International (non-EEA or Swiss) students: the rules about working

If you have Student or Tier 4 (General) Student immigration permission

If you have Student or Tier 4 (General) Student immigration permission, you can work part-time during your studies. The wording on your immigration sticker in your passport or in the ‘Remarks’ section of your Biometric Residence Permit will state your work conditions. You must check this carefully.

A) You can work if you have this wording:

B) You cannot work if you have this wording:

“Work limit as in PBS rules 20 hours per week”

“No work”

“Work limit as in PBS rules 10 hours per week”

“Employment prohibited”

“Work as in Tier 4 Rules”

“Does not enter employment”

“Work (and any changes) must be authorised”

“Work prohibited”

“Able to work as authorised by the Secretary of State”

 

“Restricted work P/T Term Time. F/T vacations”

 

“Restricted work term time”

 

If you have Student Visitor or Short Term Student immigration permission

If you have come to the UK as a Student Visitor/Short Term Student, (For example: because you are doing a course of study of six months or less), your passport sticker or stamp will say ‘No work’ or ‘Work prohibited’. This means you cannot work, either paid or unpaid. However you can undertake genuine volunteering, which has a specific definition different to unpaid work. See the section below on unpaid / voluntary work.

If you do not have permission to work, and you work, (paid or unpaid) you are committing a criminal offence which can be penalised on conviction with a fine of £5,000 and/or up to six months’ imprisonment and you would be liable to removal from the UK. You could also be banned from returning to the UK for a specified period of time.

How many hours a week can I work?

During term-time

Your work conditions, including the maximum hours you can work during term-time, are normally printed on your visa sticker or Biometric Residence Permit (BRP), and will depend mainly on the date of application of your most recent immigration application.

If you are studying on a degree level programme and have the standard Tier 4 student work restriction (any of the wording in column A above), you can work up to 20 hours in any one week during term-time, (or 10 hours a week for certain programmes[*]). Since 6 April 2017, 'week' has been defined in the Immigration Rules as "a period of 7 days beginning with a Monday". It is essential that you work no more than 20 hours (or 10 hours for certain programmes) in any seven-day period starting on a Monday. If you work irregular hours and / or have more than one employer, you will need to keep detailed records of how many hours you work each day so that you can be sure you are not in danger of breaching your work conditions. 

If you are found to be working more than your weekly limit of 10 or 20 hours in any week during term time, you can face serious consequences. You are committing a criminal offence which can be penalised on conviction with a fine of £5,000 and/or up to six months’ imprisonment and you would be liable to removal from the UK. You could also be banned from returning to the UK for at least 12 months.

If an employer asks you to work more than your weekly allowed hours during term time, explain that you cannot do this as you must comply with the conditions of your immigration permission. Some employers may tell you that it is fine to do just a few hours extra a week, or that you must only maintain an average of less 10 or 20 hours per week, or that overtime does not count. None of these things are true: you would be working illegally. For more information see Consequences of breaching a work condition below.

During vacations

You can work full-time during the University vacations that apply to your programme of study. If you are an undergraduate, your vacations will be the standard Christmas, Easter and summer vacations that apply to your programme. If you are studying on a taught post-graduate programme, your vacations will usually be just at Christmas and Easter. If you are a postgraduate research student your vacations will be agreed with your supervisor, and are normally for 6 weeks a year.

If you are studying on a taught postgraduate programme that ends in September, the summer is not vacation time. You use this time to complete a project or dissertation, or sit exams, and you can only work a maximum of 20 hours per week until the official end date of your programme. Some programmes do specifically designate a short summer vacation before you are required to start work on your projects, but otherwise there is no summer vacation for postgraduates.

Please note that if your studies change or stop, this can affect your right to work: this is explained in the information below.

