Applying for a UK visa can be a challenging process, not least when it comes to the different documents required in support of your application, which may include an ATAS certificate.
Ensuring you have compiled and submitted the right information and documentation can ensure that you minimise any issues or delays with your application processing.
In this guide for UK visa applicants, we answer frequently asked questions about the ATAS certificate, including who needs one and how to apply.
What is an ATAS certificate?
ATAS stands for Academic Technology Approval Scheme. An ATAS certificate is a document issued by the Counter-Proliferation and Arms Control Centre to overseas nationals looking to undertake a postgraduate course of study or academic research in the UK in a sensitive subject area, including maths, medicine, engineering, technology or the sciences.
The ACAS certificate will essentially provide an individual with the necessary security clearance to study or research certain subjects where the skill and knowledge gained may have application in programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or Advanced Conventional Military Technology (ACMT). As such, the scheme is specifically designed to help prevent the transfer of information or technology which could potentially be used in the proliferation of WMD and ACMT or their means of delivery.
Who needs an ATAS certificate?
Under the UK’s Immigration Rules, the ATAS requirement means that applicants on the Student route — or any one of the applicable immigration routes to work as an academic researcher — must obtain a valid ATAS certificate to be able to study or work as a researcher in a specified subject or field of research as listed in Appendix ATAS.
In the context of the Student route, you will require an ATAS certificate if your course of study for which your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) was assigned to you is one of the subjects as set out in Appendix ATAS and which either leads to a master’s degree, a PhD or another postgraduate qualification. You will also require a certificate if your course of study for which your CAS was assigned is an Appendix ATAS-subject and represents a period of study which is part of an overseas postgraduate qualification.
Where the ATAS requirement is applicable to your course, you will need a certificate before applying for permission to enter the UK. Equally, you will need a certificate if applying for a visa from within the UK where you will be studying for an ATAS-relevant qualification. Without an ATAS certificate, an applicant on the Student route for which security clearance is required will not be granted permission to study in the UK. You should read the guidance for your prospective course to find out if you need an ATAS certificate or contact the UK Higher Education Institution (HEI) where you plan to study.
However, the possession of an ATAS certificate does not guarantee a visa or extension of stay, where you must also provide evidence that you meet the other criteria on the Student route.
Which academic subjects need an ATAS certificate?
An applicant must hold a valid ATAS certificate if they are applying for permission to study a course in any one of the disciplines listed in Appendix ATAS. This is divided into masters and doctorates either taught or researched in a number of subjects — from pharmacology to materials technology — each with their own CAH code. For example, the ‘Pharmacology’ code is CAH02-02-01, while the ‘Materials Technology’ code is CAH10-03-02.
When deciding a visa application, the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) caseworker tasked with making a decision will check whether an ATAS certificate is required by referring to the CAH code on the applicant’s CAS. If you do not have a certificate and the UKVI caseworker is satisfied that one is required, your application for a visa will be refused.
Other specified subjects include toxicology, biotechnology, ecology, environmental biology, zoology, microbiology, genetics, molecular biology, biophysics, biochemistry, veterinary sciences, agricultural sciences, nuclear physics, astronomy, artificial intelligence, software engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, aeronautical engineering, aerospace engineering, electrical engineering, electronic engineering, energy engineering, naval architecture, as well as minerals and maritime technology, to name but a few.
ATAS certificate exemptions
The ATAS requirement applies to all international students who are subject to UK immigration control and are intending to study at postgraduate level in one of the specified sensitive subjects, apart from exempt nationalities as set out under Appendix ATAS.
The nationals of the following countries are exempt from this requirement:
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, the Republic of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America.
If your course of study in the UK leads to a qualification at Master’s or doctorate level, or a postgraduate qualification abroad, you should always ask your university whether you need an ATAS certificate for your course. The institution will also confirm on your CAS whether you require a clearance certificate. If you do, you must apply to the Counter-Proliferation and Arms Control Centre before submitting you Student visa application to UKVI.
How long is an ATAS certificate valid for?
When an ATAS certificate is issued, this will be valid for a period of 6 months from the date it is issued, allowing you time to apply for your visa. As a successful visa-holder, this will then give you security clearance for the whole proposed period of study, from the course start to its end date given on your CAS, plus up to an additional 3 calendar months of study. An application for an ATAS certificate should be made as early as possible from when you have received a conditional offer to study at a UK HEI, where you must make sure that your certificate will not expire before you apply for your UK visa.
Importantly, the ATAS certificate will be issued for a specific course with a named provider, where this will remain valid as long as the provider and course details remain the same.
