A limit on your studies

There is a limit on how long a person can spend studying in the UK whilst holding a Tier 4 (General) or Student visa.

When calculating how long you have studied in the UK the UKVI will use the dates that your visa was valid rather than the actual amount of time you have spent in the UK. This means that the 1 month issued before the course starts and the 4 months issued after the course ends will count toward the 5 year limit.  

Generally, a person can only study for 5 years in the UK whilst on a student visa. However, there are some exceptions to this.

A summary of the 5 year cap on studies

The following limits apply:

  • A maximum of 5 years in the UK on a Tier 4 (General) or student visa studying at degree level or above.
  • A maximum of 6 years in the UK if the student studied a 4 year degree course and wishes to follow it with a Masters.
  • A maximum of 8 years in the UK if the student has already completed a PhD.

This rule is back dated so it includes previous study in the UK on an old ‘Student’ visa (issued pre-March 2009) as well as a ‘Tier 4 (General)’ student visa. The following conditions also apply:

  • All time that the visa was issued counts (e.g. if the student was issued with 1 month before their course started and 4 months after their course ends then all of this time will count toward the 5 years).
  • Only study whilst on a Student or Tier 4 (General) visa counts (study on non-student visas which allow study do not count, e.g. if previously the student studied a degree in the UK but held a dependant Visa at the time then this will not count toward the 5 years).
  • Any study below degree level does not count (e.g. if the student studied a Foundation course below degree level with another provider then this Foundation course will not count toward the 5 years). 
  • Any study on the following courses do not count toward the 5 year cap: Architecture, Medicine, Dentistry, Law, Veterinary Medicine and Science.
  • All study in the UK on a Student or Tier 4 visa counts even if a student leaves the UK and returns (e.g. if a student studies for 3 years then leaves the UK and returns two years later they can still only study for another 2 years to make 5 years in total - unless one of the exceptions listed above would apply). 

Case study examples

Case Study A

Student A has completed a 3 year degree-level Architecture course whilst on a Tier 4 (General) Student visa but has now decided that he would like to study for a degree in Construction Engineering due to last for 4 years.

Q. Will student A be able to apply for another Tier 4 (General) Student visa to study his 4 year degree course in Construction Engineering?

A. Yes because the 3 year Architecture course is one of the exempt courses and does not count towards the 5 year cap.

Case Study B

Student B started studying for a 3 year BA degree on a Tier 4 (General) Student visa at the University of Manchester. She completed the first year but decided she did not like the course and wanted to do a different 3 year BSc degree course at the University of Liverpool. She transferred to Liverpool but failed some of her modules in the first year of her BSc degree course and so had to repeat the first year. She has now successfully passed the first year and will now need to extend her visa to complete the second and third year of the course.

Q. Will student B be able to apply for another Tier 4 (General) Student visa to complete her new 3 year degree course?

A. Yes because the extension of her visa to complete the new course will only take her time studying in the UK on a Tier 4 (General) Student visa to 5 years. However, as she had then completed 5 years already she would not then be able to do a further course at degree level or above such as a Masters course. 

Case Study C

Student C has studied for 2 years of a 3 year BA degree course but had a PBS Dependant Visa. He has now returned to his home country and come back on a Tier 4 (General) Student visa to complete the final year. After completing his 3 year degree course he now wishes to do a further 4 year degree course in a different subject.

Q. Will student C be able to apply for another Tier 4 (General) Student visa to complete her new 4 year degree course?

A. Yes because the first two years studying on the first degree course do not count towards the 5 years as student C did not have a Student or Tier 4 (General) student visa at the time.

However, student C would also have to demonstrate that taking a second degree level course represents ‘academic progression’. 

Case Study D

Student D has studied a 4 year BSc Degree in the UK which included a year in industry on a Tier 4 (General) Student visa. She now wishes to study a 2 year Master’s course.

Q. Will student D be able to apply for another Tier 4 (General) Student visa to study her 2 year Masters?

A. Yes she will because her BSc degree course was a 4 year degree course so student D is allowed to study for up to 6 years in total to pursue a Masters.

Further help and advice

If you have any questions about the 5 year cap please email International Advice and Guidance at iagteam@liverpool.ac.uk or visit website of UKCISA for more information.