Time limits on UK study

On 6 April 2012, the Home Office introduced limits as to how long students would be permitted to stay in the UK studying at various levels. The most commonly referred to is the ‘5-year cap’ which limits how long a student may spend in the UK studying at degree level and above. Similar study limits, or the ‘3-year cap’ (this is now reduced to 2 years for Tier 4 visa applications submitted after 12 November 2015), were also introduced for sub-degree level courses such as Foundation programmes and English language courses, as well as the ‘8-year cap’for students seeking to undertake a further course of study (including PhD) after already having completed a previous research degree (including MRes, MPhil and PhD) in the UK.

This page provides more information about each of the study caps and attempts to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

If, after reading the information below, you are still concerned that you may not be eligible for a CAS because of the time limits on UK study, and would like to make enquiry before you make an application/ accept an offer to study at university, please check your visa pages and make a self-assessment in the first instance. Your Admissions team will assess your study cap formally as part of the CAS assignment process. For students who have already started their course at university, please contact the Immigration Service.

Important changes to take effect from 10 August 2015 (note it was previously announced as 03 August):

Please note that if you will submit a Tier 4 visa application on or after 10 August 2015, the calculation for the ‘study cap’ will be based on the period of leave granted (i.e., from the ‘valid from’ date to the ‘valid until’ date of your visa), rather than the duration of the course. Please do not double count any period of overlapped leave (for example, if your first period of leave is from 01/10/2014 to 30/10/2015, and the second period of leave is from 01/08/2015 to 30/10/2016, you should count them as a period of continuous leave from 01/10/2014 to 30/10/2016, a total of 25 months). Any part month should be rounded up if the leave covers more than half a month, or rounded down if it covers half a month or less.

What is the 2/3-year study limit and will it affect me?

Persons aged 18 and over cannot spend more than three years (or two years after 12 November 2015) in the UK as a Tier 4 (General) migrant studying below degree level. If the grant of leave for a proposed course of study would lead to the student spending over two/three years studying below degree level as a Tier 4 (General) Student since the age of 18, the visa application will be refused.

What counts as ‘below degree level’ study?

Any course which leads to a qualification below bachelor’s level , or an equivalent qualification at level 6 or below of the revised National Qualification Framework (NQF). This includes, for example, any University Foundation programme where the exit qualification is below NQF level 6.

How will the Home Office calculate the duration of my study?

For a Tier 4 visa application submitted before 10 August 2015, the Home Office will base their calculation on the course start and end dates given on visa letters or CAS used in previous visa applications to enter or remain in the UK and the CAS submitted with the current visa application. Students on courses of 12 months or more are granted permission to enter the UK up to one month prior to the course start date and granted permission to remain in the UK for four months after the course end date; these additional periods of leave granted before and after the course start dates should not be included when calculating whether a migrant has exceeded the time limit.

For a Tier 4 visa application submitted on or after 10 August 2015, the calculation will be based on the duration of the visa (from the ‘valid from’ date to the ‘valid until’ date).

When calculating the 2/3-year study period caseworkers will not include any time spent in the UK on a Student visa issued before 31 March 2009, as a Tier 4 (Child) aged 17, or any time spent in the UK as a Tier 4 (General) Student aged 16 or 17 years. Study undertaken on any other non-Tier 4 visa which permits study, such as a Points Based System Dependant, will not be included in the study calculation.




If you want to calculate the duration of your UK study we suggest that you use the ‘calculate time between two dates’ function on http://www.timeanddate.com/

What is the 5 year study limit and how will it affect me?

The five year limit applies to all degree level study undertaken in the UK on either a Tier 4 (General) Student visa or on a Student Visa issued before 31 March 2009, commonly referred to as a General Student, or ‘old style’ Student visa.

If you are making an application to enter or remain in the UK and if that permission were granted it would result in you having spent more than five years studying at degree level in the UK, your application is likely to be refused, unless you qualify for one of the exceptions as detailed below.

What counts as a ‘degree level’ course?

‘Degree level’ is defined in the UK Immigration Rules as a course which leads to a recognised UK degree at bachelor’s level or above, or an equivalent qualification at level 6 or above of the revised National Qualification Framework (NQF), or level 9 or above of the Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework.

Postgraduate Research degrees, as defined by Annex 6 of the Home Office Tier 4 policy guidance and taught at NQF level 8, are not included in the five year limit; subsequent UK study at NQF level 8 will be subject to an eight year study limit which is also backdated.

How will the Home Office calculate the duration of my study?

For a Tier 4 visa application submitted before 10 August 2015, the Home Office will base their calculation on the course start and end dates given on visa letters or CAS used in previous visa applications to enter or remain in the UK and the CAS submitted with the current visa application. Students on courses of 12 months or more are granted permission to enter the UK up to one month prior to the course start date and granted permission to remain in the UK for four months after the course end date; these additional periods of leave granted before and after the course start dates should not be included when calculating whether a migrant has exceeded the time limit.

For a Tier 4 visa application submitted on or after 10 August 2015, the calculation will be based on the duration of the visa (from the ‘valid from’ date to the ‘valid until’ date).

When calculating the 5-year study period caseworkers will not include any time spent in the UK as a Tier 4 (Child) Student, or any time spent in the UK as a Tier 4 (General) Student aged 16 or 17 years.

If you want to calculate the duration of your UK study we suggest that you use the ‘calculate time between two dates’ function on http://www.timeanddate.com/

Are any courses exempt from the 5 year study limit?

