Disclaimer: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. This is a post about my personal experience with the UK visa process. It is somewhat silly and somewhat serious. Please do not rely exclusively on this post for visa information.
In order for me to invade Cambridge, I require a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa. And it turns out that the visa process is as oblique as the rest of the English bureaucracy I’ve encountered thus far. So in order to spare you the heartache that I have experienced, I proudly present Faith’s Stepwise Guide to Applying for a UK Visa.
Step One: Fill Out the Online Application
This part is fairly straightforward, except for the part where you need to list every time you’ve been to the UK in the past ten years, every country you’ve visited ever, and every passport or travel document you’ve ever held. Luckily I haven’t done too much traveling in my life, but there was one moment where my mother and I had to hunt through her old planners for the dates we traveled to London…nearly 10 years ago.
There were a bunch of other questions that might have tripped me up — “what qualification is your course?” for example — but Cambridge provided me with a guide to filling out the app and between that and my CAS statement I had the answers to most of the trickier questions.
Once you’ve finished, check over everything carefully before you sign and submit.
Step Two: Biometric Residence Permit Collection; Biometric Appointment.
The visa isn’t in your passport anymore. Well, they give you a temporary stamp so you can enter the country, but once you’re there you must pick up your BRP within 10 days of entry. The system will assign you a location (Post Office) based on the UK address you input into your application. Some sponsors — including Cambridge — allow the option of picking up the BRP from them directly, so I input their special code and made my appointment to pick it up Monday morning, the day after I arrive.
In order to get a BRP, though, they have to collect your biometrics, so you must make an appointment at an ASC to get your photo and fingerprints taken. Check all the options in your immediate area, as some may have appointments sooner than others. NOTE: Somewhere in here they will prompt you to pay the application fee, and you must do that within 3 hours.
Step Three: Spend All Your Money
In addition to the cost of the application ($515), I’m required to pay the “Health Surcharge” since I’ll be in the country for more than…6 months, I think is the cutoff? In any case, that’s a further $200-something. It does allow me to use NHS services while I’m there, though, so I guess that’s good.
The system will only allow you to pay by Visa, Mastercard, or Paypal. I chose Paypal so that I could use my Amex, since my only Mastercard is a debit card and I’m not looking to completely wipe out my checking account, thanks.
(Optional step 3.5: Panic over how much money you just spent)
Step Four: Freak Out Over How Little Time is Left
It’s mid-August. I’m leaving in a month and a half. A “friend” of mine has been regaling me with horror stories about people who are still waiting for their visas after months.
This, of course, led me to have a meltdown over getting the visa in time. (I felt a little better once I switched my ASC appointment to the Queens location, allowing me to go 10 days earlier).
Enter “Priority Service”
Step Five: Spend the Rest of All Your Money
Priority Service means that your visa application will be processed before those of all the non-priority plebeians. It costs $192 for a non-settlement visa. Note that you pay for this on a separate site — VFS Global — which DOES NOT HAVE a PayPal option. You MUST use Visa or Mastercard.
Step Six: Attend Your Biometric Appointment
I ended up going out to Queens because they had appointments available earlier. This involved taking the E train to the end of the line and fretting the whole way that I would be late.
Once you arrive, check in with the receptionist, who will possibly stamp your confirmation (she didn’t stamp mine, and the woman who took my fingerprints had to do it) and send you to a different line. Wait in that line for a while. Then you will be called to have your biometrics taken.
They will scan the barcode on your appointment confirmation, take your fingerprints (fingers of both hands, thumbs of both hands, each finger of both hands rolled individually), your photo, and record your signature. Then you’re free to go.
Easy peasy — the waiting in line is the worst part.
Step Seven: Assemble Your Application Packet
You can start doing this before you attend your Biometric appointment, especially if you’re in a hurry to get your visa processed. You will need to collect all your documents together; if you’ve paid for priority service you should also write “PRIORITY VISA SERVICE” or something in big letters on both sides of the envelope. And the receipt for the priority service needs to be the first document in the pile.
The exact supporting documents you include will vary, but here’s my breakdown:
- Priority service receipt
- Printout of online application, signed and dated
- Stamped Biometric Confirmation
- Current Passport
- Previous Passport
- Loan Letter (proof that I have the $ to pay for my course and support myself)
- CAS letter (proof that I am enrolled at my sponsor university)
- Academic Transcript (the document my sponsor used to assign my CAS)
- 2 photos to their specification (NOT THE SAME as the US passport guidelines), full name written on the back
- Return envelope with address and postage (for the return of original documents)
Note that all documents submitted must be original documents, not copies.
Step Eight: Mail Your Application
Pop that sucker in the mail (no, don’t — send it UPS), cross your fingers, and wait.