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Can International Students Work in the UK?


Most international students can work in the UK. It all depends on the conditions specified by your visa. But even then, there may be some restrictions on how much work you can do, and on what type of job you get.

In this post we’ll answer as many questions we can about international students and work restrictions.

Please note that these rules are subject to change. For the most up-to-date guidance, head to the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) site.

Which International Students Can Work in the UK?

If you’re in the UK with a Student visa, or if you have the old kind of Tier 4 visa, then you probably can work in the UK. We say “probably” because there are exceptions. First, you must be studying at a UK university listed as a “recognised body”.

Also, most visas allow students to work up to 20 hours a week during term time, but some restrict this to 10 hours. Many will allow you to work unlimited hours outside of term time.

There are also some restrictions on the type of work you can do.

Work International Students Can’t Do

The government’s Immigration Rules lists some of the prohibited work for international students:

  • Any work in professional sports, including coaching, and work as an entertainer.
  • You cannot register as “self-employed” or “engage in business activity”. This means no freelancing, contracting, or working as a sole trader. Even buying and selling stuff on eBay might be too risky!
  • You may only train as a doctor or a dentist if you’re on a recognised Foundation programme.

To find out which specific rules apply to you, check your biometric residence permit (BRP) or your visa vignette. Also be sure to check this comprehensive guidance from UKCISA for more detail about the type of work you can and cannot do.

Can International Students do Voluntary Work in the UK?

This is a bit of a grey area. Student and Tier 4 visas allow international students to volunteer, and volunteering is a great way to gain experience, learn skills, and make contacts. But there’s a difference between “volunteering” and doing “voluntary work”.

“Voluntary work” is a bit more formalised. So under the terms of your visa, any “voluntary work” you do would contribute towards your weekly allowance of 10 or 20 hours of work.

So are you applying to volunteer for an organisation? Or are you applying to do “voluntary work”? Because if it’s the latter, take care. Work too much and you’ll limit the amount of time you can do paid work. You could also risk breaching the terms of your visa.

Can International Students do Work Placements and Internships in the UK?

If you’re an international student, you can usually only do a work placement or an internship if it’s part of your course. And even then, you can only do this if the placement takes up no more than 50% of your overall programme – or 33% if you’re studying below degree level.

If the internship is not an official part of your course, then you might still be able to apply. However, the usual restriction will apply – you can only work up to 20 hours a week, or 10 hours on some visas.

Yet you’ll be able to work an internship full-time through the holidays. So if you plan to stay in the UK over the summer break, an internship could be a great way to build up some skills and experience.

Can International Students Work in the UK After Graduating?

After you graduate, if you want to work in the UK, you’ll have to get a work visa from UK Visa and Immigration.

You have a choice of which type of work visa you apply for:

  • Tier 1 – This is the graduate entrepreneur visa, which allows graduates to develop business plans. Your university will have to sponsor you for this, and they will only do so if they recognise your plan’s potential.
  • Tier 2 – The “general” visa, which the majority of international students use to remain in the UK after graduating. To qualify, you must have a job offer from a licenced employer, and your annual salary offer must be at least £30,000.
  • Tier 4 – The student visa. Apply for this one if you aim to complete a PhD at a UK university. It will allow you to remain in the UK for a further 12 months following your graduation, with unrestricted working rights. This will hopefully give you enough time to find the sort of work that would allow you to apply for a Tier 2 visa.
  • Tier 5 – There are a number of Tier 5 visas to choose from. They’re usually temporary work permits, allowing you to work in the UK for either 12 months or 24 months.

Further Guidance for Students

If you’re an international student and your visa allows you to work in the UK, take a look at our guide to finding a student job.

We also have a guide to making money as a student. But take care – some of the money-making activities we suggest could be classed as self-employment, which of course is not allowed for international students.

For general advice on making every penny count while you study in the UK, read our guide to basic budgeting for students.

If you’re studying in Nottingham, our high quality student living spaces will give you affordable rent costs with inclusive bills for easier budgeting.

Head here to take a look at our student living spaces in Nottingham.

Posted 30.11.23
Ed Henderson
News & Blog


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