Coronavirus: International Students FAQ in the UK

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainties it has been causing amidst international students, we have compiled a list of the frequently asked questions and provided answers to these questions.

The pandemic outbreak is reshaping the way we live, study, and work. Aside from its obvious threat, people are also worried about the consequences the virus might have on the economy. Since this is a new virus, it is still uncertain when the pandemic might end so people can return to their ‘normal’ lives. However, as attempts to find a vaccine continue, the world is taking a break as people are staying inside aiming to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the infection.

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Some of the frequently asked questions asked by international students during the pandemic include:

1. What Helplines Can I Call in the UK as an International Student?

Some helplines you can call in the UK if you want to get more information on coronavirus as an international student are:

  • Your university’s wellbeing support services or the students’ union.
  • The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) / The Student Advice Line on +442077889214 (1-4 pm UK time, Monday-Friday).
  • The Government Helpline / Department for Education (DfE) by phone on 0800 046 8687 or email on [email protected].
  • Coronavirus Immigration Helpline of UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) by phone or email (9 am-5 pm). Phone: 0800 678 1767 / Email: [email protected].

Get more information on coronavirus for international students here.

2. Will My Tier 4 Visa Will Be Affected by Remote Study?

If you return to your home country as a result of coronavirus, your Tier 4 visa will not be negatively affected. You will, however, be required to complete an absence form and consult the visa team at your university beforehand. They will inform you about the steps you should take and the information you should provide before leaving.

Moreover, your visa will still be valid for entrance if you have informed your university about the departure by giving them the needed information, as well as if you have informed the university visa compliance team with the details of your travel. (You can find detailed information on your Tier 4 visa during COVID-19 here).

3. Will My University Application Be Affected Because of Coronavirus?

Many students have started preparing their university application a long time ago. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many students are feeling uncertain whether their university application will be affected. Well, universities in the UK are doing the best they can in order to deal with the situation and ensure there are as little disruptions as possible.

Some universities have already announced that they will be accepting applications from prospective students during the pandemic. However, the processing time of the applications will be taking longer than usual. University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has claimed that there will be expanded flexibility in the admission process as a result of coronavirus and cancelled exams.

Find more information on university admissions during the coronavirus pandemic here.

4. How Will Summer Exams Be Graded This Year?

The exam regulator, Ofqual, along with exam boards are working on providing qualifications to students whose summer exams have been cancelled. Students who had to enter exams like GCSEs, AS and A levels will be awarded their grades without the need to sit for an exam.

This will be done through an alternate method of assessment which includes collecting information that your school or college sends about you, such as your instructor’s knowledge of your work, the grades they think you would receive if you were to go on with exams, or any other achievement. Ofqual and exam boards will then work on creating a standardised method of evaluation to ensure that the grades awarded are equal for everyone and that no one is disadvantaged.

You can find more information regarding grades and exams during coronavirus in this article.

5. I’m an Independent Student, How Will I Be Graded This Year?

Ofqual, the exam regulator, is exploring the grading options regarding independent students whose exams have been cancelled this summer. It is more challenging to provide grades to students who do not have an existing relationship with learning centres or professional instructors. It is still unclear how these students will be awarded their grades in order to proceed to further or higher education, or any job opportunity.

Independent students who study through distance learning platforms or have professional tutors might have a chance of receiving calculated grades without the need to sit for an exam. However, those with no way of providing existing learning achievements might have to sit for an exam in autumn. Independent students are advised to contact the awarding organisation for their qualification and consult their circumstances.

6. Will I Be Able to Get My International Qualifications (e.g: English Language Test Scores)?

With test centres being closed around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, getting international qualifications has become difficult. Your university choices will let you know when your English language scores are to be expected, hopefully you will have time to sit for an exam before the start of your studies.

There are English language qualifications which are currently providing online tests, such as the following:

  • Cambridge Assessment English – C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency
  • IELTS and IELTS Indicator
  • Language Cert
  • Pearson Test of English (PTE)
  • Integrated Skills in English (ISE) – Trinity College London

However, if you are currently undertaking other international qualifications, such as Access to HE Diploma or Cambridge International IGCSE and International A Levels, then you will be graded on an evidence-based basis. Your institution will be gathering the information they have on you and your achievements in order to come up with a grade.

You can learn more about alternate methods of assessment for international qualifications here.

7. Will Predicted Grades Hold the Same Value as Grades in the Previous Years?

Yes, they will hold the same value as they did in the previous years. More specifically, Ofqual has asserted that these grades will have equal status with universities, colleges, and employers as would have if exams were held normally. This is done as a means of ensuring that everyone can proceed to their plans, be it higher or further education, or job opportunities.

8. Am I Eligible for Public Funds as a Tier 4 Student in the UK?

Tier 4 students and students on short-term programmes are not eligible for public funds since they are subject to the immigration condition, no recourse to public funds (NRPF). This implies that you cannot apply for particular welfare benefits or social housing.

9. I Have Lost My Part-Time Job, Where Can I Ask for Financial Assistance?

International students on a Tier 4 visa with the “no recourse to public funds” condition are unlikely to receive government financial assistance. However, there are options you can consider if you are found in this position during the coronavirus pandemic. More specifically, you may explore a few options from which you might be able to receive help during these challenging times.

Some of the options you could consider asking for assistance include:

  • Your university.
  • Your family and friends.
  • Contact your country’s embassy/consulate.
  • Look for relevant charities.

