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International (non-EU) students must apply for a Tier 4 (General) Student visa in order to study at a UK university. The general (common) reasons for a visa refusal seem to be showing incorrect documents, having insufficient funds or a suspect immigration history, amongst others.

What about smaller issues, like submitting a passport photo that's older than 1 month? Or having a course title on the application form that differs from that in the CAS by one word? Are these issues serious enough to warrant a visa refusal or not?

From De Montfort University FAQ section:

Why could my visa application be refused?

Prior to refusing your visa application, the UKVI will have assessed all the information you have provided with your visa application and any information they have regarding your immigration history, and decided that you did not meet the requirements of having a valid CAS, sufficient maintenance or for other reasons such as your immigration history. You will be issued with a notice of refusal of entry clearance which will state the full reason your visa application was unsuccessful.

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Are these issues serious enough to warrant a visa refusal or not?

Yes, especially if there's a discrepancy in the CAS.

While some problems with a T4 application seem miniscule, they can tip the decision against the applicant if the overall application is deemed lower quality. The refusal notice will sometimes cite these reasons.

If the photo is not compliant, they have no latitude to exercise discretion in your favour. The CAS is important, there is a limited supply of them and they are valuable documents because of that. The PBS requirements were enacted into law and ECO's will toe the line carefully. There's no room for error in an application.

Having said all of that, you can always rely upon the chance that an evidential failure will be overlooked.

  • What if I write "Mechanical Engineering Research PhD" instead of "Mechanical Engineering PhD" as a course title on the application? Do you think something like that would be considered a major discrepancy? – Medulla Oblongata Sep 9 '15 at 19:21
  • Looks like a show-stopper to me if they spot it. But read the last paragraph of my answer. – Gayot Fow Sep 9 '15 at 19:47
  • How likely are they to overlook these things? – Medulla Oblongata Sep 9 '15 at 19:51
  • Nobody can make an accurate guess, my answer has to stand "as is", sorry – Gayot Fow Sep 9 '15 at 20:05
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In response to your question, one of the main changes is surrounding the genuine student test and applications can be still refused if the Official acting on behalf of the Home Office believes you are not a genuine student. There has been an increase on the number of applications being refused on those grounds, and it is way for the Home Office now to challenge those wishing to study in the UK or not. There is a high chance you may be interviewed on the telephone or in person.

Coming to issues on CAS, I agree with some of the responses given, as each information needs to match with with what you are providing. Photographs can be maximum 6 months old as per the immigration rules.

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