British Council India conducted a Facebook LIVE session with Mr. Harry Booty, UK Visa and Immigrations Officer on 28th May 2020. He talked in great detail about T4 Visa applications for September 2020, Graduate Immigration Route, the current situation, and the steps taken to accommodate international students. The discussion also included general issues and policies.
We are transcribing the entire LIVE session for the students and will also be linking the video on the thread. If you have any doubts, post them on the thread and we will get back to you with the answer.
Harry Booty, UK Visa and Immigration Officer
Q1 - Will the COVID-19 situation have an impact on the new Graduate Immigration Route? Will the students who go in September 2020 still be eligible for it?
Answer - Yes, they absolutely are if they go to a university that is offering an undergraduate degree or above. They have to meet other criteria such as -
- Completion of the course,
- Go to a university that is registered with the Home Office,
- They have to pay a fee and get a health check at the end of their course.
The GIR program will be launched in Summer 2021 and will not be delayed. Students need to have a valid visa in Summer 2021. Students who go to the UK in 2020 will probably be eligible for the program if they are graduating in Summer 2021.
Q2 - A student whose visa expired in January or March 2020. What is the status of their immigration?
Answer - Initially, their visas were extended till May. With the lockdown still in place in the UK, they are allowed to stay. Those stuck in the UK can contact the coronavirus immigration team and their visas are extended till July 31st. Students can extend their visa from 24th January till the end of July, without any new visa application or fee. Their immigration status is protected.
Q3 - If the student arrives late, say in December or January, for a course that starts in September or the university goes online. How will this impact the duration of their T4 visa?
Answer - A lot of the universities are looking to start the classes online as the semester is already affected by the COVID-19 situation. As far as the visa is concerned, you can start the course here in India as a student and need not apply for the visa at the start of the course. Then at a later date, when you have to come to the UK, apply for the visa at that point. The visa is valid for the entire duration of your course plus four months. Many of the people will still be eligible for the GIR. You need to apply for the visa for your actual time in the UK, not the duration of your actual course.
Q4 - Details about the Graduate immigration Route.
Answer - This is guaranteed for summer 2021. We cannot give an exact date for implementation. Currently, the govt is working on the COVID situation.
A few details about it - It was announced on 11th Sep 2019. It is a 2-year post-study work visa for the UK. It can only be applied for in the UK and not from India. You have to complete at least a one-year course at an undergraduate or above level. Lesser qualification than undergraduate will not be eligible such as a diploma. The chosen university should be registered with the Home Office and the students will have to complete the course. They can apply for the extension at the end of their course. It will take approximately 3-weeks time for the application. Students will have to pay a fee (fee amount is not decided yet but will be kept low). It will give you full access to the UK labor market and will not have any conditions on where you work, what you work you do, or how much you are paid for the work. You can go to work in a bank or lawyer firm or a corporate office or work at a coffee shop to pay off your student loan. You can’t extend it. It is a one-time 2-year extension. If you want to stay longer you have to switch to another route for example the T2 skilled work visa or start-up visa (people looking for startup businesses).
What we mean by Summer 2021 - end of the academic year that starts in September/based on UK summer.
(At 29:32 min) - You don’t need a job to be on the route. The only main qualification is the completion of your course. Apply for it and then look for a job. You don’t need a sponsor or any other sort of support for the extension. The length of the course is not the deciding factor, the rank of the course is - should not be below the rank of an undergraduate. It is applicable for courses with longer duration as well, such as a Ph.D. There is no minimum period of study for the route. The university will be able to say if the student is eligible or not.
(At 33:50 min) - 2 years plus 4 months’ time after graduating is the extension available to the students.
Q5 - What health measures are taken by the UK Govt. if a student comes in September 2020?
Answer - every student will be required to self-isolate and quarantine for at least 2 weeks. The measures will start on the 8th of June and will be in phases. 1st phase - 8th June to 29th June. This will keep changing. So students are requested to keep themselves updated when they come. This information available on the British council website. People will be required to self isolate - mandatory plus other restrictions. This has just been announced so check the website.
Q6 - (At 19 min) 1+1 course - 1-year academic setting and 1-year professional setting, will they be eligible for GIR?
Answer - Yes, they will if that is part of your course. It shouldn’t mean that the university recommends you get a job. It should be a part of a single course qualification and graduate after summer 2021, you will be eligible.
Q7 - Can we change from a post-study work visa to an Innovator visa?
