Page content

Under visa sponsorship obligations, the Home Office's UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) requires Ulster University to monitor the attendance, engagement and/or the visa status of any overseas students registered for study at the University.

The exact responsibilities of the postgraduate researcher and the University will vary depending on the type of visa that the postgraduate researcher is registered on.

As part of visa requirements, postgraduate researchers must engage fully with their research studies. The University is obliged to report any visa holders who break the conditions of their visa or who do not engage in full-time study.

Non-Sponsored Students

Postgraduate researchers who are on any type of immigration permission/visa other than the Student Route (formerly Tier 4) will be required to provide their current visa and in-date passport as requested throughout the year, and must notify the University of any change in visa status.

Non-sponsored students are not monitored for visa purposes by the University.

Engagement Monitoring for Student Route Visa Holders

All full-time postgraduate researchers are normally expected to be on campus on a daily basis (Monday - Friday). You can ask the Postgraduate Tutor in your subject area about expectations for attendance if needed.

All postgraduate researchers are responsible for keeping their notes of meetings with their supervisor/s up-to-date. All full-time postgraduate researchers are expected to meet with their supervisor/s at least once each month.

The University’s central UKVI Attendance and Engagement Team undertakes attendance monitoring for all Student Route visa holders at Ulster. They use records of meetings with supervisors on the PhD Manager system to oversee and monitor engagement of all postgraduate researchers with Student Route visas.

Postgraduate researchers holding Student Route visas must ensure that they have recorded, and their supervisor has accepted, notes of at least one in-person meeting on PhD Manager by the end of each calendar month.

This engagement requirement continues year-round from the date of registration until the date of submission of the final post-viva thesis.

Exceptions are the following authorised absences:

  • A pre-approved period of ‘study away', annual leave, Leave of Absence (including for medical reasons or maternity leave) or another period of authorised absence recorded on PhD Manager.
  • Dates when the University is closed.
  • The time between submission of the first thesis and the viva. (Ulster classifies this as a holiday period for visa purposes.)

Please see headings further below for more guidance on authorised absences. (Please note that these apply to all postgraduate researchers.)

Working and Employment

There are restrictions on the number of hours and the type of work postgraduate researchers can undertake.

In particular, it is important to note that no full-time work should be undertaken, at any stage, during non-holiday periods (see Annual Leave information below) until submission of the final post-viva thesis.

Please contact the Doctoral College for further information on working on a Student Route Visa.

Unauthorised Absence

If a postgraduate researcher does not have an in-person meeting with their supervisor recorded and accepted on PhD Manager for any calendar month and does not have a valid reason for this (i.e. the absence was not pre-approved on PhD Manager), it will be noted as an Unauthorised Absence. The UKVI Attendance and Engagement Team will email the postgraduate researcher to ask for the reason for the absence.

Sponsorship At Risk

If a postgraduate researcher has two Unauthorised Absences within an academic year the UKVI Attendance & Engagement Team will email them to ask them to attend a compulsory Sponsorship At Risk (SAR) meeting to discuss a lack of engagement and the consequences for their Student Visa. Details of the date and time for the meeting will be provided in the email.

A postgraduate researcher may be accompanied to a SAR meeting by another postgraduate researcher or student, a member of Ulster staff or a representative from the Ulster Students' Union.  Notes of the meeting will be emailed to the postgraduate researcher with any actions.

If a postgraduate researcher attends an SAR meeting but has a further Unauthorised Absence, the Intention to Withdraw process will be initiated.

If a postgraduate researcher is invited to attend an SAR meeting and fails to attend, this is another unauthorised absence and the Intention to Withdraw process will be initiated immediately.

Intention to Withdraw

As part of the Intention to Withdraw (ITW) process a postgraduate researcher and their supervisors are contacted and asked to provide any mitigating circumstances for the unauthorised absences to be considered by Compliance. The postgraduate researcher is emailed the conclusion of the ITW process.