Employer checks

Employers have a legal obligation to check that you are allowed to work in the UK, so you must be able to provide evidence of your immigration permission, usually by showing them your current passport and your current biometric residence permit (if your immigration permission was issued on a BRP). If you don’t have your passport or biometric residence permit, for example you may have submitted them to the Home Office as part of an immigration application, your employer must get confirmation of your right to work from the Home Office’s Employer Checking Service.

Employers are required by law to obtain and retain details of the term time and vacation dates of a course a student employee (who has limited leave to remain in the UK) is undertaking. This means that employers can see when your working hours are limited, and when they are unrestricted. The employer should request this evidence from the employee, either annually or for the entire course, in any of the following forms:

  • A printout from the institution’s website or other institutional material which confirms your course timetable, or
  • A copy of a letter or email addressed to you from the institution confirming term dates for your course, or
  • A letter addressed to the employer from the institution confirming term time dates for your course

There is more information about employer checks on the UKCISA website.

Restrictions on the type of work you can do

As well as a restriction on the number of hours that you can work, there are also restrictions on the type of work that international students can do. You cannot:

  • be self-employed*
  • be employed as a professional sportsperson (including a sports coach)
  • be employed as an entertainer
  • be employed as a doctor in training (except on a recognised Foundation Programme)
  • take a permanent full-time job (except on a recognised foundation programme or as a Students’ Union sabbatical officer)
  • if you applied for your Tier 4 immigration permission on or after 6 April 2016, you are prohibited from engaging in business activity. You are considered to be engaging in business activity where you are working for a business in a capacity other than as an employee in which you have a financial or other significant beneficial interest. There is more information about the meaning of business activity in document 2 of the Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance.

*There is information on the gov.uk website about what counts as self-employed. You are self-employed if you run your own business or if you work on a freelance basis. You are also self-employed if you sell goods (including online trading such as eBay or Amazon) that you buy with the intention of re-selling them, or if you make items yourself and sell them, intending to make a profit.

Interrupting, resitting out of attendance or withdrawing

If you are not attending your programme because you are interrupting, re-sitting out of attendance or you have withdrawn, you must stop working as soon as this change to your studies takes effect. If you continue to work you will be in breach of your immigration conditions.

Warning: If you are an international student, you cannot normally remain in the UK if you withdraw or you are interrupting or resitting out of attendance for more than 60 days. See the Advice and Counselling Service Advice Guide Resitting, interrupting or leaving your course – A guide for international students
 

Changing Tier 4 Sponsor

If you have been granted immigration permission to study with a different education provider, it should be clear from your new immigration permission whether you are permitted to work and for how long.
If you are in the process of changing your Tier 4 sponsor you can continue to work in accordance with your current immigration permission if you have started studying with your new sponsor, but only if you have a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) to study a course with the new sponsor, the sponsor is a Tier 4 Sponsor (which QMUL is), and you make a new immigration application before starting the new course. For more information, please refer to Annex B of the Home Office guidance ‘An employer’s guide to right to work checks’ page 26 – 27 and contact a Welfare Adviser if you are unsure.

Working after the end of your programme with student immigration permission

As well as in vacations, you can also work more than 20 hours a week between the official end date of your programme and the end of your permission to stay in the UK, which is normally about four months, depending on the length of your course. If you have finished your exams, or if you complete your dissertation early, you should not normally work more than 20 hours a week until the official programme end date. If you are a postgraduate research student then your official programme end date will be the date that you submit the final bound copy of your thesis.

Furthermore, you can only work more than 20 hours a week after the end of your programme if you have actually completed the programme. For example, if you learn that you have not passed your final exams/coursework and have to take resits, you must change back to 20 hours or less (although see the ‘Warning’ above if you will be re-sitting out of attendance).

If you have been given more than 4 months immigration permission beyond the end date of your course, or if you finish your course earlier than expected, you should only work up until the 4 month point beyond the end date of the course. Working beyond this time will be a breach of immigration conditions. Contact a Welfare Adviser for advice.

