When I first discovered I needed to apply for a Visa to study in England, I was underwhelmed. I figured this would be a simple process. I thought I would fill out a form, send some money, and my visa would be on the way. In a way it was as simple as this, but the challenges I faced while trying to obtain my Visa made it much more difficult.
For my semester abroad at University of Westminster in London, I needed a Tier 4 Student Visa. This particular type of Visa would allow me to work at my internship. If I did not have an internship, I would not need this type. Otherwise, I would have gotten a stamp at the United Kingdom border that would allow me to study abroad in London. The Tier 4 Visa is pricey; it costs around $350. This application fee is not refundable if you are denied your Visa. I wasn’t worried about being denied, but I was worried about the time it would take to get the Visa delivered to me.
To apply for a Tier 4 Visa, you need a CAS number from the university you will be studying at while abroad. This number came to me in mid-November and I was set to leave January 9th. I was told that it would take about 4-6 weeks to obtain my Visa, so I didn’t have much time to spare.
I started filling out the paperwork. I was happy that I was able to get through this step relatively quickly. It took a few days since there was lots of information and some questions were worded in ways that I did not understand. I asked my parents too many questions even though neither of them had ever applied for a Visa. When this process was wrapped up, I had to pay my fee and submit my paperwork. I thought that step would be the hardest. I was wrong.
The next step was setting up a biometrics appointment. This appointment is necessary for obtaining a Tier 4 Visa. The appointment would be simple. I had to sign up online for an appointment at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office where they would take my fingerprints, check my passport and supporting documents, and take my picture. This was very easy for me since there was an USCIS office 20 minutes away from my school, so it wasn’t out of the way. I got to my appointment with all of my documents printed out and ready to go.
I waited outside of the USCIS office with some other people who also had appointments. We waited for about 15 minutes before a building security guard came up to us and informed us that the office was closed due to the death of George H.W. Bush. My appointment was five days after his death, so I didn’t think much of it beforehand. No one was informed before that the office was closed, but the security guard said we should have all received emails rescheduling our appointments.
When I returned home and checked my email, I had not received an email informing me of an updated appointment time. I checked online to reschedule the appointment myself and there were no appointments available for more than two weeks! As I was short on time, I couldn’t wait.
At this point I knew I would have to pay to expedite my Visa. As for my appointment, my IFSA program advisor advised me to try showing up to the USCIS office the next day when they were open and hope they would take me despite not having an appointment. Luckily, this worked, and two days after my scheduled appointment, the USCIS accepted me without an appointment.
Next I had to worry about paying the expedite fee in order to get my Visa in time. I thought this would be an easy step, but again I was wrong. When paying the extra expediting fee, you need to select a city in the US as your Visa center even if you aren’t going to that city to pay the fee. I thought that I could select any city without an issue, so I picked one and moved on to the next step. As I went to select my priority visa service, the option wasn’t on the page. There were only a few services offered that ranged in price from $75-$2,000. The service that I needed wasn’t an option and I began to panic. I reached out to my IFSA program advisor, and my study abroad office at my University searching for answers and everyone else was as confused as I was. I worked with an advisor at Perry International (IFSA’s Visa partner) to resolve this. He was working hard to find answers, but the days passed, I still had no answers and my paperwork had not been submitted to the UK government.
Finally, on December 22nd, someone from Perry International gave me a solution to my issue. I quickly logged online and paid the fee using the suggestion they gave me. He was not sure that this would work, but it was better than sitting waiting without sending my paperwork, so we went ahead with this other solution. I bought a different package than the one I was originally wanting. I submitted my payment and finally felt the weight lifted off my shoulders.
Now came the waiting game. Time ticked on closer and closer to my departure date and I was still without my passport and Visa. I talked with my parents about what we would do if my passport didn’t come back in time. We figured we would wait until the day came that I had to leave and we would decide what to do about my flight. Two days before I was set to leave, I still had no passport. Later in the afternoon, I called Perry International hoping they had some good news. I finally heard what I had wanted to hear. My passport had just arrived in New York. He said they would expedite the passport to me, and I would have it the next day. The day before my departure I checked my mailbox, and my passport was there!
The Visa process brought me lots of stress and worry as there were many steps that I faced difficulties with. I wish I had not faced the issues that I did, but luckily I received my passport just in time for me to leave the next morning.
My Visa process was very unusual. I ran into issues that most others don’t face. I recommend that you start as early as possible. I would try to set due dates for when you want to submit your paperwork and move on to the next step. Don’t be scared to ask questions to your program advisor! I asked so many questions and helped me to be more organized and I better understood what I was doing. If I could to the process all over again, I would have started the day I received my CAS number. Time is of the essence so the earlier, the better.