Understanding UK Tier 4 Time Limits

Graduates throwing their caps in the air

We are now well into October. Freshers Week is over and the days are getting shorter and the coursework more intense.  International students, who make an enormous contribution to British society and the economy will now be well-settled into their colleges or halls of residence and getting to grips with studying in a foreign country.

However, the best Immigration Solicitors and university administrative staff, understand the challenges many international students face to obtain a student visa and remain in the UK long enough to complete their desired course of study.  British Prime Minister, Theresa May has, at many times in the past, displayed what is tantamount to hostility to international students, much to the dismay of top Immigration Lawyers and academic institutions.

One of the biggest controversies concerning international students is Mrs May’s insistence on counting Tier 4 student visa holders in the government’s immigration figures, despite evidence coming to light in August this year that only around 5,000 foreign students stay in the UK after they have completed their course.

In response to these findings, Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable told the Guardian newspaper, “We spent five years trying to persuade the Home Office that the figures they were using as evidence were bogus, but they persisted nonetheless on the basis of these phoney numbers.

“The consequences were very serious. I would hope they would not just apologise to the individual students, many of whom have paid large fees and even found themselves deported in some cases, but simply acknowledge that the figures are grossly distorted and wrong.”

One of the reasons some students must leave the UK before they have fully completed their course of study is the time limit imposed on Tier 4 Student Visas.  Although there are instances where an international student may have genuinely exceeded the five-year cap (subject to exceptions which will be discussed later), Immigration Solicitors in London are finding there are instances of errors occurring.

If you believe there has been an error in calculating the time limit on your Tier 4 student visa, you may be entitled to an Administrative Review. 

The eligibility requirements for a Tier 4 student visa

To be eligible for a Tier 4 student visa you must achieve 40 points on the Points-Based System used to determine whether a person meets the qualification criteria.

These points are made up of the following:

  • 30 points – having a valid Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies from a fully licensed Tier 4 sponsor (this will be the academic institution you plan to study at)
  • 10 points – proving you have enough money to cover your course fees and to support yourself financially throughout the duration of your studies

In addition, you will need to show you can speak, read, write and understand English unless you are from one of the countries exempted.

You will also need to pay the healthcare surcharge upfront.  This is £150 per year, therefore if you are coming to the UK to complete a four-year course, you will need to pay £600.

Your dependent family members, i.e. your spouse/partner and any children under the age of 18 years, may be able to join you.  If they do, you will need to pay the full healthcare surcharge for all your dependents upfront and show you have enough money to support them throughout the entire length of your course.

How long you can stay in the UK on a Tier 4 student visa

In most circumstances, a Tier 4 student visa lasts for five years if you are studying at or above degree level.

There are several exceptions to this rule, including:

  • you are studying in one of the following subject areas:

a)    Architecture

b)    Medicine

c)    Dentistry

d)    Veterinary Medicine & Science

e)    Music at a music college that is a member of Conservatoires UK (CUK)

f)     Law (certain professional courses)

  • after completing a four to five-year undergraduate degree, you wish to study for a Masters – in this situation, your leave to remain may be extended to six years
  • you are on a Doctorate Extension Scheme
  • you are being sponsored by a Higher Educational Institute and the grant of leave to remain in the UK is to follow a course leading to the award of a PhD, postgraduate research qualification or Research Master’s Degree

Where mistakes in calculating Tier 4 Student leave limits are made by immigration officials

The calculations in the Tier 4 student visa guidance are extremely complex.  For example, the guidance states:

“To calculate the maximum amount of time that you spend studying at a specified level, we will consider how much leave you have already received to study courses as a Tier 4 (General) migrant or a Student, and add the length of leave that you will receive if your current application is granted.”

It then goes on to say later:

“We will also count any previous periods of leave you have held under Tier 4 (General) and/or the Student route, where you have subsequently left the UK. This period will be counted from the date the leave began until the date it expired. If you extended your Tier 4/Student leave, or received any period of continuing leave in accordance with section 3c of the immigration Act 1971, this will be included. If your leave was curtailed, we will take the date the curtailed leave expired.”

These two examples are only a fraction of the guidance notes on “Calculating Periods of Leave Counting Toward Time Limits”, which cover three and a half pages.

As you can see, trying to calculate whether an international student has reached the end of their leave to remain in the UK can become extremely confusing for an immigration official.  And mistakes are sometimes made.  Many of London’s best Immigration Solicitors are reporting an increased number of students from outside the European Economic Area are being refused applications for leave to go on to study for a Master’s degree, due to immigration officials over-calculating the time the student has spent studying in the UK.

If this happens, you can apply for an Administrative Review of your application.  At OTS Solicitors we can review your application for a Tier 4 student visa and ensure you have all the correct documents to submit to UK Visas and immigration.  In addition, if your application to extend your leave or renew your visa is refused because immigration officials believe you have already exceeded the five-year time limit, we can assist you with an application for an Administrative Review.

OTS Solicitors is one of the most respected immigration law firms in London.  By making an appointment with one of our Immigration Solicitors, you can be assured of receiving some of the best legal advice available in the UK today.  We can assist you with all aspects relating to Tier 4 Student Visas.

If you wish to discuss any of the points raised in this blog, please phone our London office on `0203 959 9123.


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