Applying for a UK Visa- 2019 vs. 2021

Visas. The part of travel that stresses me out the most. But if you want to live in a new country and you don’t have a second passport and aren’t part of the EU, what are you supposed to do? In 2019 I applied for my first UK visa, the Tier 4 Student Visa. As a Canadian, I’ve been lucky to not have had to get a visa to travel before (although I know some countries have tourist visas that are very straightforward and can be applied for and received at the airport- we’ll stick to longer term visas in this post). When I travelled to the UK for 5 months in 2017 for an exchange semester I didn’t need one. So applying in 2019 for a Student Visa to start my Masters was terrifying!

Me in 2019, absolutely terrified that I had just moved to England

2019 Student Visa:

The visa application process is pretty straightforward: fill out the form on gov.uk, pay for your application, pay the Immigration Health Surcharge, and get an appointment to give your biometrics. However, the application itself is quite intimidating. I needed to provide my parents’ names and phone numbers, my information multiple times, as well as answer questions asking if I had ever committed any war crimes. You then need to upload any documents that are required. For the Tier 4 Student Visa you’ll need a passport, the school’s papers of sponsorship (its called a CAS and the school will send it to you), and you have the option to provide bank statements and any other documents that may support your application.

Next up you’ll get an appointment date. Visa Biometric centres are generally found in major cities across the country. For me, that was easy. Toronto is an easy train ride away. For a girl I met from Owen Sound…well she said she had left at 3:00am that morning. So take note of how long you need to get to your appointment.

At my appointment, I was informed that my documents hadn’t printed out correctly (part of the bar code needed was missing). So I was sent down the street the re-print. Well, that put my new check in time at 9:32…two minutes after my appointment. So I was made to wait an extra half hour because I was late. Annoying. But I was there anyway. When I was called up I handed in my forms, informed the officer that I had uploaded my documents online, and waited to have my biometrics taken. Once I had my picture and fingerprints taken (biometrics) I was free to leave.

However, some things to note here are: Anything, and I mean anything, that is convenient in the application process isn’t free. Your application documents being uploaded at the appointment-$, courier so you don’t need to pick up your passport-$$, the ability to keep your passport-$$$! This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t pay for these things however. If you travel constantly and need your passport, go for it. If you live 3 hours away from the visa centre and will have to travel another 3 hours to pick up your passport, get it couriered! Just prepare yourself for these extra costs and know that ultimately some will be worth it.

For this visa, my answer (a yes!) came back within 2 weeks. They recommend you expect your answer within 3 weeks, so 2 was good for me. When you get to the airport in the UK they’ll check your visa, and you’ll then have to pick up your residence card (the physical visa that’s not in your passport) from a post office.

The Canada Gates in London, one of the many sites I’ve seen in the UK so far!

2020 Youth Mobility Visa:

Now let’s go forward to February 2021. We’re in a global panorama and my student visa is expiring. So I go back to Toronto to apply for the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa! This visa is a two year “working holiday” visa that select countries have in order to encourage people between the ages of 18-30 to travel. It allows you to work full time for 2 years, as well as travel around.

This application process actually went a lot smoother! The visa office building was different, I went up to the office and got escorted to a waiting room where one other person was waiting. She then got called in and I waited. However, I was informed that since I didn’t have the e-mail stating my appointment time, they had to check in the system if my documents were uploaded. This made me nervous, as I was expecting them to just flat out turn me away. But my documents had successfully uploaded and I was good to go. This time I had to pay for courier (totally fine, I want to follow any new stay at home rules that may come up before my visa!) Then I did my biometrics and left.

Overall that process took about 45 minutes. I then went home and expected to wait 3 weeks for my passport to come back. Cue one week later. I get an e-mail saying that my passport is in Toronto. One hour later. UPS knocks on my door and my passport is back! Saying my application was accepted! I was honestly expecting it to be a no since it took so little time!

So there it is! I’ll be going back to the UK in April, quarantining for 2 weeks and starting my two more years! I’m very happy that this visa process went so smoothly, as applying for a government document can be intimidating and I’m happy it went well!

Ultimately I would say that if you have a dream country that you’d like to explore living in, both of these visas are good. They do require a financial element, and I’ve saved a lot to be able to do this. I’m proud of myself and would encourage people to look into a visa if they’re curious!

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