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International students: the rules about working

International students: the rules about working

The information on this page applies to nationals of all countries outside the EEA. This information also applies to nationals of the EU/EEA/Switzerland who move to the UK from 1 January 2021 onwards with Student immigration permission.

EU/EEA/Swiss nationals who moved to the UK before the end of 2020 have different working rights and should read the rules about working for EEA nationals.

Please note that if your studies change or stop, this can affect your right to work: this is explained in the section below on Interrupting, resitting or withdrawing.

Contents

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

If you have Student or Tier 4 immigration permission for full-time studies at Queen Mary, you can work part-time during your studies - see below for details of how many hours and what type of work you can do. 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.

If you have Student or Tier 4 immigration permission for a part-time course, you are not permitted to work at all in the UK. 

If you have Visitor or Short Term Student immigration permission

If you have come to the UK as a Visitor or Short Term Student (for example: because you are doing a course of study of six months or less), 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 volunteering / unpaid work. 

 If you do not have permission to work, and you work, (paid or unpaid) you are committing a criminal offence. The immigration authorities treat work restrictions very seriously. They can refuse your immigration application, or remove you from the UK, if you work too many hours or if you do work which you are not allowed to do. You might also be barred from returning to the UK for a certain period.

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 Student or Tier 4 immigration permission work restriction, 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. The immigration authorities treat work restrictions very seriously. They can refuse your immigration application, or remove you from the UK, if you work too many hours or if you do work which you are not allowed to do. You might also be barred from returning to the UK for a certain period.

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 (or any hours above the term-time limit) 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 one year taught postgraduate programme, your vacations will usually be just at Christmas and Easter: 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. See Queen Mary's calendar for the official term dates

During re-sits

If you are a continuing undergraduate student, you can work full-time up to the start of re-sits when you must revert to 20 hours for the whole of the Late Summer res-sit period, ususally a two week period. After this you can revert to full-time hours until the start of the new academic year. 

Postgraduate research students

If you are a postgraduate research student your vacations will be agreed with your supervisor, and are normally for 6 weeks a year.

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. Currently, you can show your physical documents (usually passport or BRP card) or your employer can check your right to work electronically. You can generate a share code electronically so that your employer can check your right to work electronically. From 6 April 2022, employers will no longer be able to accept or check a physical BRP as valid proof of right to work, even if it shows a later expiry date. From this date they will have to undertake the electronic right to work check. 

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 print out of the timetable from your academic school, or
  • A print out of the official Queen Mary calender

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*
  • work as a professional sportsperson (including a sports coach)
  • work as an entertainer
  • work as a doctor or dentist in training (except on a recognised Foundation Programme)
  • work in a position which would fill a permanent full-time vacancy (except on a recognised foundation programme or as a Students’ Union sabbatical officer)
  • engage in business activity. A Student will be considered to be engaging in business activity if they are working for a business in which they have a financial or other significant beneficial interest in a capacity other than as an employee. There is more information about the meaning of business activity in The Student and Child Student Home Office 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

Please note: If you are re-sitting out of attendance and the end date of your course as stated on your CAS has already passed and you are not therefore reported to UK Visas and Immigration by QMUL's Immigration Compliance Team, we understand that you would still have immigration permission which allows you to stay in the UK and work. However it would be difficult to argue that you are in an official vacation period, and you have not completed your course, and therefore it is advised that you do not work more than 20 hours per week during this period. 

Completing your course early

We explain on our curtailment web page what will happen if you successfully complete your course earlier than expected (for example because you changed programme to a shorter one). In this situation you can work as described in the section below 'Working after the end of your programme with student immigration permission'. 

Changing 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 educational provider 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 Student 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 write to work checks' and contact a Welfare Adviser if you are unsure.

Working after the end of your programme with Student or Tier 4 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, you can work full-time after formal submission of your thesis for examination to the Research Degrees Office, after you have defended your viva and completed your corrections. 

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 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 permitted within the Student or 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 strengthened 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.

It also made 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) and allows wages paid to all illegal workers to be recoverable under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

The immigration authorities treat work restrictions very seriously. They can refuse your immigration application, or remove you from the UK, if you work too many hours or if you do work which you are not allowed to do. You might also be barred from returning to the UK for a certain period.

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 Visitor or Short Term Student immigration category, you cannot do unpaid work or voluntary work.

Volunteering is allowed.

The rules for Visitors state:

  • the volunteering lasts no more than 30 days in total and;
  • it is for a charity that is registered with the Charity Commission.

Please note this is not the same as voluntary work which is not permitted. The Home Office guidance differentiates between voluntary work which is not allowed and volunteering which is:

Voluntary workers:

  • often have a contract with their employer (this means the employer must provide the work and the voluntary worker must attend at particular times and carry out specific tasks)
  • are also usually remunerated in kind

Volunteers:

  • do not have a contract of employment
  • must not take the place of an employee  must not receive payment in kind but reimbursement for reasonable travel and subsistence expenses is allowed
  • support a charity or voluntary or public sector organisation, but must not be undertaking work ancillary to the organisation’s charitable purpose including, for example, routine back office administrative roles, retail or other sales roles, fund-raising roles and roles involved in the maintenance of the org

The rules for Short Term Student state:

  • 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.

Please note volunteering as a Visitor or Short Term Student is not the same as voluntary work which is not permitted.

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

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

If you are undertaking a work placement, which is an assessed and integral part of your course, you are permitted to work full-time on this placement, even during term-time. Please note this is only the case if it is an assessed as an integral part of your course

If you are doing a work placement which is an assessed as an integral part of your course, you can work your permitted hours per week in addition to working on your placement. If you finish your work placement early, you are still considered to be in term-time until the official end date as stated on your CAS.

If you are doing work which is not a placement and is not therefore an assessed and integral part of your course, then you must adhere to the working limit in line with your Student or Tier 4 immigration permission (no more than 20 hours per week for courses at degree level and above). 

Internships

If you are studying with Student or Tier 4 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.

Working for an employer based outside the UK 

If you are working for an employer based outside the UK and you are physically not inside the UK, your Student visa work conditions do not apply. You should check the work rights in the country you are working. 

If you are physically in the UK, working for an employer based outsdie the UK, for example you are working for an employer remotely, or doing a "virtual internship" any hours you work for them will count towards your 10 or 20 hour maximum. 

People with an immigration status other than ‘Student,’  ‘Short term student’ or 'Visitor'

If your permission to be in the UK is not as a student, short term student or visitor 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. 

[*]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.

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