Find more details here.

10. Am I Allowed to Travel to My Home Country?

International students will most likely be allowed entrance in a country if they are citizens of that country. However, non-essential travel is restricted to foreigners. If you’re an international student in the UK and want to travel to your home country, keep in mind that many countries impose quarantine restrictions on travellers upon arrival. So, before you travel, make sure you get all the necessary information on how your country is handling the virus and which are the safety measures that will apply to you when you arrive. As a result of the pandemic, many travel restrictions have been imposed as borders have closed and flights are prevented from leaving.

11. What Are UK Universities Doing for International Students?

Ever since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, the higher education sector has been working to ensure that their students are safe and their education faces as little disruptions as possible. The UK higher education sector has been following government advice ever since the beginning, by avoiding face-to-face teaching and switching to online classes. In addition, the vast majority of UK universities are continuously keeping their students informed by updating their websites and FAQs sections, as well as providing student support services at all times. (Read more here).

12. How Long Will Online Learning Last?

Schools, colleges, and universities have been closed since mid-March in the UK, with in-person teaching being substituted with online classes. Online classes are expected to proceed for an indefinite period of time, as the coronavirus pandemic is still a threat to the population. There is no clear date as to when students will be able to go back to their classrooms, however, it seems that this will not be happening anytime soon.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE) claimed that the department is working in collaboration with the sector in order to come up with a way of reopening the schools and colleges in the safest way possible. Parents, students, and teachers will all be notified in due time in order for them to have sufficient time to prepare.

13. Has Coronavirus Affected the Plans of International Students in the UK?

It is fair to assume that the plans of many international students in the UK have been altered by the coronavirus pandemic. Only in the UK, according to a survey, 79% of potential and international students included in the survey said that their plans had been affected by the pandemic in one way or another. This crisis is happening during a time when academic institutions in international student hubs were receiving growing numbers of international applications. With the travel restrictions and the threats imposed by the virus, many students have cancelled their plans abroad.

14. Is Tuition Fee Reimbursement Possible?

Students in the UK have petitioned for tuition fee refunds due to the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that online classes do not equal their tuition fees’ worth. Universities UK has answered the requests of students claiming that universities are continuously working to provide remote teaching and support so that students will achieve their learning outcomes. In a statement published recently (20 April 2020), Universities UK (UUK) has asserted that tuition fee refunds will not be possible in the instances when students are receiving “wide-ranging support for active and ongoing learning and progression.”

15. Will My Sponsors Withdraw Sponsorship If I Am Distance Learning?

According to the UK government, institutions can continue to sponsor existing Tier 4 students who are continuing their studies remotely, regardless of whether they are in the UK or abroad. Sponsors do not need to withdraw their sponsorship for new students who have been issued a Tier 4 visa but are currently distance learning due to inability to travel to the UK.

If a student has withdrawn from their studies permanently or has deferred their studies for reasons unrelated to coronavirus, then sponsors need to report this as per usual.

These arrangements will be valid until 31 May 2020. Afterwards, they will be reviewed and updated.

16. My Visa Application Has Not Been Processed, Can I Still Start My Course Online?

You may be allowed to start your studies before your visa application has been processed. However, you should meet the requirements below:

  • Your sponsor is a Tier 4 sponsor.
  • You have evidence that shows that you have applied for your visa before the current one expired.
  • You have received a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS).
  • The course you’re about to start is the same as the one listed in your CAS.
  • You have a valid Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate.

If your visa gets rejected in the meantime, you must drop your course or study programme.

17. What Should I Do If My 30 Day Visa to Study Has Expired? 

If your 30 day visa to study (or work/join family) in the UK has expired or will expire soon, the government has announced that you can request a replacement visa, free of charge, until the end of 2020. The new visa will contain revised validity dates and you will be able to make use of it. 

In order to make a request, you must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre and provide your name, nationality, as well as your date of birth and GWF reference number. The subject line should be “REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA.”

If you have already contacted the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre beforehand, send another email to let them know. You will be contacted when Visa Application Centres (VACs) reopen in order to arrange for a replacement visa.

18. Can I Extend My Tier 4 Visa Due to Coronavirus?

If your Tier 4 visa is set to expire between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, it will be extended until 31 July 2020 if you were not able to leave the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions that follow.

An earlier Home Office announcement said that you can apply to extend your visa until 31 May 2020. The extension date has now been set to 31 July 2020. In case you have previously extended your visa to 31 May 2020, you will not need to do it again because it will be extended automatically to 31 July 2020. 

19. Can I Defer My Place at University Due to Coronavirus?

To defer your place at university as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, you will need to contact your university and ask them whether this is possible. Although many universities have no problem with deferring entry, there are universities that find this problematic. Each university has its own policies and regulations when it comes to whether or not they allow their students to defer entry.

Read more about deferred entry during the coronavirus pandemic here.

20. My Student Hall Accommodation Is Closed, What Should I Do?

If your student hall accommodation is closed, there are still options you can consider. Some of them include:

  • Consult your university. The student services at your university might be able to help you with relocation possibilities.
  • Contact your home country’s embassy. If you do not have the finances to fly back home, maybe your home country’s embassy in the UK might be able to help you with arranging a flight back home.
  • Talk to your friends in the UK. Talk to the friends you have in the UK and ask them whether they have a free spot for you to sleep in until the situation gets resolved. It’s always better to ask.

Find more information on regulations regarding student housing during the coronavirus pandemic here.

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