As a student, getting valuable work experience is incredibly important in preparing you for life post-graduation, but if you’re an international student in the UK, what are the rules surrounding what you can and can’t do?
If you’re a citizen of any of the EEA countries or Switzerland, the simple answer is that you have exactly the same rights as any UK citizen, meaning you can work or do a placement or internship while you are studying. This applies whether the work you do is paid or unpaid, and there’s no limit to the number of hours you can do each week. A full list of EEA countries can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/eu-eea.
If you’ve come to study in the UK from a country that’s outside the EEA, you’re still potentially able to work or undertake a placement or internship, but some rules and regulations do apply depending on the type of visa that you have. It’s important that you know what these rules are as non-adherence could have serious consequences.
Most non-EEA international students enter the UK under a full-time Tier 4 (General) visa. This allows you to work up to 10 hours a week during term time if you’re on a course that’s below degree level, such as an HNC, HND or Foundation degree, and up to 20 hours a week during term time if you’re doing an undergraduate degree. You can work full-time during vacation time. If you’re undertaking an agreed placement as part of your course the maximum hours limit doesn’t apply.
For postgraduates, the time they spend writing their dissertation over the summer is still considered term-time, and they are therefore not allowed to work more than 20 hours per week until they hand in their dissertation or reach their Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) end date.
Generally, holders of Tier 4 visas may not: fill a full-time, permanent vacancy, be self-employed or take employment as a doctor or dentist in training (unless participating in a recognised foundation programme), a sportsperson (including a sports coach) or an entertainer.
Another type of visa you may get is a Short-Term Study visa, which is generally given to students doing a short course of study in the UK (maximum of 11 months). Since this visa is intended for study only you won’t be allowed to undertake any form of employment, except if it’s a medical elective, which is a placement undertaken as part of a medical degree.
Still a bit unsure about the rules? Perhaps these examples will help:
- A degree student from Romania has been offered a placement which doesn’t form an essential part of their course, are they allowed to do it whilst studying? Yes, Romania is in the EEA and there are no limits for EEA students.
- A degree student from China has been offered a 2-week placement which is a mandatory element of their course and it’s full-time during term time, can they do it? Yes, because it forms part of their studies.
- A student from Egypt on a Tier 4 visa has been offered a 6-week full-time paid internship during the summer holidays, can they do it? Yes, because their Tier 4 visa states that full-time employment outside of term time is fine.
- An HND student from Spain has been offered a job during term time working 12 hours a week, is this ok? Yes, because Spain is in the EEA and there are no limits for EEA students, regardless of time of year or number of hours.
- A student from Zambia on a short-term study visa has been offered a 2-week full-time paid internship, can they do it? No, they’re not allowed to do any work on their visa.
Visa rules can be confusing, so take the time to read them carefully and if you’re still unsure about something check with the international adviser at your university or take a look at one of these websites: