Implications of changes to your studies
Changes to study affect many students each year, they can be the result of personal circumstances or academic choices. For students with Tier 4 / Student permission any study change may also have to comply with visa requirements, we have outlined below some common scenarios and what you might need to take into account.
The following information is a general guide to help identify relevant issues. It does not cover full details or every scenario, so it is advisable to seek specific advice on your personal situation BEFORE you take any action. It also only covers visa implications; for other information and guidance on changes to your studies, please refer to your department, the student handbook and where relevant, other support from Student Services
This guide does not cover the special arrangements that UKVI is temporarily allowing due to Covid-19 which may also need to be considered.
Where changes require further visa permission a new CAS will need to be requested (either from the Student Office or Doctoral College Office). Depending on the type of change the CAS may have to be used in an application outside the UK, some scenarios allow the extra visa time to be obtained by applying in the UK.
On 5 October 2020 Tier 4 was replaced by the Student visa route. The following information equally applies to those with a Student visa or a Tier 4 visa that was obtained prior to 5 October, references to Student visa includes those with Tier 4 permission.
Undergraduates adding or dropping a placement year
Adding a placement year
If you need an extra year of immigration permission due to adding a placement year, you can apply either before or after (but not during) your placement. You can make your application inside or outside the UK. If you apply within the UK, your application must be submitted before your current visa permission ends.
To reduce the amount of Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) payable as part of your application, you may decide to apply after your placement has ended as long as you have enough time left on your existing immigration permission.
If you have added a year to your course hoping/planning to find a placement, you may want to delay making an application for the extra year of visa until you know you have secured a placement offer. This will prevent you paying for an extra year of visa that you may not ultimately use. An extra year of the Immigration Health Surcharge would also be payable which will not be refunded if you do not undertake a placement and complete your course a year earlier than your visa expires.
Before adding a placement year, you should ensure that you will not exceed the study time limits that apply to Student visas. A five year limit generally applies to study at bachelor’s degree level (this includes integrated foundation years or shorter pre-sessional courses and placement years). Some degree subjects that generally require longer to complete are exempt from the time limit, e.g. Architecture. UKVI may extend this time limit on an individual basis where there are exceptional compelling and compassionate circumstances.
Dropping a placement year
If your CAS and visa include time to take a placement but you are unable to find a placement or choose to continue without a placement you will likely complete your studies a year earlier than expected. As part of its UKVI sponsor duties, the University has to report this change to UKVI. After studies have been completed early, you can expect UKVI will shorten (or ‘cancel’) any remaining visa to the length of course plus the normal ’wrap up’ period of 4 months after. UKVI would not refund any IHS previously paid for the year of visa that may be taken away. Even if you do not hear from UKVI about any curtailment action, you should assume that your visa expires 4 months after your new course end date. You cannot use the spare permission to complete a further course instead, eg if you drop a year of bachelors study and progress to a stand alone master’s course you will have to apply for new permission to cover the new course (integrated master’s are treated differently, see below).
Undergraduate changes between bachelor’s and integrated master’s
Changing from bachelor’s to master’s study
If you need an extra year of visa due to changing from a bachelor’s to the longer master’s route (e.g. BEng to MEng), you must first apply to UKVI and be granted the extra visa time before the University can allow the transfer. You may need to check whether the masters will require ATAS clearance, if so, this needs to be secured before any change of study.
The visa application can be made inside or outside the UK and you would need to request a new CAS from the Student Office.
You may want to consider the timing of such an application. If each study route contains the same modules for the first few years there may be no benefit in switching course during that stage. Waiting to switch would enable a reduction in the Immigration Health Surcharge to be paid and give you time to think about whether this is the correct move.
Some students might avoid any extra visa time being required by choosing to opt out of a placement year. For example, a visa covering the undergraduate bachelor’s with placement route (ABIC) can allow a switch to the same length of master’s without placement (ABCD). Later, it would then be possible to extend the visa to add a placement year to the master’s eg ABCID.
Changing from master’s to bachelor’s route
If you are switching from the integrated master’s to the bachelor’s route of a degree UKVI deem this not to be a change of course. You can continue to study with your ongoing Student visa permission, in effect this is an exception to the general rule that a Student visa cannot be used to study at a lower level. You will probably complete your degree earlier than originally expected and if so you can expect early completion to be reported by the University and UKVI to shorten/cancel Student permission to be no longer than 4 months beyond the end of the actual completion date (see the separate sections on studies ending early and visa cancellation).
Change of Course - Transferring to a new course at Loughborough without completing current studies
Generally it is possible to change to a different course as long as it is not at a lower level than your current studies and you will complete the new course before the expiry of your current visa. Otherwise new visa permission would have to be obtained from abroad before the University can allow the transfer to be completed.
Taught students needing extra time due to reassessments
Taking reassessments within the same year e.g. during the Special Assessment Period in the summer can avoid any visa implications. Otherwise you may need further immigration permission for extra time to take reassessments or to complete your course because you have taken reassessments in the past. In these circumstances, a Student visa application can be made inside or outside the UK for this purpose. If you have enough time remaining on your visa it would be logical to apply for extra time after reassessments have been passed rather than before they are taken, this would also reduce the amount of Immigration Health Surcharge to be paid.
If you are taking reassessments in a subsequent academic year you must continue to be registered as attending some studies to allow the University to continue to ’sponsor’ your visa. Even if you have visa permission that covers the period the University cannot continue to sponsor periods if you are only registered to take assessment without any attendance. If visa sponsorship has to be withdrawn this can lead to the cancellation of any remaining visa permission, if so a new CAS and visa would be required prior to the resumption of attending studies.
‘Exam only’ candidates may re-enter the UK to take reassessments as a visitor. Visitor permission can allow study up to 6 months, for more information please see our separate guide.
Bachelor’s students should be aware that adding extra years for reassessment will generally count towards the 5 year limit of study at this level.
Taught students taking leave of absence
A leave of absence is a temporary suspension of studies most commonly taken until the next academic year. If you take leave you can expect the University will have to withdraw sponsorship of your visa which can then lead to UKVI shortening (known as ‘cancelling’) your remaining visa to at least 60 days remaining. For further information on visa cancellation, see below.
If you take this option, you will be advised to leave the UK and prior to returning you will need to ask the Student Office for a new CAS to apply for new visa permission to resume studies in the UK. You should not try to travel back using your old visa permission/BRP even if you have not received any information from UKVI about the cancellation of your visa.
Doctoral Researchers – time away from study
Student immigration permission can accommodate a deferral/cessation of studies of up to 60 days provided the course is still expected to be completed before your visa expiry date. Care needs to be taken if there has been any other previous deferral or delay/extension to the study pattern in case the cumulative effect means your research is no longer expected to be completed in time.
If further time is needed beyond 60 days, Doctoral Researchers might also consider taking annual leave which should be agreed with their supervisor in advance.
Otherwise, if an interruption of studies cannot be accommodated by the above you can expect the University will have to withdraw sponsorship of your visa which can then lead to UKVI shortening (known as ‘cancelling’) any remaining visa permission to at least 60 days remaining. For further information on visa cancellation, see below.
You will be advised to leave the UK and prior to returning you will need to ask the Doctoral College Office for a new CAS to apply for new visa permission to resume studies in the UK. You should not try to travel back using your old visa permission/BRP even if you have not received any information from UKVI about the cancellation of your visa.
Changing to a new place of study
Student visa permission is specific to a place of study, if you change University you have to apply for new visa permission. On admission to Loughborough University you will be sent a new Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) for visa purposes.
Obtaining further visa permission whilst remaining in the UK normally at least requires
- satisfying the UKVI ‘academic progression’ requirements including the successful completion of your previous studies
- the new course starting no later than 28 days after current visa permission expires
- making the application before visa permission expires.
Most often it is not necessary to have received a visa extension decision before starting new studies, using the Loughborough issued CAS in an application can allow initial registration, a later decision to grant the visa extension would allow studies to continue.
If it is not possible to successfully apply to extend a visa whilst in the UK the alternative would be to return home to submit the application from there.
Studies ending earlier than expected
If you successfully complete studies earlier than expected UKVI can shorten (‘cancel’) any remaining visa time so that you have at least the normal ‘wrap-up’ period remaining, this is usually 4 months beyond the course end for a course lasting at least 1 year. UKVI do not take any action if you have less than 4 months permission remaining.
If you do not finish your course (including withdrawal or termination of studies) the University will have to withdraw sponsorship of your visa which can then lead to UKVI shortening (‘cancelling’) your remaining visa to at least 60 days remaining. UKVI do not take any action if you have less than 60 days permission remaining. For further information on visa cancellation, see below.
Several changes to studies can lead to the University withdrawing visa sponsorship and UKVI cancelling visa permission. You can expect the Doctoral College Office or Student Office to inform you if visa sponsorship is withdrawn; if you are unsure whether this has been done or is due to be done please check with the relevant office.
When UKVI cancel a visa it essentially shortens the length of your remaining visa permission. Following the withdrawal of sponsorship there can be significant delays in UKVI cancelling a visa (sometimes up to many months). While the visa continues, it allows you to remain in the UK, however a cancelled visa cannot be used to re-enter the UK.
Any visa cancellation notice is served by email or letter. UKVI will generally use contact details given in your last visa application; please ensure you have reported any changes to your contact details to UKVI. When a visa is cancelled UKVI do not issue a new BRP with a new end date. Generally, you should receive advance notice of visa cancellation and the new visa end date of at least 4 months or 60 days depending on the circumstances. It is advisable to make plans to either leave the UK or switch/extend visa (if appropriate) within these timescales. If in the meantime you have switched or extended your visa this will replace your old permission and there is no need for UKVI to take any cancellation action.
When UKVI cancel a visa they do not refund Immigration Health Surcharge for the period of visa permission taken away.
Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS)
Some studies require ATAS clearance. Where ATAS is relevant a valid ATAS clearance must remain in place for studies to continue and would be required as part of any student visa/visa extension application. In general ATAS clearance remains valid as long as there are no significant changes to the study and study will not take longer than three months beyond the end date of the previous CAS used to obtain your current permission. Where new or further ATAS is required it must be obtained by the student, for example:
- Some undergraduate students transferring from bachelors to undergraduate master’s may need to secure ATAS clearance before this transfer can be allowed.
- PhD students taking longer or making significant changes to their research subject may need new ATAS to allow studies to continue.
If extra Student visa permission is required an ATAS certificate issued within the previous 6 months will be required as part of the application.
The Student Advice and Support Service is authorised to provide immigration advice and services by an order made under section 84(4)(d) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (Part V Exemption: Educational Institutions and Health Sector Bodies) Order 2001 (Statutory Instrument 2001 No. 1403)). Should you have a complaint about the service you can use the Student Advice and Support Service's complaints procedure or you can use the OISC Complaints Scheme.