Uk student visa
The student visa application process in the UK won't be as smooth this year. Source: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting higher education in almost all aspects. This includes the application process for the UK student visa.

The application for a general student visa (Tier 4) in the UK involves elements such as biometric information and in-person interviews that can’t be done virtually. With visa application centres and embassies all around the world closed, what can students expect if they’re planning to apply for a UK student visa this year?

Your UK student visa may be delayed

Before the pandemic, a UK student visa in the UK can be processed within three weeks. With application centres closed, prepare for a longer delay this year when they finally reopen.

Director of Universities UK Internationa Vivienne Stern told The PIE News, “There’s absolutely a risk that students won’t be able to get to the UK. I think for us the question isn’t ‘will the September entry be affected?’ It is a question of how much and for how long.”

“Also, how much will the flexibilities that we are able to put in place at the university level be able to overcome that set of difficulties?”

When visa application centres resume operations, there will likely be a huge backlog which could lead to delays in visa processing.

Stern, however, is hopeful that the UK Home Office will be able to clear up the backlog quickly, but it all depends when they are allowed to open.

She said: “The UK Home Office is well aware of the problems created by the closure of visa application centres. Up until now what we have been told is that they are pretty confident that when they are able to open up those centres, they will be able to, very quickly, deal with any backlog that has built up. But obviously the longer this goes on the more difficult that will be.”

UK student visa

People take their daily excercise alongside Camden Lock in north London on May 28, 2020, as lockdown measures are eased during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Source: Tolga Akmen / AFP

The student visa application process may go virtual

When visa application centres reopen, there are still a number of measures to put in place before things can resume.

Staff may need to be quarantined, and visa interviews may be limited to accommodate social distancing requirements. Students may also face travel restrictions and will be unable to apply at visa application centres.

Groups such as UUKi and The American Council on Education (ACE) are seeking flexibility from government bodies on standard requirements such as in-person interviews.

Director for the department of government and public affairs at ACE Sarah Spreitzer said: “It is something we have been communicating with the department of state and asking for flexibility. So, for instance, could they allow for a virtual interview for a student applicant? Could they waive the in-person interview for those applicants that meet all of the other requirements and don’t appear to be ineligible?

“They’ve been doing that for some other non-immigrant visas, because of the fact that a lot of the consulates are closed.”

For now, there is no official guidance from the UK Home Office on when visa applications for the Tier-4 student visa will be processed. Keep an eye out for advice from your university and stay tuned for the latest updates.

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