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A Guide to Working in the UK on a Student Visa

The Home Office acknowledges that many students work during their studies in order to support themselves and/or to gain experience which may benefit their career after they graduate. However, it is also keen to ensure that migrants do not use the student route purely to come and work in the UK. For this reason, student migrants are permitted to take on a limited amount of work, subject to stringent conditions. In this post, we answer some frequently asked questions about the work that students can and cannot take on whilst studying in the UK on a UK student visa.

What Work Am I Permitted to Do on a Student Visa?

In short it depends. The amount and nature of work you are permitted to do as a student with a Student Visa will depend upon:

  • Whether your course is below, at or above degree level;
  • Whether your course is full-time or part-time;
  • Whether your course provider has a track record of compliance with UK immigration law (you can check this by looking for your provider’s entry in the Register of Student sponsors – it will state the words “track record” in the ‘Status’ column);
  • Whether your course provider is a UK institution, or an overseas higher education institution sponsoring you for a short-term study-abroad programme.

If you are considering coming to the UK to study, and planning to work whilst you do so, you should be sure of all of the above as these will dictate the conditions of your Student visa.

I Am Taking a Full-Time, Degree Level Course at a UK Institution. What Work Is Permitted?

If you are studying full-time at a UK higher education provider for a course at degree level or above, and your institution has a track record of compliance, you are permitted to work as follows:

  • Part-time during term-time (up to a maximum of 20 hours a week)
  • Full-time during vacations, including the period before the course starts
  • On a work placement as part of the course
  • Full-time as a postgraduate doctor or dentist on a recognised foundation programme when permission has been – granted for this course type
  • As a Student Union Sabbatical Officer for up to 2 years when permission has been granted for this purpose

If your provider does not have a track record of compliance, your entitlement to work is significantly more restricted. You are not permitted to work within or outside of term-time, except to undertake a work placement as part of your course or as a Student Union Sabbatical Officer for up to 2 years.

If you are studying in the UK on a study-abroad programme, you are permitted to do the same as above.

I Am Taking a Full-Time Course Below Degree Level at a UK Institution. What Work Is Permitted?

If your course is below degree level, the rules are largely similar to those set out above. The only significant difference is that the maximum number of hours you are allowed to work during term time is 10 hours rather than 20. During vacations and before the course starts you are permitted to work full-time.

Once again, if your provider does not have a track record of compliance, you are not permitted work except to undertake a work placement as part of your course or as a Student Union Sabbatical Officer for up to 2 years.

I Am Studying Part-Time. What Work Is Permitted?

Unfortunately if you are studying part-time on a Student visa, you are not permitted to undertake any employment.

What Is “Term Time”?

Universities, colleges and schools in the UK generally teach in three terms per year, separated by periods of holiday or vacation.“Term time” is not defined as a concept in the Immigration Rules or in the Home Office’s guidance, so you will need to follow the dates set by your sponsor. Your term dates will usually be available on your institution’s website or in your course information.

If for any reason you are unclear about your term-dates (for example, if you are undertaking a research-only postgraduate course), you should clarify this with your student sponsor.

Can I Be Self-Employed or Run My Own Business on a Student Visa?

Generally speaking, no. You are not permitted to be self-employed whilst on a student visa, nor are you permitted to “engage in business activity”. “Engaging in business activity” is defined as working for a business in which you have a financial or other significant beneficial interest in a capacity other than as an employee. Examples of that would include setting up a business (which proceeds to trade or establishes a trading presence) as a sole trader or under a partnership; being employed in a company where you own 10% or more of the shares; or working for a company where you hold a statutory role such as a director.

The Immigration Rules technically still provide for one exception to this, which relates to students who are switching to the Start-up immigration route, and are awaiting decisions on their application. However, given that the Start-up route has now closed, this is unlikely to be of any relevance.

What Other Work Is Prohibited?

You are not permitted to take employment as an entertainer or professional sportsperson (including a sports coach) whilst on a student visa.

“Entertainer” is not defined, but you should be wary of accepting payment for anything that involves performance.

Being a “professional sportsperson” is deemed to include playing or coaching in any capacity at a professional or semi-professional level; receiving payment (or payment in kind) that covers all or the majority of your costs for travelling to and living in the UK; being registered with a professional or semi-professional team including in the academy and development age groups; representing a national, state or regional team; establishing an international reputation in your chosen field of sport; or engaging an agent or representative, with the aim of finding professional opportunities or developing your career.

If you have been awarded a sports scholarship for a course at degree level above, and are required to play sports as a condition of your scholarship, it is permitted to do so for your student sponsor or for British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS).

I Have Finished My Course but Still Have Time Left on My Visa. Can I Work?

If you have graduated or finished your course, you remain bound by all of the same conditions as throughout your Student visa. However, periods after you have finished your course are considered to be outside term-time.

Can I Volunteer as a Student?

Students are permitted to volunteer whilst they are studying. However they must bear in mind the difference between volunteering and voluntary work.

A volunteer will usually be helping a voluntary organisation, charity or public sector organisation. They must not be paid (or receive payment in kind, though reasonable travel and subsistence expenses are allowed), must not have a contract, and must not be a substitute for an employee.

Voluntary work, on the other hand, involves contractual obligations (whether or not there is a written contract) and often involves payment in kind. Students are permitted to do voluntary work, but this is subject to the same restrictions as applied to employment.

What Work Can I Do as a Child Student?

If you are on a Child Student visa and are aged 16 or above, you may work for up to 10 hours per week during term time, or any duration during the holidays. You can also undertake a course-related work placement (subject to various further requirements).

As a Child Student, you are subject to the same restrictions described above with regards to self-employment, business activity, working as a sportsperson or entertainer, and voluntary work.

Contact our Immigration Barristers

Working in breach of the conditions of your visa is an immigration offence which can have potentially very serious consequences for your future. For expert advice and assistance in relation to a student visa application, or would like to switch from a student visa to a different route to permit you greater freedom to work, contact our Immigration Barristers on 0203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.


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