Overstaying

If you have overstayed on your immigration permission (visa) you must not work in the UK. If you have been working you must stop work immediately when your immigration permission expires.

Consequences of breaching a work condition

Those who breach a prohibition on working, or who take employment that is not covered by the Tier 4 Immigration Rules, or who work more than the permitted number of weekly hours, or who work when they don’t have valid immigration permission, can face serious consequences.

The Immigration Act 2016, which is expected to be implemented in the coming months (from May 2016 onwards), will further strengthen punishments for employers of illegal workers (those who do not have immigration permission), including doubling the maximum civil penalty to £20,000 per illegal worker.

The Immigration Act will also make illegal working a criminal offence in its own right, with a maximum custodial sentence of six months and/or a fine of the statutory maximum (unlimited in England and Wales). This will allow wages paid to all illegal workers to be recoverable under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Volunteering

There is a difference between unpaid work, voluntary work and volunteering.

If you have a work prohibition, because you are in the UK under the Student Visitor/Short Term Student immigration category, you cannot do unpaid work or voluntary work. You can do volunteering.

Volunteering is defined as:

  • You do not have a contract of employment.
  • You must not take the place of an employee.
  • You must not receive payment in kind, but reimbursement for reasonable travel and subsistence expenses is allowed.
  • You will usually be helping a charity or voluntary or public sector organisation.

If you wish to volunteer, check with the organisation you wish to volunteer with that the role meets the government rules for volunteering, because if it is voluntary work or unpaid work instead, you will be breaching your immigration conditions. Government guidance about the differences between volunteering and voluntary work for those with Short Term Student immigration permission is here.

If you have a work restriction, unpaid work and voluntary work counts towards your weekly limit on hours of work. So, if you want to volunteer, check with the organisation you wish to volunteer with that the role meets the government rules for volunteering (see above) to avoid breaching your weekly limit on hours of work.

Work Placements

Work placements can be full-time but you can only do them if they are an assessed part of your course. There is more detailed information in the UKCISA guidance.

Internships

If you are studying with Tier 4 (General) Student immigration permission, there is no longer any provision in the Immigration Rules for doing an internship. If you wish to gain work experience with a company, you need to ensure that any work you do meets the conditions of your immigration permission. For example, you could only work full-time during a vacation period from your programme of study.

People with an immigration status other than ‘student’ or ‘student visitor’ or ‘short term student’

If your permission to be in the UK is not as a student, student visitor or short term student, but as someone’s dependant, you normally have no restriction on working. If you have another immigration status, you should make sure you understand whether you can work and, if you can work, whether you have any restrictions. This is usually shown on the UK immigration sticker or stamp in your passport or on your Biometric Residence Permit. If you are unsure, check with a Welfare Adviser in the Advice and Counselling Service.

If your permission to be in the UK is under a different category such as one of the work categories, although there is no prohibition on you studying full-time, if you need to extend your immigration permission in any of these categories, you may not be able to meet the criteria for extending such as a minimum earnings requirement in the preceding 12 months if you have not been working full-time.

Staying in the UK to work after your studies

For information on the possible immigration options that allow people to stay and work in the UK after studies see the Advice and Counselling Service website.

The Advice and Counselling Service runs information sessions every semester, with the QM Careers & Enterprise Centre about working in the UK after studies. The dates of these are listed on the webpage above.

[*]If the programme you are studying on is not degree level you can only work up to 10 hours per week during term time. The programmes that this applies to at QMUL are all English language courses including pre-sessional programmes and the International Science and Engineering Foundation Programme. However, if you have immigration permission which covers both a pre-sessional and a main degree level programme, you should still be able to work up to 20 hours per week. Always check what it says in your passport or your Biometric Residence Permit and make sure you do not work more hours a week than you are allowed.


Disclaimer:
Law, regulations and policies can change quickly. The information on our website is given in good faith and has been carefully checked but QMUL cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions. QMUL is not responsible for the content or reliability of the linked websites which are provided for further information.