Advice for international students in the UK

Career Advice
14 November 2019 | Career Advice | Guest Author

In this guide, we answer some frequently asked questions from international students who are studying in the UK and wondering about their work options. These answers apply to the Tier 4 Student Visa, the most common type of Study Visa used in the UK – it’s worth noting that individuals can not undertake any form of work or business while in the UK with a Student Visitor Visa.  

Please also note that some Universities apply their own working restrictions to students. These vary from each institution; Cambridge, for example, does not permit its taught Masters’ students to work at all during term time.

How many hours can I work?

According to the Tier 4 guidelines, students may work a maximum of 20 hours a week. This can include paid and unpaid work, for as many companies or organisations the individual chooses. These 20 hours must be worked weekly, they can’t be accrued – you couldn’t save up 60 hours and work them all in one week for example. A ‘week’ is defined in the Tier 4 regulations as seven full days.

What kind of work can I do?

You can work most jobs with a Tier 4 visa, apart from:

  • An entertainer (even if this is unpaid)
  • A professional sportsperson
  • A doctor or dentist (unless are on a Doctor or Dentistry foundation programme)

Can I be self-employed?

You can’t be self-employed while on a Student Visa, so you must make sure that you have a formal contract of employment when starting a new job. Be careful when trying to make extra money while studying that you do not breach this rule – even selling clothes online and writing freelance articles counts as self-employment!

Can I start a business?

Just as you cannot be self-employed, you also cannot start a business while studying in the UK as an international student. This includes starting a group-business (like with a group of friends or peers) or getting involved as a partner in a business which has already been set up.

Can I do an internship/work experience?

An internship can be a great opportunity to get some hands-on experience in your degree’s subject area/chosen career path.

You can work as an intern, or undertake a work experience placement, while studying in the UK with a Tier 4 Visa.

This can only be done if the internship/placement meets the following requirements:

  • The internship is completed during vacation periods (not during term time); or
  • The internship is completed during term time but amounts to no longer than 20 hours a week; or
  • The internship forms an essential part of an academic course (such as a work experience module)

Again, you will need a contract to ensure that the internship can technically count as employment – even it is only voluntary or unpaid. Make sure that you get this before starting any work, so there is no way you can be found to be in breach of your visa.

Can I work in the UK once I have graduated?

Earlier this year, the Government announced that they would be extending the post-study work options for international students in the UK.

Right now, Tier 4 students can work after they have graduated from a British University for a maximum of three years – after which they must leave the UK or switch to a Work Visa.

After 2020, this period will be extended to two-years. This means that, if you graduate next year, you will be eligible to stay on and work or job-hunt for a lot longer! This is great news if you want to explore your options, without committing to working permanently in the UK. During the two years, you can apply for jobs, work, and switch roles. This means you have lots of freedom to explore what you would like to do, and where in the UK you might like to start your career. After the two years has finished, you will then be able to switch to a Tier 2 Work Visa, which will let you stay in the UK for a further five years before settling in the UK permanently, if this is something you would like to do. 


This article has been written by Luna Williams, political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration solicitorsbased around the UK.

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