Securing a Student Visa

So, you have decided to accept an offer to study at Durham University.  If you are like us, there are a million questions going through your head: how will we find a place to live, how will we get there, what will life be like, where do we begin?  These questions, and many more, raced through our heads as we prepared to move from America to Durham.  We will share some of our experiences through this blog.  Hopefully, it will be of some help along the way.

Before you do anything, you have to get your visa.

The visa process is not difficult, but it does involve several steps.  Below we recall our experience.  This, by no means, is visa advice or legal guidance.  It is just our recollection of our experience.  It essentially breaks down into three phases.

Phase 1: The University Phase
Before we could book our tickets, find a place to live, etc. we needed our visas.  Everything hinges upon this.  The application process is outlined at Durham University’s student immigration site:  To me, this was still a little difficult to navigate, and there were some things that we had to discover on our own.

To apply for our visa, we had to submit an application to the UK Home Office.  This application must include my Completion of Acceptance for Study (CAS) number.  Everything hinges upon this.  So how do I get a CAS number?

After I completed the first steps of my University application process, I was sent an application for a College.  The College system is unique to Durham and just two other schools in England.  We cover that in another post.  However, once I completed the College application, my overall application was moved along.

After being accepted to a college I received a pre-CAS email from the University.  This is to confirm that all my information is correct.   After confirmation of the CAS email, the actual CAS number came just a day later.  Now I had the information I needed from the University to apply for your visa.

Phase 2: The Home Office Phase
We checked with the UK Border Agency Home Office for the appropriate visa for us.

We needed a Tier-4 Student Visa.  There are restrictions on the visa eligibility, qualifications, and other issues so check it carefully.  We were able to the work online.

Some points we had to consider:

  1. visaYou have to assure the Home Office that you have enough funding, in advance, to pay for your schooling, expenses, and return expenses.  They have a formula on their website you must follow.  While you only have to submit documentation if they request it, you must be prepared to do so.  The name of the student must be on the account at least thirty days, and no more than sixty days, from the date of request.
  2. You may only apply for your visa ninety days before the start of your program.  For our year, it was 01 October.  That meant we could apply 01 July.
  3. Your visa will only allow you to enter the UK no more than thirty days before the start of the program.  For us, that meant 01 September.
  4. You must apply for a visa for each member of your family.  My wife and children each had to have a separate application.  Yes, we had to pay for each one of those as well.  The Home Office website lists the latest prices.

Phase 3: The United States Phase
Now that the online application was complete, we were ready for the biometric verification.  The online application gave us information about where to have our identity verified at a US Homeland Security Office.   There are a limited number of sites and we had to travel at least 4 hours to reach one.   We scheduled an appointment through their website.

Every member of the family requesting a visa had to be biometrically recorded.  Just in case, we brought all of our paperwork.  The agents will take our photographs and fingerprints.  It doesn’t take long, and it is was painless process.

Okay, NOW we were ready to actually apply for our visas.  We were anxious to keep the ball moving, so we left the Homeland Security office and went straight to the post office to send ours by overnight delivery.

We had to send the following to the UK Consulate in New York City (for each person):

  1. 20130727-212119.jpgAll of visa application material thus far
  2. Biometric verification information from Homeland Security
  3. Recent passport style photographs
  4. Our passports. Yep, you have to mail off your passports.
  5. A postage paid return envelope for all of that stuff

As much as we wanted to get things done and get going to England, nothing can happen without that visa.  So I encourage you to wait until it is issued before booking plane tickets, securing housing, etc.  I have heard stories about little things holding up visas.  The Home Office will not issue a visa once you are in the UK.  You must complete it in your home country.

So, how long does all of this take?  For us, it looked something like this:

End of February: Received our offer letter for Durham.  (At this point, we were unsure if we would attend full-time or part time.  This slowed our application down a little).
Mid-March: Began the process to move to full-time application.  This took some time as the Department had to re-examine my application and find a suitable supervisory team.
End of May: Move to full time student complete
Beginning of June: College application completed
Beginning of July: CAS issued
Mid-July: Visa application complete.  Passports returned with visas.

Once we mailed off our visa application, passports, etc. to New York, it took seven days to receive an email that we were approved and that the material was on the way.  We paid for overnight shipping to help the process move quicker.

border2-thumbnailA few thoughts: as you can see, it takes a while.  Start early.  Be diligent.  Be thorough.  Keep copious notes.  And one more thing about that CAS letter.  The border agent asked for it when we arrived in the UK.  Have it handy.

There are restrictions on work, attendance, and other issues that we will cover in another post.  Check your visa carefully.



We always welcome your question and comments.

*(NB)Please note: We do not assert that the way things are done in America are better, and the way they are done in then England is worse.  We are here to tell our story of some things that we learned along the way that were simply different.  Maybe these accounts will help someone else make a smooth transition to their new home in wonderful Great Britain.

**Rob is a Post-Graduate Research Ph.D. in Theology at St. John’s College, Durham University.  He, his wife Beth, and two children moved to Durham for Rob’s first year of research.


2 responses to “Securing a Student Visa

  1. This is very informative, please keep the information coming! I am planning on making the move next year as a student, and even with years of researching what to do I still have so many questions.

    • Hi Adam,
      Thanks for the feedback. We are working on the blogs as we are finding time while balancing research, etc. It would be helpful to know any things you’d like to talk about. Feel free to send us an email. We are happy to help.

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