Working during your studies

Students working in a cafe

Visit the Careers pages for advice on looking for work during your studies and volunteering opportunities.

You are entitled to work during your studies, as long as the wording on your visa does not prohibit it. See an immigration adviser if this does not appear on your visa - contact details are on Immigration advice.

Note that not all types of work are permitted, including self employment or freelance work (see the tab below for more information). 

You can refer prospective employers to the UKCISA information on working in the UK.

If you are not allowed to work, your visa will be endorsed 'No work' or 'Employment prohibited'.

Work regulations

How many hours can I work?

If you are permitted to work during your studies, you are allowed to work a maximum of 20 hours per week during term time and full-time during holidays

Students studying below degree level, for example at Foundation, Pre-Masters or pre-sessional English level, should note that they are only permitted to work for 10 hours a week during term time, although they can work full-time during vacation periods. 

What work can't I do ?

There are restrictions on working for Tier 4 visa holders.

Under the Tier 4 rules you may not:

  • be self-employed (this includes freelance contracts);
  • fill a full-time, permanent vacancy (except on a recognised foundation programme or as a students’ union sabbatical officer);
  • be employed as a professional sportsperson (including a sports coach);
  • be employed as an entertainer;
  • be a doctor in training (except on a recognised foundation programme); or
  • engage in business activity.  You will be considered to be engaging in business activity where you are working for a business (in the UK or abroad) in a capacity other than an employee in which you have a financial or other significant beneficial interest. This would include the following:
    • setting up a business;
    • being employed by a company in which you hold shares of 10% or more (including where the shares are held in a trust for you);
    • working for a company where you also hold a statutory role, such as a director.

These rules are not straightforward, particularly those relating to business activity, which could include prohibiting Tier 4 visa holders from working for their own business in the UK even if the business is based outside the UK.  If you are at all uncertain, contact an Immigration Adviser - see Immigration advice for contact details.

EEA students

All nationals of the EEA (European Economic Area) and Switzerland are allowed to work in the UK.

Non-EEA students

If you hold a Tier 4 student visa you should be permitted to work a maximum of 20 hours or 10 hours per week during term time. All students on a degree course should have the 20 hour limit stated on the BRP visa card (or on the visa sticker in the passport). Foundation, Masters and Pre-sessional English Language students will normally be allowed to work for a maximum of 10 hours per week. 

If you apply for a job and your employer is uncertain of your ability to work, refer them to the UKCISA information on working in the UK.

Postgraduate students

Taught Masters students are permitted to work up to a maximum of 20 hours per week until they have completed all elements of their course, including submitting their dissertation.

A Masters student can work full time in the final four months from course completion until their visa expiry date.

Research students

Research students do not have the same defined vacation periods as undergraduate and taught postgraduate students and so it is not always clear when research students may work full-time (with the express permission of their supervisor and of the University).

Students therefore need to negotiate with their supervisor when holiday can be taken. PhD students are allowed 30 days of annual leave per year and must submit an annual leave form before taking vacation. 

What is the difference between volunteering, work experience, internships, work placements?

As an international student it is important that you understand the difference between unpaid work (which counts as part of your permitted 20 hours) and genuine volunteering (which doesn't). 

  • Volunteers work on their own terms usually for a good cause. If you are a volunteer you should have flexibility to come and go and will not have set responsibilities in the way that someone who is "employed" does.
  • Voluntary worker has specific duties and an obligation to perform work, but must work for a charity, a voluntary organisation, fundraising body, statutory body, and must not be paid anything more than appropriate expenses.
  • A work placement is a specific period of work, often as part of an academic course, related to what you are learning on your course and what you may want to do in the future.
  • An internship is a short period of work, to help you gain relevant skills and experience in the career area you are interested in. You are likely to have specific responsibilities and be doing real work.
  • Work shadowing is a short period of time spent mainly observing the work of someone in a career area of interest to you, to help you get an insight into what is involved.
  • Work experience - this is a broad term which can be used in relation to all of the above activities!

You should also check if you are entitled to be paid by National Minimum Wage rules.

If you are unsure about anything, contact an Immigration Adviser - see Immigration advice for details.

Important points about your right to work

  • Exceeding the permitted working hours may result in deportation.
  • Although you will probably have the right to work, you must not be depending on this income to support yourself during your studies. 
  • If you are seeking work, you must apply for a National Insurance (NI) number. You can start work before your National Insurance number arrives but your new employer may ask to see evidence that you have applied for one.
  • You may undertake a full time work placement, as long as it forms part of your degree course.