Tier 4 Policy Guidance: Advice for Students


If you want to study in the UK and you are a national of a non-European Economic Area country or Switzerland, you will in most cases need to apply for a student visa, known as the Tier 4 visa. In this Tier 4 policy guidance, we explain the visa eligibility requirements and the application process for international students.

For a Tier 4 visa, you will have to apply under one of the following two categories:

  • Tier 4 (General) student – where you are aged 16 or over and want to undertake your post-16 education in the UK.
  • Tier 4 (Child) student – where you are aged 4-17, although Tier 4 (Child) students may only be educated at independent schools.

In this article, we focus on Tier 4 policy guidance for students over the age of 16.

Tier 4 eligibility criteria

To be eligible to apply under the Tier 4 (General) student visa route, you will need to satisfy the following criteria:

  • Your are aged 16 or over
  • You are a non EEA or Swiss national
  • You have been offered an unconditional place on a suitable course at a UK recognised body
  • You can speak, read, write and understand English
  • You have sufficient funds to pay for your course of study and to support yourself during your stay in the UK.

Your offer of a place on a suitable course of study must be with an education provider that holds a valid Tier 4 sponsor licence. A Tier 4 licence is the permission granted to a reputable sponsor to enrol non-EEA or Swiss students on a course of study in the UK.

Before applying for permission to enter or remain in the UK under a Tier 4 visa, your sponsor will first need to assign you a “confirmation of acceptance for studies” (CAS). This is an electronic document confirming you have an unconditional offer of a place on a suitable course with a licensed Tier 4 sponsor.

Further, to be eligible for a Tier 4 visa, you must not fall foul of any of the general grounds for refusal.

What is the English language requirement?

to be eligible under the Tier 4 (General) student visa route, you will need to be able to speak, read, write and understand English.

As part of your academic assessment your Tier 4 sponsor will assess your level of English language competence. However, the method of assessment can vary depending on the nature of your course. In some cases you may be required to take a secure English language test (SELT) from an approved provider.

You will generally be exempt from this requirement if you have completed a qualification equivalent to a UK degree in any one of the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda; Australia; the Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana; Ireland; Jamaica; New Zealand; St Kitts and Nevis; St Lucia; St Vincent and the Grenadines; Trinidad and Tobago; UK; and the USA.

You may also be exempt from proving your knowledge of English if, for example, you have previously studied in the UK as a Tier 4 (Child) student.

What is the maintenance requirement?

To be eligible under the Tier 4 route, you will also need sufficient funds to pay for your course of study. If you are enrolling on a new course, you will need to show you have enough money to cover your course fees for the first year or, where it is shorter, for the entire course.

You must also have enough money to support yourself whilst studying in the UK. However, the money that you will need for living costs will depend on the length of your course and where you will study.

Where you are studying in London for more than 50% of the time, you must show you have £1,265 per month for living costs for up to a maximum of nine months, while for elsewhere these costs are reduced to £1,015 per month.

What is the application process?

 Having received your CAS from your Tier 4 sponsor, you will need to submit an online application within six months, entering the CAS reference number on your visa application form, and submitting the fee and documentation in support.

When applying from outside the UK, the cost of applying for a Tier 4 visa is £348. However, you may also be liable to pay an immigration healthcare surcharge.

As part of the application process you will then need to have your biometric information enrolled at a visa application centre. This includes having a scan taken of your fingerprints, a digital photograph of your face and providing a digital copy of your signature. You may also be asked to attend an interview.

How long will a Tier 4 visa last?

In the event that your application for a Tier 4 visa is successful, the length of time that you will be permitted to stay in the UK will depend on the course of study that you are undertaking as set out in your CAS.

You will be permitted to travel to the UK one month before your course start date where your course runs for six months or longer. If you are undertaking a course that runs for less than six months, you will usually only be allowed to come to the UK up to one week before the course is due to commence.

Can a Tier 4 student work in the UK?

The main purpose of the Tier 4 visa route is for you to come to the UK to undertake a course of full-time study, although you may also be permitted to work part-time to supplement your income while studying.

The number of hours that you will be allowed to work will depend on the type of course that you are studying on and what type of sponsor you are studying with.

By way of example, where you are studying on a full-time course below degree level sponsored by a UK recognised body or a body in receipt of public funding as a Higher Education Institution (HEI), you may be permitted to work 10 hours per week. Where you are studying on a course above degree level at a similar UK recognised body or HEI, this allowance increases to 20 hours per week.

You may also be permitted to undertake part-time work in addition to any work placement required as part of your course. Once your course has completely ended, you may then work full-time, provided your conditions of stay permit gainful employment and you have leave to stay in the UK.

Are you looking for Tier 4 policy guidance? 

DavidsonMorris are specialist UK immigration solicitors. We provide advice to international students on their options to study in the UK under Tier 4 or other immigration routes which may be open to them, such as the Tier 1 investor visa.


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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