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Employing International Students (with a Student Visa)




The term 'student visa' on this page refers to immigration permission issued under both Tier 4 and the Student route. Tier 4 was replaced by the Student route on 5 October 2020.

Working Hours

A student visa issued for full-time degree level or masters level studies allows a student to work for a maximum of 20 hours per week during term-time. This is a maximum of 20 hours in total in any one week, including paid or unpaid work and for one or more organisation. The 20 hours cannot be averaged over a longer period.  A 'week' is defined by the Home Office as a period of 7 days beginning with a Monday.

A student visa issued for full-time degree level studies allows a student to work full-time during official vacation periods/holidays. Term and vacation/holiday dates differ depending on the level of study being taken and the institution the student is studying at. This includes a full-time internship or placement unless it is part of their course/programme of study.

Type of Work

Students on a student visa can do most kinds of work, but they must not:

  • be self-employed.

  • engage in business activity.

  • work in a position that would fill a full-time permanent vacancy.

  • work as an entertainer, paid or unpaid.

These restrictions apply throughout their time on a student visa.

Self-employment

A student visa does not allow self-employment. Self-employment normally includes activities such as freelance writing or publishing, private tutoring or selling goods or services directly to an end customer, for example as a consultant. If they are not on the employer or agency's employee payroll, it is likely the work being offered is on a self-employed basis.

In order to undertake work a student should be given a formal document by the employer such as a 'contract of employment' or a 'worker's agreement' or some other written statement confirming their employment status.

Engaging in Business Activity

A student visa does not permit students to engage in business activity. The Home Office defines this as working for a business in which they have a financial or other significant beneficial interest in a capacity other than as an employee. The Home Office provides some examples of the types of circumstances in which a student would be considered to be engaging in business activity: setting up a business that is trading or has a trading presence; being employed by a company in which they hold shares of 10% or more; or working for a company where they hold a statutory role, such as a director. However, this is not an exhaustive list. 


Filling a permanent full-time vacancy

A student visa does not permit a student to work in a position that would fill a permanent full-time vacancy. This means any work they undertake on a full-time basis where permitted, for example after completion of their course/programme, must be in a temporary position (i.e. the contract ends on a certain date). There is an exception to this if a student applied for their student visa on or after 6 April 2022 and they make an application for the Graduate Visa following successful course/programme completion, in which case they can start a full-time permanent role whilst this new visa application is pending.

Volunteering

Students can volunteer on their student visa but the Home Office makes a distinction between volunteering and voluntary work. Voluntary work is considered unpaid employment and is therefore restricted on a student visa, along with any other paid work, to 20 hours a week during term-time Even if the opportunity is advertised as 'volunteering', it could still be considered voluntary work.

The Home Office advises taking the following into consideration to help determine if it is voluntary work or volunteering: 

  • Voluntary workers will usually have contractual obligations to perform the work (e.g. to attend at particular times and carry out specific tasks) with the employer being contractually required to provide the work – the contract does not have to be written. The worker is usually remunerated in kind.

  • Students who are volunteering do not have a contract, they must not be a substitute for an employee, and they must not be doing unpaid work – i.e. receiving payment in kind (although they are sometimes reimbursed for reasonable travel and subsistence expenses).

Employing an international student on a skilled worker visa or a graduate visa

International students will eventually complete their courses and may want to work for your business on a graduate visa or through sponsorship under the skilled worker visa route.

The latest (5 October 2023) Home Office guidance on the Immigration Rules: Appendix Student says that a student on a student visa who makes a valid application under the skilled worker visa or graduate visa route, may start employment in a full-time permanent vacancy either up to 3 months before the course completion date (if a skilled worker) or once they have completed their course/programme of study (for the graduate visa), provided they meet all these criteria:

  • They are studying on a full-time course of study at degree level or above with a higher education provider with a track record of compliance.

  • Their skilled worker visa or graduate visa application was made when they had a valid student visa.

  • A decision has not been made on their skilled worker visa or graduate visa application or their administrative review application has not been decided.

 

Note: Information correct as of January 2024

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