Working while studying is common among students.
As an international student, finding work isn’t always as simple as it would be if you were applying for a job at home.
Here’s what you need to know about finding work as an international student in the UK.
Your Right to Work as an International Student in the UK
As an international student in the UK, it is likely you will hold a Tier 4 student visa.
This allows you to work in the UK during your studies, under the following conditions:
- You can work up to 20 hours a week, except during vacations, or during an agreed work placement or internship
- You can’t engage in business, self-employment or provision of services as a professional sportsperson or entertainer
- You can’t pursue a career by filling a permanent full-time vacancy
The 20-hour limit applies if you are studying at a degree level or above at a higher education institution, or if you’re on a study abroad program at an overseas higher education institution in the UK.
The limit is 10 hours a week if you are studying a course below degree level at a higher education institution, or if you have Tier 4 student visa as a child, and you’re at least 16 years old.
In general, you can legally apply for and work in most part-time job roles.
Understanding Term Dates and When You Can Take on Extra Work
As you are allowed to work more outside of term-times, make sure you understand when your term-times are. By law, your employer is responsible for ensuring that you are indeed outside of term-time should you go above the 20-hour limit.
The official term dates are defined by your University or college, and sometimes even by the course you are studying.
Generally, Christmas, Easter and summer are the periods with vacation time. In most cases, the rest of the year constitutes as term-time, but you should check exactly how long the official breaks are. You should also keep in mind that "time off" for dissertation writing, for example, could constitute as official study time even if you’re not taking any classes.
Work Placements and Internships
You can accept a work placement or internship during term-time if:
- The role is an assessed position and an integral part of your full-time university course
- It won’t take more than half of your degree study time - half of your course can consist of work placements if you wish
- You will stay enrolled as a student whilst undertaking the role
Your Tier 4 visa sponsor is required to notify the UK Home Office that you will be working as part of your course and must also monitor you during your placement.
If you’re studying under a different visa, you should check the specific legal rights you have from the UK Government website. Your University’s Careers Department should also be able to help.
One clear-cut example of restrictions on your right to work is the short-term student visa. If you have this, your passport will either have a stamp or a sticker that says "No work" or "Work prohibited". This means you aren’t legally allowed to work.
You’ll Need a National Insurance Number
In order to be able to start working, you’ll need a National Insurance Number. This is mandatory for anyone working in the UK although you don’t need to have received it prior to starting work. All you have to do is to have applied for it before you start.
The application process is straightforward and you can apply over the phone. After you launch the application, either of these two things will happen:
If you’re in the UK, you will be invited to attend an interview. This is just to confirm your identity and the reasons you need a National Insurance Number. The interviews take place at your local Jobcentre Plus.
In order to prove your identity, you’ll be asked to bring one of the following items to your interview:
- Passport or identity card
- Residency permit
- Birth or adoption certificate
You might also need to provide proof of your address and proof of your student status. This could be a utility bill or a tenancy agreement, and a letter from the university.
If you’re applying from abroad, you will be posted an application pack that you must complete and return within a month.
In the UK, your National Insurance Number is used for taxation purposes. You’ll need to pay tax in the UK as an international student and it will usually be automatically processed through a system called Pay As You Earn (PAYE). You can read more about the taxation system in the UK here.
Please note that in some cases, you might have been provided a National Insurance Number when you got your biometric residence permit (BRP). So check with your visa application to make sure.
Employers Can Ask for Proof of Your Status
Employers have a legal obligation to ensure you are allowed to work in the UK as an international student. If they ask you for proof, you should provide them with your passport and visa information and in some cases, a letter from your university.
As most jobs will use the PAYE system to pay tax, your employer will take care of your tax calculations and deductions, and you won’t be required to do anything.
When you leave your job, your employer has to provide you with a Form P45. You keep this to give to your next employer. This helps to ensure you don’t pay too much tax. If you think you are taxed too much, you can use online checkers and claim back the tax later on.
If you only work during the holidays, you might not need to pay through PAYE. In these instances, ask for the P38(S) form. Just remember that if you do work part-time outside of the holiday periods, you can’t use this form.
Looking for Work After You Finish Studying
Many international students choose to stay in the UK following the conclusion of their studies. After all, you will probably have made some friends, maybe have entered into a relationship, and after a few years in the UK, it may begin to feel like home.
From a legal standpoint, your Tier 4 Visa will allow you to stay in the country for a while after your course officially finishes. The length depends on the type of course and but it can vary between seven days to four months for the Main Course of Study students and one to four months for pre-sessional courses.
Currently, there is also a Tier 4 postgraduate pilot scheme visa, which allows you to stay for six months after your course ends. You can find more about the ability to participate in this scheme with your University.
During this time, you can look for a job and work full-time under the following conditions:
- You cannot fill a full-time permanent job vacancy, other than on a recognized Foundation Program
- You cannot be self-employed
- You cannot be employed as a doctor in training or as a professional sportsperson, coach or entertainer
Once you receive a suitable job offer, which will include earning above a specific salary (currently £20,800 for most jobs) as one of the conditions, you can apply to switch from a Tier 4 visa to a Tier 2 visa. This visa is linked to the job offer and it requires sponsorship from your UK employer.
Two alternatives you may also choose to consider are:
- A Tier 1 visa - which you might see called an "Entrepreneur’s Visa" - which is for individuals the UK government wants to attract as well as for those looking to set up their own business. It does have a higher threshold for approval than Tier 2.
- A Tier 5 visa, which is a temporary working visa with limited lengths and abilities to switch to different visas later on.
In the coming weeks, we will look in further detail at the different visa options available to international students looking to pursue their career and live in the UK following the conclusion of their studies.