Yes. The Home Office have exempted the following courses from the 5 year limit: Architecture; Medicine; Dentistry; Veterinary Medicine and Science; Music at a music college that is a member of Conservatoires UK (CUK); Law, where the applicant has completed a course at degree level in the UK and is progressing to: a law conversion course validated by the Joint Academic Stage Board in England and Wales, a Masters in Legal Science (MLegSc) in Northern Ireland, or an accelerated graduate LLB in Scotland; the Legal Practice Course in England and Wales, the Solicitors Course in Northern Ireland, or a Diploma in Professional Legal Practice in Scotland; the Bar Professional Training Course in England and Wales, or the Bar Course in Northern Ireland.

Students should note that the April 2015 version of the Tier 4 policy guidance states that time spent studying on an exempt course will only be discounted from the maximum period of study if you are studying or applying to study such a course. Previous study on an exempt course will not be discounted.

I started my course on a Dependant visa, will this be included in my study calculation?

No. Periods of study undertaken on a Dependant/Spouse visa or any other visa issued under the Points Based System, such as Tier 2, will not count toward the study limit. The Home Office will only look at study done on a Tier 4 (General) Student visa or on a General Student Visa issued before the introduction of the Points Based System when calculating whether a migrant has exceeded the time limit. If you started your course on a Dependant visa and then later switched into Tier 4, your study calculation would start from the time your Tier 4 (General) Student visa was issued.

I did a four year Undergraduate course, is my study limit still 5 years?

If the normal duration of your undergraduate course was four or five years then when you apply for a Master’s degree, your study limit is extended to a total of six years. This means students enrolled on a four year course with a year abroad or an MEng programme with an intercalated year, for example, must not exceed a maximum of six years study in the UK at degree level when they apply for a Master’s degree. This also applies to students who studied an Undergraduate degree in Scotland where the normal duration is four years.

If you take four years to complete a degree which is ordinarily three years in duration your study limit will still be a maximum of five years, therefore any future visa applications which would take you over five years total study in the UK are likely to be refused. This may apply to students who took a period of temporary withdrawal, have been re-sit without residence or who have restarted on a different course after a year of study elsewhere.

I took temporary withdrawal for a year, will this be included in my study calculation?

It is unclear whether the Home Office will include periods of temporary withdrawal (TWD) in their study calculations. The Home Office modernised guidance for caseworkers (v.17.0 17/Jan/2014) states that they must consider the full course period when calculating the duration of study unless there are interruptions to study where‘compelling and compassionate circumstances’ (for example, serious illness or disability)’ may need to be taken into account.

When a Tier 4 student takes temporary withdrawal from their studies the University is obliged to report this to the Home Office in accordance with our sponsor licence duties. This report will usually trigger curtailment action from the Home Office to shorten the visa issued for the study period. The Home Office have not clarified whether periods of curtailed leave will be counted as part of a student’s time spend studying in the UK. Students should always seek to leave the UK during periods of TWD and are advised to keep boarding passes and to ensure that their passports are stamped on exiting the UK/re-entering their home country so that they can present evidence of having voluntarily left the UK should they need to.

Further information related to withdrawals and breaks in study.

I started a course of study but did not finish and permanently withdrew, will this be included in my study calculation?

Yes. When calculating the duration of study caseworkers will include time spent on all courses in the UK, not just those that were sucessfully completed. Any study done before the previous sponsor institution reported your withdrawal to the Home Office will be counted toward the 5 year study limit.

I have completed a 3 year Undegraduate degree and a one year Masters in the UK, now I want to do a PhD, will this come under the 5 year study limit?

No. PhD and Research Masters taught at NQF level 8 are exempt from the five year study limit. You should however be aware of the eight year study limit which may apply to you if you studied a Research Masters which appears on the Home Office list of acceptable Postagraduate Research qualifications.

What if I have exceeded 5 years of study in the UK and need more time to complete my course?

If you are concerned that the five year study limit may mean that you are unable to complete your course of study you should contact the Immigration Service for further advice. If there are compelling and compassionate circumstances which have affected your ability to complete your studies within the usual timeframe, such as illness or disability, it may be possible for this to be taken into consideration.

Students are advised that the decision to grant further leave to enter or remain in the UK rests with the Home Office; assignment of a CAS by the University does not guarantee that your visa application will be successful.

What is the 8 year study limit and will it affect me?

The eight year limit will affect students applying for Tier 4 leave after having already completed a postgraduate research qualification in the UK (for definition of a ‘postgraduate research qualification, see Annex 5 on page 95 of the Tier 4 Policy Guidance), if the grant of leave you are seeking for the new course will lead to you spending more than 8 years studying in the UK as a Tier 4 (General) Student, a Student wiith a visa issued before 31 March 2009, or a combination of the two.

How will the Home Office calculate the duration of my study?

For a Tier 4 visa application submitted before 10 August 2015, the Home Office will base their calculation on the course start and end dates given on visa letters or CAS used in previous visa applications to enter or remain in the UK and the CAS submitted with the current visa application. Students on courses of 12 months or more are granted permission to enter the UK up to one month prior to the course start date and granted permission to remain in the UK for four months after the course end date; these additional periods of leave granted before and after the course start dates should not be included when calculating whether a migrant has exceeded the time limit.

For a Tier 4 visa application submitted on or after 10 August 2015, the calculation will be based on the duration of the visa (from the ‘valid from’ date to the ‘valid until’ date).

When calculating the 8-year study period caseworkers will not include any time spent in the UK as a Tier 4 (Child) Student, or any time spent in the UK as a Tier 4 (General) Student aged 16 or 17 years.

Time spent in the UK as a Students’ Union sabbatical officer and/or postgraduate doctor or dentist will not be included in the study calculation, nor will leave granted under the Tier 4 Doctorate Extension Scheme.

Study undertaken on any other non-Tier 4 visa which permits study, such as a Points Based System Dependant, will not be included in the study calculation.

If you want to calculate the duration of your UK study we suggest that you use the ‘calculate time between two dates’ function on http://www.timeanddate.com/