How To Navigate Visas for Studying Abroad (For York and Elsewhere)

I don’t know who else will need the information I’ve gained through a summer of stress and crying and reading a lot of unhelpful forums while trying to find information any way I could on how to gain a Visa when I was studying abroad in York, England.

If you’re going to do an internship in York, England when you study abroad, you need a Visa, which is a slightly expensive process to have the school set you up with a usually unpaid internship. The study abroad program, before summer begins (if you go on the fall program), will sit you down and tell you what you need to do for the process. As a person who sees the summer as a stretch of time that’s infinite, I managed to convince myself that I had plenty of time to go through the process. Of course I would have done it at a reasonable time of two months before I would have been heading to York... until my passport was stolen. I had to wait until I got a new one. So, really, most of my stress was a personal problem, but trust me when I say it’s an annoying process.

Even though a UK T4-Student Visa costs at least $480, having an internship abroad is honestly worth it. It allowed me to explore York more, know how to navigate my home there and work with locals. I learned how to drink way too much tea and I only had to take one class at York University, which also allowed for more travel without worrying about a large load of homework. I just wish to stress this as I dive into the completely moronic visa system.

As soon as you get an internship for your study abroad program, you should be looking into getting the visa the next day, just to alleviate the time crunch and stress.

Other countries for study abroad students need a visa to visit. Thankfully, if you are just going as a student and visiting, you do not need a visa, just a passport. For those who are going to work within the UK, to obtain  a Visa you’ll need to send in a passport. Hence, I had problems when mine was stolen.

Now the visa website, like all government websites, looks like it was made by a ten-year-old. As a person whose native tongue is English, I can’t imagine the struggle of those who are trying to gain a work visa without the advantages of  being able to read enough to understand to click three different links before you get to the right area.

You must enter where you’ve lived, where you’ve traveled out of country (including where you stayed and dates) and names of relatives. Make sure you have access to your social security number and birth certificate.

Passport size photos will be needed to send with your passport with your paperwork. You can go to CVS for these photos; that’ll be the easiest and cheapest place to get it.

A Biometric appointment will also be needed. Nowhere in the documents will it be stated what this exactly is. It’s called a Visa Appointment in some emails that you will get verifying that your appointment is made. You will be told you need to pick a date and time to go to a very specific place, which may be an hour drive away. The Biometric appointment is about a ten-minute appointment at a nondescript building where officials will take a photo of you and your fingerprints.

t After getting your fingerprints taken, I would suggest sending  out your application that day. so much time can pass after your appointment and when they receive the application.

To ship off your application, you will have to go to a separate website called VFS. You will need to buy  round trip packaging. Otherwise, they won’t send your stuff back to you. Place the return label into the UPS package with the rest of your application.

If you’re like me, who needed their passport and visa back faster than a month later and some guarantee, there is the Expressed service. You’ll have to fill out the express option which raises your Visa to about $700, and then you’ll need to buy the Priority Visa Service option at VFS, which is $280. This option will get the passport and Visa to the front of the line and back to you in a week or so, at most 15 days. Make sure to write “Priority Service” in sharpie on the Expressed service package. Otherwise it won’t be visible as an express package once it is received at the embassy.

Mine got back within a week exactly. An email was sent that it had arrived the next day after sending it out at the UPS store, then four days later I received an email saying it was successfully processed, and two days later it was at my house.

The problem during the visa process is that there is no one at the embassy to talk to. I tried calling once and they told me to go to the (very unhelpful) website. When I had specific questions for the global engagement center, they said that they would have to get in touch with York University, then I never heard back from anyone. When your application is in transit, the embassy can’t inform anyone about the status of the visa, so it’s truly a blind waiting game.

If you have any specific questions about the Visa process, study abroad in York or if you run into big troubles, I would suggest directly emailing the York University visa center at [email protected]. They helped so much with easing my fears, helping with all of my questions and advising me. If any of their info needs to be conveyed to the global engagement center at Hamline, you can always forward the emails to them, or CC them on your emails.

Once you have your visa in hand and are ready to go, you are only able to be in the country five days before the start of your school date. Personally, trying to hit the peak of stress, I went in about seven days before that date without a question. I wouldn’t suggest testing out the system as much as I did, but truly they don’t care that much at the border as long as you state you’re there as a student and have the acceptance letter from York University..

All in all, the whole debacle was worth it to be able to do an internship abroad. But trust me when I say-- put in your paperwork early and know that feeling overwhelmed while doing the application is normal. In the end, you’ll have an amazing time abroad with or without an internship.