There are two possible outcomes:

  • Visa sponsorship is maintained. However, if there is another Unauthorised Absence the postgraduate researcher will revert to the ITW process.
  • Sponsorship is withdrawn. Withdrawal of the postgraduate researcher will be reported to UK Visas and Immigration and the Compliance Team will email the postgraduate researcher a letter advising them of withdrawal of sponsorship and the implications for their visa. From the date of the letter, the postgraduate researcher will no longer have the right to study and will have 60 days to leave the UK or apply for an alternative immigration permission.

Tips and suggestions for managing monthly meetings with supervisors

  • Discuss your visa requirements with your supervisor/s so they can support you by accepting the notes in a timely way.
  • Schedule meetings with your supervisor/s in advance, even for a few months ahead, and for the beginning of each month to give time for your supervisor to accept the meeting record on PhD Manager. Plan around any annual leave you or supervisors have planned. (Consider this especially over the summer period.)
  • Record the meeting in real time - finalise and submit on PhD Manager the meeting record at the meeting and ask your supervisor to also accept it at the meeting.
  • PhD Manager shows who a task is with for action so if you see that a meeting record is with your supervisor for approval for some time, remind them, if necessary, to accept the meeting record.
  • If none of your supervisors are available to meet in person in any month, please contact the Postgraduate Tutor for your area to make arrangements to meet with an alternative member of staff for the purposes of monthly monitoring and record this as usual on PhD Manager as a meeting with supervisors but with a note of the alternative staff member you met with.  The UKVI Attendance and Engagement Team will not accept that a meeting was not held because no supervisors were available.

Postgraduate researchers who are having difficulties or need help are welcome to contact Ulster's Student Wellbeing team for advice and support at or the University's International Student Advisory Service at

Authorised Absences

Details below provide guidance on various grounds for an authorised absence for all postgraduate researchers. If you need further advice, please contact the Doctoral College.

Study Away

There may be time when a postgraduate researcher studies off-campus e.g. attendance at a conference or training event, field work or data collection. If this period exceeds 10 working days, a Study Away Change Request must be submitted on PhD Manager.

Annual Leave

Postgraduate researchers are permitted to take up to 40 days (Monday-Friday) of annual leave each academic year, this 40 days includes days when the University is closed so the 'floating leave' entitlement is approximately 26 days. The annual leave year runs from 1 October until 30 September the following year. You cannot carry over any 'unspent' annual leave into the next year.

In exceptional circumstances (e.g. a personal or medical emergency) a short period of additional leave may be approved by the Doctoral College.

To request annual leave, postgraduate researchers must submit an Absence request on PhD Manager and select the 'annual leave' option.

The period between submission and the viva examination is also classified as a holiday period and temporary full-time employment is permitted* (providing that any studentship payments have finished). Term-time begins again on the viva date and only part-time employment is permitted and will continue until the final post-viva thesis is submitted.

*Based on our understanding of UKVI policies and procedures. You may wish to see external immigration advice.

Leave of Absence

Maternity Leave

Postgraduate researchers are entitled to maternity leave of up to one year. For postgraduate researchers in receipt of funding through Ulster, studentship payments may continue for up to 6 months of this period.

Depending on the length of time that a postgraduate researcher chooses to take for maternity leave, Ulster may not be able to continue sponsorship of visas for the whole maternity leave period.  Postgraduate researchers may need to return home and apply for a new visa to return to complete their research studies.

To request maternity leave, postgraduate researchers must submit a change request on PhD Manager and select the 'leave of absence' and 'maternity' options.

Funded postgraduate researchers who have partners taking maternity leave may be entitled to up to two weeks of paid maternity support leave. Please contact the Doctoral College for more information.

Medical Reasons and Illness

If a postgraduate researcher is too unwell to attend campus, they should notify their supervisors by email and submit an Absence on PhD Manager.

If this period exceeds 5 working days then a letter from a healthcare professional must also be provided.

If the period of sickness exceeds 10 days the postgraduate researchers and/or supervisors should email the Doctoral College at for advice on how this may impact the postgraduate researcher's visa. Postgraduate researchers should remember to check your Ulster emails so the University can contact them.