Answer - Yes, you can. You can switch to a T2 skilled work visa or innovator visa anytime during your post-study work visa. It could be within 6 months or by the end. The T2 route would be a separate application, which does count towards permanent settlement. GIR does not count for an indefinite stay.
Q8 - Is the September 2020 intake happening?
Answer - Yes, universities have confirmed that this is happening. There are measures on campus and how they deliver courses - that’s up to the individual universities. You can start the course as a student while here in India and you won’t be penalized. Apply for the visa when you come to the UK. We are all being flexible to ensure the intake happens.
Q9 - What is the current position of UK visa application centers in India?
Answer - Currently, they are all closed in South Asia and the rest of the world. We are looking to open some centers globally and in India as soon as possible. Currently, you can’t complete the visa application but will be able to by the summer.
What you can do in the meantime is to gather your finances. You need 28 days to have your finances in your account before applying for the visa. Familiarize yourself with the visa requirements and procedure, for example - how long it takes - usually about 3 weeks in normal times. We are aiming to keep the same visa process and are hoping to open all the services in the summer/before the summer semester. In normal times, you can apply for the visa 3 months in advance and should apply for the visa one month in advance. So if the people are going in September, apply by mid-august. If you are going in January, apply by early-December or mid-December.
Q10 - What about the Health centers and Language centers, are they also closed?
Answers - Yes, most centers related to the visa process are closed. We are looking at ensuring all these are open for the intake. There are currently 3 - 4 months before UK universities start their teaching, so we are making sure they are open in time. We don’t have a date at the moment. We hope to open them as soon as possible, in advance for the summer application process.
Q11 - What about the students with April 2020 visas but who could not go due to travel restrictions?
Answer - Anyone with a 30-days visa can apply for a new visa for free or replacement visa vignette when the visa centers open. You don’t need to pay any more money. Once the travel restrictions are eased, we will try to get the system back on track. There won’t be any penalty regarding picking up the biometric residence card in the UK for your visa vignette.
Q12 - If an applicant starts online and their visa gets rejected? (At 26:59 mins)
Answer - A very small percentage of students are rejected - 1 out of 35. The Visa approval rate for Indian students is now 97%. When a student is rejected, it is mostly because of admin reasons. For example - you need to keep money in your account for 28 days, if you don’t show it, you’ll be rejected. Most students are rejected for reasons that can be corrected. You should speak about it to your university and work out how they will refund your fees or deliver your course online. Be careful with your visa application so as to not get rejected.
Q13 - T4 process - does the tuition fee have to be in the bank account before you travel?
Answer - Yes. Before you apply for the visa, you should have your tuition fee in the account. Apply for the visa online, book an appointment, give your biometrics (fingerprints, etc), and then wait for 3 weeks.
Documents needed - TB certificate, financial statements - bank statement - includes tuition fee plus living expenses. The living cost is 9000 pounds if you’re living outside London, and 11 thousand pounds if you are living inside London. In addition to this, tuition for the first year. You have to show it before your visa application process.
Q14 - Do we need to show sufficient proof of funds for the 2-year post-study work visa? (At 34:17 mins)
Answer - No. Even though the criteria isn’t completely decided, we are not looking at the finances of the student or any scholarship or employment.
Q15 - If one semester of one year course is done online and the actual course is 6-7 months, will it affect the eligibility of the GIR?
Answer - Hard to say at the moment. We will update this in the future. Keep an eye out on the website.
Q16 - Any chance GIR won’t happen?
Answer - No, it is happening. Coming in September 2021.
Q17 - Do you accept Duolingo in place for IELTS?
Answer - There is a provision within the UK immigration rules, that says that the universities that have a track record of compliance with us, those who have registered with us, and are inspected by us, they can choose how they assess English. Not for every course but for most they can. UK govt policy allows for various ways to check language proficiency. Whether Duolingo is accepted or not, there is no policy on it. Talk to the university, they will take the call on it.
Q18 - Does the Innovator visa count towards permanent stay?
Answer - Yes.
Q19 - Husband, wives, children - the situation on T4 visa and GIR
Answer - T4 Visa rules about the dependants - anyone who is on postgraduate or above course level, they can apply for a dependent visa for as long as the T4 visa is valid. The dependants can work while they are there and will have to pay the same cost. Immigration health charge etc.
GIR - We haven’t worked out the details yet but if people have a dependent with them already they might be able to bring them on the GIR but won’t be able to bring in a new dependent. It is not 100% confirmed yet. I cannot say yes or no as of now.
