The COVID-19 Pandemic And International Students in the UK

Official Updates

March 29, 2020

What does the Covid-19 outbreak mean for international students?


In the wake of the novel COVID-19 pandemic, the world is witnessing an unprecedented sense of alarm. Normalcy has been disrupted in all walks of life. The higher education sector is also confronted with the challenge of ensuring the delivery of lectures, viable substitutes for physical assessments and even graduations. 


For international students in the UK, the anxiety aggravates a notch further as they find themselves stuck in the country as their home countries impose lockdowns and suspend incoming international flights to curb the transmission of coronavirus. India Today reported that students are eager to return to their homeland under such uncertain circumstances. If you are an international student enrolled at a University in the UK, we bring you a quick update of what the pandemic could mean for you. 


Remember to not panic


The first and the most important thing to keep in mind is that panicking in the current situation would not be the best strategy. In a letter to all Indians residing in the UK, the High Commissioner of India to UK, Ruchi Ghanashyam has appealed ‘to stay calm and follow the advisory issued by NHS to address the challenge of Covid-19.’ She has also informed that non-essential travel should be avoided. Since flights to India have been temporarily suspended till 31st March, it is likely that some of you might be stuck in the UK. 


This is an unprecedented and evolving situation and that means everyone, including the authorities and the Commission, is trying to figure out how to best deal with this situation. The best bet is to stay connected to the Commission on social media for timely updates. 


UKCISA and Universities UK International have issued a joint statement


Addressing the COVID-19 impact on international students, the statement is updated here with any developments. It addresses the following:

1. University ‘closures’ and shared accomodation: Face-to-face lectures, classes and examinations are no longer being held in the physical rooms, so students have no reason to stay at the University or in the UK, for that matter. But for students who haven’t been able to return home, the student halls and other university accommodation remains their main home. Guidelines for self-isolation and quarantine should be followed in the accommodation as best as they can. Please note that if you have no alternative residence - which most international students don’t - then you cannot be evicted from your accommodation. 

2. Helplines and guidance: Since this is an unprecedented situation, each University’s response is a work-in-progress. You should keep a check on your institution’s website and social media. Stay in touch with the student wellbeing or support services and unions. 

You can also use UKCISA’s Student Advice Line on +442077889214 (1–4pm UK time, Monday–Friday).


VISA Updates


The Home Office has provided for free extension of your visa if your immgration permission expires between 24 January and 31 May 2020 without your having to make an immigration application or pay a fee. However, you must contact its Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre with the following information:

  • your full name including any middle names
  • your date of birth (dd/mm/yyyy)
  • your nationality
  • your previous visa reference number
  • why you can’t go back to your home country, for example if the border has closed

Stay in touch with your respective Universities


Like we mentioned, before: the circumstances are unprecedented. Universities are taking the call on how to go about with lectures, assessments, among other things. It is advisable that you stay in touch with someone in the University who:

1. Deals with international student welfare
2. You are in direct contact with, e.g a supervisor, lecturer etc

And explain to them how any decision taken by the university will impact you. Communication is key. 

In addition, get in touch with your education provider in the following circumstances too:


1. If you need to leave the UK earlier than expected, which is very likely in this case. Get in touch with details, including your name, your student reference number, the date you plan to leave/have left and the date you plan to return as soon as you know.

2. If you are facing any difficulties leaving the UK, for instance, owing to travel restrictions. 

Online Learning


One of the many solution-oriented shifts seen is that educational institutions are looking to EdTech solutions as they pivot the coursework to the virtual medium. Vala Afshar, Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce, tweeted recently, ‘2020 will be the year that forever changes the trajectory of online education and remote work.’  Oxford, Cambridge, London School of Economics, King’s College London, the University of Durham and Manchester Metropolitan University are among the many universities in the UK that have announced a shift to online learing. 

Under normal circumstances, Tier 4 students are not permitted to undertake distance learning. But these are exceptional circumstances, calling for exceptional measures. 

Watch out for the social media updates from your respective University. 


Medical assistance


If you require to use the NHS services for the treatment for the COVID-19, it is free of charge for everyone. International students paid the immigration health surcharge at the time of applying for their VISA, so they are entitled to free NHS treatment for all illnesses and conditions. Same goes for students holding a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) through which free NHS treatment can be availed at least until 31st December 2020. 


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