Currently, applicants for a Tier 4 student visa living outside of the UK are required to apply online and pay a fee prior to presenting themselves at a visa application centre to submit their supporting documents and enrol their biometrics.
“There could be some significant advantages with students no longer having to surrender their documents”
But applicants are able to apply for a Tier 4 from within the UK if they are switching from a different visa or extending their current Tier 4 visa, once they have been accepted onto a course of study within the country.
However, it can take the Home Office several weeks to process a standard application submitted in the UK, and at least 10 working days to return documents and passports, which can often be a cause for anxiety and concern among applicants.
Speaking at the Embassy Education Conference, UK Home Office head of Student Migration Policy, Paul Jeffrey, said that subject to parliamentary approval and immigration rules, a new digital visa service for in-country applicants will be rolled out over the coming months, effectively eliminating the potential for documents and passports being lost by couriers while in transit.
Dave Cook of UKVI Premium Customer Service explained that through Front End Services, UKVI is looking to develop a streamlined, digitised and accessible application service for biometric capture, identity check, and the digitisation of supporting documents.
He said the new digital visa process would mean that after an applicant applies for a visa online, they would be required to attend a service point where they could have their identity checked, biometrics collected and documentation digitised before leaving with all their supporting evidence.
However, Cook added that as of yet a policy needs to be set on whether applicants would be able to travel on their passport while the application is being processed.
Speaking to The PIE News, UKCISA chief executive Dominic Scott said it was their understanding that the new system will operate from the beginning of November 2018.
“There was, in fact, an earlier date planned but we persuaded the Home Office to slightly delay it to avoid the new system, which may, of course, have teething problems and to give time for advice staff and students to fully understand it, until after what is always the busiest time of the year for students extending their visas,” Scott explained.
“It would appear that there could be some significant advantages with students no longer having to surrender their documents and wait often lengthy periods to have them returned whilst their applications were being assessed – and we much welcome that.”
However, Scott told The PIE that there are some concerns over possible increased charges for the service and how far students will have to travel to find a processing centre.
Currently, it costs £475 for a standard application to switch to or extend a Tier 4 visa.
“The service has been outlined in general terms to the main education sector representatives and we are keeping closely in touch with UKVI on final details and will be monitoring closely,” he added.