When do you need to apply for a new ATAS certificate
As a Student visa-holder, you will not be required to apply for another ACAS certificate unless your original course end date is changed and will be delayed by more than 3 months, or where your course content changes. If you are studying a PhD course, changes will include any changes other than minor changes to the areas of research or to the use of any research technique. In these circumstances, an application for a new ATAS certificate must be made within 28 days of being notified of the change, where a new certificate will be necessary, regardless of when your permission to study in the UK expires.
As a Student visa-holder, you will also be required to apply for a new ATAS certificate if:
- your course provider changes and you move to another institution
- you want to start a new course that needs ATAS clearance
- you are applying for an extension of permission to continue on your course of study.
Importantly, as each ATAS clearance certificate is specific to the course and institution, an application must be submitted for each programme of study where the ATAS requirement applies. This essentially means that students applying to several universities will need a certificate for each. HEIs applied to will be informed of the result of your ATAS applications.
How much does an ATAS certificate cost?
It is free to apply for an ATAS certificate. However, if your ATAS certificate is not valid, for example, where it does not match the CAH code and/or any other information in your conditional offer letter, your application for a Student visa may be refused. In these circumstances, you would need to re-apply for your visa and pay a fresh application fee.
How to apply for an ATAS certificate
All applicants who are required to provide an ATAS certificate as part of their supporting documentation when applying for a Student visa must first apply for a clearance certificate online through the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).
To apply for an ATAS certificate, you will need information about your programme of study, including the relevant CAH code. When it comes to the section of the online application about your proposed course of study, the HEI you are proposing to study at will provide you with the relevant details for this section in your conditional offer letter. The HEI should also provide you with the correct form of words for the ‘What will you be studying statement’ box. You should use the university’s description here. As a new student, you should have an agreed list of modules with your HEI reflecting all areas of study you will be undertaking in the UK. You will also need to provide the following information:
- your full name and contact details of two referees
all previous undergraduate/postgraduate studies
- any academic or professional papers you have had published
- optional modules you might take in a taught Masters
- the area of research and a description, for research degrees
- any employment history, including jobs relating to the proposed course of study
- details of any sponsors who will be funding your proposed studies.
Importantly, you must not make a duplicate application for an ATAS certificate if an existing one is currently under process, as this can cause delays to your current application. It is also worth noting that the application for an ATAS certificate is separate to your HEI application for an offer on a course of study in the UK — and separate to your Student visa application.
How long does it take to get an ATAS certificate?
The processing time for an ATAS application will typically take at least 20 working days, but may take 30 or more working days to complete between April and September. To ensure fairness and consistency, applications are processed in order of receipt, where there is no fast track service available. As such, applications should be submitted as early as possible.
If an ATAS application is successful, the certificate will be sent to you as an email attachment. You should check regularly check your junk folder to ensure the email has not been filtered out. On receipt of the certificate, you should check the details on it are correct and match the offer documentation from your HEI. If correct, this must be printed and submitted together with any other documentation in support of your visa application. If there are any mistakes, you should contact the ATAS unit at ATAS@fcdo.gov.uk.
How to avoid issues & delays when applying for an ATAS certificate
When applying for an ATAS certificate, the following advice and guidance can help to minimise the likelihood of any delays in making your application:
- the online application form has 10 sections, where each section should be fully and accurately completed, with as much detail as possible in each section. ATAS applications with incorrect information will cause delays in processing your application;
- provide the full names of referees that have been known to you for over 3 years, one of whom should be an academic referee;
- if you have not been employed, indicate ‘not applicable/never employed’;
- ensure the details of the passport to be used to enter the UK are accurate and given in full
- provide, where applicable, research statements as specifically agreed with your HEI and an adequate personal statement
ensure the correct CAH code for your course of study is entered before submitting your application, otherwise risk having to re-apply for your certificate;
- read through your entries carefully before submitting them, as the information provided at this stage will appear on your ATAS certificate. If the ATAS certificate does not match your university’s offer, you may be refused permission on the Student route.
ATAS Certificate FAQs
What is a ATAS certificate?
An ATAS certificate, where ATAS stands for Academic Technology Approval Scheme, is a certificate issued by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office to a visa applicant looking to study or research any one of a number of sensitive subject areas.
Who needs an ATAS certificate?
An applicant will need an ATAS certificate if they are applying for permission to study a course or research one of the disciplines listed in Appendix ATAS of the UK’s Immigration Rules, including medicine, maths, engineering, technologies and the sciences.
How do I get an ATAS certificate in the UK?
An ATAS certificate, as required under Appendix ATAS, can be obtained by applying online at GOV.UK and providing information about your programme of study, including the relevant CAH code as provided by your Higher Education Institution.
What is the ATAS certificate for UK visa?
The ATAS certificate is a security clearance certificate from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office to enable certain visa applicants to study or research sensitive subjects in the fields of medicine, maths, engineering, technologies and the sciences.
Last updated: 25 July 2023