Q20 - Someone is doing a four-year engineering course, do they have to show funding for all the 4 years?
Answer - No. Only for the first year - tuition plus living expenses.
Q21 - T4 visa is expiring in October, can it be extended?
Answer - No unless you apply for skilled work or further study. It will be a different visa for which you will have to apply.
Q22 - If you fail in any subject or have any backlogs, are you still eligible for GIR?
Answer - The key point is to complete the course. It is up to the university, if they say you have passed the course, you will be eligible.
Q23 - Does GIR lead to permanent settlement?
Answer - Don’t look at GIR as a route to settle in the UK. Switch to another route - a T2 visa or innovator visa. You will need to spend at least 5 years in the UK on T2 or innovator visa to count towards permanent settlement.
Q24 - How much money should a full-scholarship student show in their bank account?
Answer - We want to see the whole tuition fee plus living expenses. If your scholarship covers that then great. If not then you need to show the proof of funds. If your tuition is 15,000 pounds and scholarship is 10,000 pounds, then you need to show 5,000 pounds in your account.
Q25 - Do we need a Ph.D. to apply for a T2 visa?
Answer - Absolutely not. There are routes for Ph.D. specifically. One of them is called exceptional talent. PhDs can apply for T2 but you don’t need to have it. A lot of graduate routes, like graduate training schemes, their salaries are like 20,000-25,000 pounds in London, these routes will be eligible for the T2 skilled work. You need to be paid at a certain level and be working at a certain level. It is about the quality of the work.
Q26 - Can you travel to your home country and come back to the UK on a post-study work visa? (At 45 mins)
Answer - Yes. It is a normal visa. Most long term UK visas give you unlimited access to the border. As long as you have a visa and have the documents, it won’t be a problem. Make sure you have the right documents. Mostly at the start, for example for a T4 visa, you get a visa vignette that only gives you only one entrance into the UK. So you have to go to the university, fill up a form, get a biometric residence permit - a card. That card gives you unlimited access to the border and not the initial visa.
Q27 - FDs are accepted for student finances?
Answer - Yes, they are. As long as they meet the criteria. The money should be in liquid form, that is you should be able to withdraw it easily.
Q28 - Do we need a T4 visa to start online classes?
Answer - No. You can start classes and apply for a visa when you come to the UK.
Q29 - Can we work on a T4 visa?
Answer - Yes, you can work part-time on T4. That’s 20 hours a week during term time and full time during the holidays. Term time is defined by the university, so check this with the university. Usually, it is September-December, January-March, and April-June.
Q30 - Are stock bonds eligible as proof of funds?
Answer - Probably not. You need to show money in your account that can be easily withdrawn.
Q31 - Is it mandatory to get Health insurance? (At 49 mins)
Answer - First, health insurance is a private issue - you can get it from your provider. What the UK govt requires you do is to pay the UK Immigration Health Surcharge, which is 300 pounds a year. It gives you full access to the National Health service. Everyone has to pay for it. It’s mandatory.
Q32 - When should we apply for a UK visa? (At 50 mins)
Answer - Ideally as soon as possible but a month in advance is also fine.
Q33 - If you are applying for a replacement visa, do you need to show your finances again? You had a visa earlier this year and could not travel because of the situation.
Answer - No, you won’t need that. You’ll only need the existing visa and fill out a form. It is not a new visa application.
Q34 - Will we be covered for COVID related disease?
Answer - You’ll be covered for that under the National health service.
Q35 - How long is the post-study work period? What about the 4-month extension available presently?
Answer - When the GIR is brought in, it will replace the 4 or 6 month work period. In the long term, it is likely that this differential will not remain.
Q36 - What about the September intake? Will the universities deliver classes online?
Answer - All we can say is that the visa process is flexible for you to apply whenever you choose to go, in September or at a later date. How universities want to deliver will depend on them.
Q37 - Are loans and scholarships accepted as proof of funds?
Answer - Loans and sponsorship are acceptable. The loan should cover the full cost.
Q38 - I came to the UK and could not leave because of the lockdown. Now that I am here, can I apply for a T4 visa from within the UK?
Answer - Usually, we do not allow to apply for the visa from within the UK. Given the current situation, we are allowing certain people to switch visa routes under certain situations. I can’t give you a definite answer right now. Contact the coronavirus immigration team. Write to the team and they will guide you.
Q39 - Are IELTS compulsory?
Answer - Universities have the flexibility to not ask for IELTS. But when you come for the visa, we will be looking if you can speak the language or not.