergraduate (bachelor) or postgraduate (master) studies in a third of British universities. However, there's a slight difference for students from the European Union and the European Economic Area (EEA). Those who enrolled before 2021 are still entitled to reductions and scholarships, unlike new students, including those who come from the EU and EEA. So it is recommended that international students start their application well in advance to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

International students deprived of face-to-face courses

Many international students have depleted their savings since Brexit and Covid. Remote learning hasn't had any impact on high tuition fees and even on rent. In fact, many international students had to pay their rent although they had to return home. Many also had to drop their studies and their dream of living abroad. In 2021, a group of international students circulated a petition to claim the reimbursement of their tuition fees, but the Ministry of Education didn't pay heed to them.

Besides, the students of the year 2020-2021 are worried about their degrees' worth, given the current context, and whether they will be recognized by the global labor market.

Will the British strategy actually attract international students?

The competition for global talent is getting stronger in large economies like the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland and Australia. The United Kingdom is determined to keep up the pace since the creation of its new visa intended for graduates from the world's best universities. But it's unsure whether this strategy will actually pay off.


The “high potential individual visa” is addressed to the best graduates from the world's best universities as per a list determined by the British government. However, not a single university from Africa, Latin America or Southeast Asia has been mentioned. Meanwhile, the government guarantees that only "skills and talent" matter. But according to experts, this ranking of universities is controversial as it doesn't take students' personal skills into account. In their opinion, it is, above all, a commercial strategy in line with Global Britain.

These rankings have always been disputed because they only provide partial information. Coming from a particular university does not guarantee a smoother stay in the United Kingdom. What's worse is that this strategy automatically excludes populations. Although it seems to promote student mobility, there's a belief that the UK only selects the talents it deems worthy of joining its economy and labor market.

What the UK fails to realize is that there's no guarantee the world's best talents will choose to move there. The visa is granted for a too short period (barely 2 to 3 years), which is not enough for total integration. Besides, the talents, no matter how good they are, won't be completely functional until a few months. Hence, their visa will no longer be valid as they start to embrace their new everyday life.

Practical advice for international students moving to the UK

  • The country

Although officially referred to as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the country is more divided than ever since Brexit. Scotland and Northern Ireland were strongly against leaving the European Union, while England and Wales voted in favor. You will therefore be faced with new challenges, so make sure you are aware of the social and political tensions before moving to the UK to study, especially if you are considering Scotland or Wales.

  • Visas

Two types of visas are available for studying in the UK. The first is a short-term visa, from 6 to 11 months, that costs between 112 and 186 euros, depending on the duration. This visa allows you to learn English or to follow a training course. However, you are not allowed to study in a higher education establishment or to work in the UK. This visa is not renewable.

The second visa is the "Tier 4 Student Visa", intended for international students who have been accepted in a university accredited by the British authorities. So you can not only study over a long period but also convert it into a work visa later.

As we mentioned above, there is no longer any difference between EU and non-EU nationals. Therefore, all international students must apply to a higher education institution. If their application is accepted, they will receive a "confirmation of acceptance of studies" (CAS) issued by the university. They also need a valid passport and proof of their English proficiency.

Still, there are slight differences in the costs of visa and healthcare. For instance, visa applications cost around 400 euros, but French students are eligible for a discount of of 63 euros. While international students pay a yearly amount of 545 euros for health insurance, European health insurance card holders are entitled to full reimbursement.

However, these changes do not apply to Irish students.

  • Plan your move

Although the internet is full of articles about new Brexit rules, pay particular attention to the information provided on the British government and British Council websites, which are much more reliable (visa processing time, tuition fees, the value of diplomas, etc.). As for accommodation, inquire with your university. It may have a campus and/or partnerships with real estate agencies. International student groups (especially on social media) may also help. Get an idea of the neighborhood you would be settling in. Unsurprisingly, London and the South East of England are crowded and expensive. Mid-size towns in Scotland, Northern England, or Wales are cheaper.

  • Formalities

Settle all the administrative procedures required before leaving. For instance, check the validity of your current diplomas, inform your bank about your departure, subscribe to health insurance, and terminate your current contracts (telephone and other subscriptions). Upon your arrival, register at your consulate and get a new bank account. Ideally, plan your flight for a few weeks before the start of the academic year so that you can get your bearings before taking the plunge into your studies.

  • English language

The new British immigration system is point-based, and you need at least 70 to obtain a visa. Since English proficiency is worth 10 points, make sure you have a good command of the language before moving and get the right English language test. A lot of English language learning apps and websites are available, so plan your English time by reading the news and books, listening to British music, and indulging in various activities.

  • Job search

Your university probably helps international students find a job. Inquire about any possible restrictions of your student visa and its conversion into a work visa. Build your CV and your professional network. Stay positive and believe in your skills. The UK labor market is very flexible and dynamic.

  • Mindset

Keep in mind that your degree is just as important as your skills. Be open-minded and curious. Avoid thinking that you know everything about the UK. Expat life in the UK is often very different from the image conveyed. Join student groups, do things that you like, and discover new activities. Joining social media groups can help you gradually adjust to English time. You will obviously make mistakes, but that's alright – it's part of the learning process. Give yourself time to adjust to your new life.